Englishtown: John Force preview

Despite slump, Force still best at Old Bridge Raceway Park Champion's 323.89 MPH speed oldest NHRA track record ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 16-18) -- John Force hasn't been his usual dominating self this year in an NHRA POWERade drag racing series in...

Despite slump, Force still best at Old Bridge Raceway Park
Champion's 323.89 MPH speed oldest NHRA track record

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 16-18) -- John Force hasn't been his usual dominating self this year in an NHRA POWERade drag racing series in which protege and teammate TonyPedregon has stepped to the forefront by winning four times in seven races.

Meanwhile, Force and his uncharacteristically inconsistent Castrol GTX® High Mileage Mustang have advanced beyond the second round just once. It's the first time since 1989 that the sport's biggest winner has reached the season's eighth race without at least a runner-up finish to show for his efforts.

As a result, he languishes in eighth place behind both Pedregon and Gary Densham, who drive the other two Mustangs in his Funny Car stable.

Nevertheless, neither Force nor his rivals believe that the 12-time series champion is down for the count.

In fact, his return this week to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park recalls a time when his Ford not only was the fastest Funny Car in the sport, but the fastest car, period.

It was five years ago Thursday (May 15, 1998) that Force became the first to break the 320 mile per hour barrier in a Funny Car when he coaxed his Castrol Mustang to 323.35 mph during qualifying for the K&N Filters SuperNationals, contested this week for the 34th time.

Two days later, he set the national record for ALL classes at 323.87 mph and held it for almost six months before Gary Scelzi was able to coax a Top Fuel dragster to 326.44 mph at Houston, Texas (Nov. 1, 1998).

Force's speed remains the oldest track record still on the books in the POWERade series.

Still, the significance of the 1998 race and the speed record, in Force's mind, was that it turned the season around for him and his team. That year, like this one, he was winless coming into Raceway Park. His backbreaking speed numbers coupled with his final round victory over Jim Epler provided the spark that eventually earned him yet another championship.

"Two things that stand out in my career are beating the dragsters at Bristol (Tenn., in the inaugural Winston Showdown which pitted Funny Cars against Top Fuel dragsters) and being the 'King of Speed' (after the 1998 SuperNationals) even if was for only for a couple of months.

"But we always run good at Englishtown. I've been coming here a long time. I used to match race for Vinnie Napp (the late owner of Raceway Park). He was one of the first guys who ever paid me to race and I always loved coming up here because they put on such a good show.

"I miss Vinnie a lot, but the way we've been running this year, he'd probably cut my money," Force laughed. "We're getting better. My guys, Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, are the best. They'll figure it out and, when they do, we'll have a bad ol' hot rod again."

In reality, there's nothing wrong with the 106-time tour winner that a really long race day wouldn't fix -- and, to Force's way of thinking, the sooner the better.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Austin Coil