Denver: John Force preview

FORCE SEEKS OLD MAGIC IN RETURN TO BANDIMERE 14-Time Champ Aims for Season's First Victory DENVER, Colo. -- On a Bandimere Speedway track on which he was the first driver in any category to break the 300 mile-an-hour barrier, John Force...

FORCE SEEKS OLD MAGIC IN RETURN TO BANDIMERE
14-Time Champ Aims for Season's First Victory

DENVER, Colo. -- On a Bandimere Speedway track on which he was the first driver in any category to break the 300 mile-an-hour barrier, John Force this week tries to recapture the magic that, from 1994 through 2003, propelled him to five Mopar Mile-High Nationals Funny Car titles in 10 years.

Although, at age 60, he remains solidly in contention for a starting spot in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, a six-race shootout that will determine Full Throttle champions in four pro categories, Force has found himself in uncharted territory so far this season.

Two of the factors that played a major role in his record 14 series championships and 126 tour victories suddenly are unavailable to him.

     "We won a lot of championships and a lot of races because we were
consistent," Force said.  "They knew we were going to go down the track
and they knew we were gonna run good.  That made 'em make a lot of
mistakes.  We don't have that right now.
     "The other thing is, we're not winning the close races.  Before, we
seemed to win those races that were too close to call.  Now it seems like
we lose 'em.  We've gotta turn that around -- and I think we can."

With his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang lacking its trademark consistency, Force hasn't been in a final round since he won last year at Topeka, Kan. That was 27 races ago, the longest he has gone without a final round appearance in his career. Moreover, only once in the last 20 years has he gone this deep into the start of a season without a final round appearance -- and that was 1989 when he won the 15th race.

Still, there have been signs that his green-and-white Mustang is on the verge of a breakthrough.

Unlike 2008, when he failed to qualify for a record four races, the 14-time Auto Racing All-America has qualified solidly at all but one race this season (13th at Englishtown, N.J.) and, for the most part, he has avoided the first round exits that were the rule rather than the exception the last two years.

In the last nine races, he's advanced out of the initial round eight times and is coming off a semifinal finish two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, a track on which he had not previously won a round. In addition, he had the fastest speed of the event at Gainesville, Fla., in March and the quickest Funny Car time at Topeka in May.

Better, but not quite what the former national record-holder had in mind.

"We're better than we were," Force said, "but everyone else is better, too. Look at (Ron) Capps and Tony (Pedregon) and my kid (Ashley Force Hood). She's kicking everybody's butt right now so we've gotta get back in the game, not just for Castrol and Ford and Auto Club and BrandSource, but for ourselves.

"I go to the gym every day (part of his continuing recovery from injuries suffered in a Sept., 2007, crash in Dallas, Texas). I do it because I love drag racing and I love what I do. I want to drive my 'ol hot rod til I'm 100 -- but I only want to do it if I can be competitive. I don't want to just be out here, driving around. I still want to win."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force