FORCE ON A MISSION IN SUPERNATIONALS Eyes First Win in Nine Years at Raceway Park ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- Sometimes the things you love the most serve up the biggest disappointments. Take John Force and Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, site of...
FORCE ON A MISSION
Eyes First Win in Nine Years at Raceway Park
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- Sometimes the things you love the most serve up the biggest disappointments. Take John Force and Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, site of this week's 39th annual NHRA Lucas Oil Supernationals.
Force fell in love with the track more than 30 years ago, back when the late Vinnie Napp became one of the first promoters to take a chance on a fast-talking Funny Car driver with big dreams supported by a very thin resume.
Unfortunately, that love rarely has been returned.
In 26 appearances in the Supernationals, Force has won just four times. Okay, so that's twice as often as as anyone else in the Funny Car division.
But, by John Force standards, winning only every six or seven years is not typical. Moreover, he hasn't put his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford in the Supernationals winners' circle since 1999. That's the longest he has gone without a win in any race in the NHRA POWERade Series.
His past struggles at Raceway Park, coupled with his continuing battle to overcome injuries suffered last fall in the worst crash of his 32-year NHRA career, make his current bid a longshot, at best.
Nevertheless, few would discount the threat posed by the 14-time series champion, who already defied long odds this year by extending to 22 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA tour event.
That victory, at Topeka, Kan., thrust the 59-year-old icon prominently into contention for a record 15th championship even though he failed to qualify for last April's SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Force rolls into the track on which he first established himself on the old match race circuit, running against such legendary performers as "Jungle Jim" Liberman, fourth in POWERade points which will determine the 10 drivers eligible to compete this fall in NHRA's playoff series, the Countdown to the Championship.
Despite his frustrations on the racetrack, Force fondly remembers his match race days at Raceway Park and his relationship with Napp, who passed away in 2000.
"Vinnie took me to my first East Coast race. He booked me in, I think, on a Wednesday night and I always say that's kind of how I got my start," Force recalled. "A lot of people fought and cussed (Napp) because he was a (tough) promoter, but I loved him. He would fight you over $2. If your burnout was too short, he'd say 'I'm gonna cut your money.' He was like that. He was a fighter, but that's what made him special."
Force recalled Napp's tenacity in difficult circumstances.
"I came out one day and it was raining like a son-of-a-gun," he said. "NHRA had told (Napp) that he needed better lighting and better guardrails. I was looking for him because I was worried about a rainout but nobody knew here he was.
"Finally, somebody told me he was out on the track putting up the new lights. Well, he had gone down to the turnpike in Florida and bought the old lights off the freeway to save some money and he was putting them up. I walked over and there was a guy on his hands and knees, in the rain, moving concrete. I said what're you doing?' Well, all the workers had gone and then it started to rain and he knew if he didn't move that concrete, he'd lose it.
"I said, 'How many you got to do?' And he had light poles all the way down. Well, we started running from light pole to light pole. I'd learned a little bit about laying concrete. I knew how to trowel it. So we were running from light pole to light pole and I got a real appreciation for a guy who would fight for his survival like that. He knew he had to keep stewing it. That's the kind of guy Vinnie Napp was. I really miss him."