Denver: John Force preview

MORRISON, Colo. - Through the season's first 11 races, John For ce was no threat to intimidate the opposition with his starting line skills. The 51-year-old veteran wasn't among the Top 10 Funny Car drivers in average reaction time and...

MORRISON, Colo. - Through the season's first 11 races, John For ce was no threat to intimidate the opposition with his starting line skills.

The 51-year-old veteran wasn't among the Top 10 Funny Car drivers in average reaction time and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang left the starting line ahead of the opposition just slightly more than half the time (53.3 percent).

However, few of Force's rivals believe that the nine-time Winston Champion's skills have eroded. They know that when the need arises, the sport's most prolific winner still can "bring it."

That's why, even though Castrol SYNTEC teammate Tony Pedregon is the two-time defending champion, Force will be the Funny Car favorite when qualifying begins in the 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway Park.

"It's his ability to call up a little more whenever it's really needed," Crew Chief Austin Coil explained. "If we're in a tight round that we might not win (otherwise), he'll manage to have his best reaction time of the weekend.

"Other drivers I've worked with over the years, when the pressure is on, they have tended to fall apart. (But) whenever the chips are down and we need to get down the racetrack real bad, (John) will save it if it spins the tires or shakes. He'll do whatever is necessary to get us to the finish line first. That's the mark of a winner, I think."

Indeed, Force has won five times this year, extending to 14 the number of consecutive years in which he has won at least one NHRA national event, and returns to Bandimere Speedway Park with a new generation 2001 Mustang body designed by Tim Gibson and built by Roush Racing.

Although the new shell has not yet delivered the performance predicted of it, Force is confident that, down the stretch, the money and man hours invested in its development will pay dividends =E2=80" hopefully in the f orm of a record-tying 10th series title.

That championship is by no means assured, however. In fact, for the first time in 11 years, Force will start the Mile-High Nationals as something other than the Funny Car points leader. Despite five wins in 11 events, he currently trails Jerry Toliver in the race for the 2000 championship, a situation he hopes to rectify in Sunday's finals.

"Toliver's got a good team over there with (Crew Chief Dale) Armstrong," said the eight-time Auto Racing All-America selection. "It's been fun to be in a fight. I think that brings out the best in this team. We're pretty motivated right now - especially with the new bodies."

Designed to provide more downforce in conditions where traction is marginal, the new bodies use more of the stock dimensions of the Mustang than their predecessors. That means they are wider and lower. The element that has attracted most interest, however, is the location of the braking parachutes.

Instead of being mounted side-by-side in the middle of the rear deck below the spoiler, in the new design the parachutes have been split. One now is mounted on the far left side and one on the far right side, just below the taillights. The configuration has helped smooth the airflow over the back of the Mustang and, at the same time, allowed a re-design of the taillight doors (hinged flaps) which exhaust air from under the car. www.johnforceracing.com

John Force at......

Bandimere Speedway Park, Morrison, Colo.

Starts: 17
Times No. 1 qualifier: 5 (1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996)
Final rounds: 5
Wins: 3 (1994-96)
W-L Record: 34-14
Best Numbers:
5.042 seconds, July 19, 1996
*301.30 mph, July 19, 1996
*track record

LAST YEAR - After qualifying second, John beat Frank Pedregon a nd Ron Capps before being upset by teammate Tony Pedregon in the semifinals.

DID YOU KNOW:

When he was clocked at 301.30 mph on July 19, 1996, John became the first driver regardless of category to break the 300 mph at Bandimere Speedway's 5,300 foot altitude. ....John has qualified for 241 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals....John is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor sports (1996) John was runner- up for ESPN Espy Awards for Driver of the Year (to Dale Jarrett) and Driver of the Decade (to Dale Earnhardt) last February, becoming the first drag racer ever considered for an Espy.

The Race on TV:

Qualifying highlights at 10 pm (ET) on Saturday and 4:30 am (ET) on Sunday;

Race coverage at 4:30 pm (ET) Sunday; Finals at 11:30 pm (ET) Sunday.

Schedule:

Nitro qualifying at 6pm and 10 pm (ET) Friday, 2 pm and 6 pm (ET) Saturday.

Finals at 1 pm (ET) Sunday.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , Frank Pedregon , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tim Gibson , Jerry Toliver , Austin Coil