Denver: John Force preview

Force tries to reverse trend in rarefied air DENVER, Colo. - John Force has won the Mopar Mile-High Nationals five times, more often than any other Funny Car driver. Nevertheless, his last three trips into the rarefied air at ...

Force tries to reverse trend in rarefied air

DENVER, Colo. - John Force has won the Mopar Mile-High Nationals five times, more often than any other Funny Car driver.

Nevertheless, his last three trips into the rarefied air at Bandimere Speedway have yielded nothing but disappointment. In 2007, he fouled away his chances in the semifinals; in his two most recent starts, he lost to teammates in the very first round.

Rookie Mike Neff beat him by .022 of a second (4.390 to 4.412) in 2008 and, a year later, his 4.298 in the Castrol GTX® High Mileage Ford Mustang wasn't quite good enough to chase down Robert "Top Gun" Hight's 4.271 in the Jimmy Prock-prepared Automobile Club of Southern California Ford.

This week, though, with the help of the most decorated "brain trust" in racing, one that collectively has won 18 NHRA series championships, Force hopes to reverse that trend in a Mile-High Nationals event unique within the Full Throttle Series.

On a track cut into the side of a mountain 5,860 feet above sea level, Force's crew chief tandem of Neff, Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly tries to make power with a limited supply of one of the key ingredients in the performance equation: oxygen.

To do so, they'll spin the supercharger faster to create more artificial air, adjust the ignition timing, use special high compression pistons and reduce the fuel flow by several gallons per run because, no matter what they do to compensate, the BOSS 500 Ford engine still can't burn the same volume of fuel that it would at a sea level track.

"Our strategy is going to be to try to make as much power as we can," said Neff, who temporarily has put his driving career on hold, "and then to get the motor to run on all eight cylinders (another problem that is exacerbated at altitude). We've done our homework but Denver is always the biggest challenge we have.

"The trickiest thing is trying to get the engine set-up correctly," said the man who won the 2006 Mile-High Nationals as crew chief to Gary Scelzi with whom he also won the 2005 NHRA Championship. "It's a mile high and it's just hard to make power.

"(The key) is just picking that right set-up. if you can get it close on your first run, then your weekend can be a whole lot easier," said the winner of last fall's Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. "If you get off on the wrong foot, it can really get difficult."

That makes Friday's first qualifying run even more critical than usual.

According to Coil, whose 16 series titles include two with driver Frank Hawley and the legendary "Chi-Town Hustler," the goal is to be quick enough in the first session to be near the top of the order which determines the position in which each driver makes his qualifying run on Friday night - in optimum conditions.

"You don't want to push it too far and lose the run because you smoked the tires," said the man who has been with Force for all 130 tour victories and 14 championships, "but you can't be so conservative that you don't make a representative run. The goal is to be among the top five or six so that you get a preferred spot Friday night at the back of the qualifying order."

Force, too, is aware of the importance of that first run and its implications.

"My job is to go A to B and put a number on the board," he said, "to give my guys some data and to put us in (the show) in case there's a weather issue. So I drive that first session like it's race day. I'll pedal it (feather the throttle), whatever it takes.

"I'm glad to be in the Countdown," Force said of becoming the first Funny Car driver to clinch a berth in the NHRA playoffs, "but there's no way I'm going to take it easy. I want that top spot (and a 30-point edge when points are adjusted next month)."

Winner of a category-best four races this season, Force is on track, at age 61, to become the oldest driver ever to win a major championship. That said, this is the first time he's been in contention since the NHRA adopted the present playoff format.

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Austin Coil , Frank Hawley , Mike Neff