FORCE HAS HISTORY AT RACEWAY PARK 14-Time Champ Trying to Jump-Start Latest Title Bid ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. - Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, a track so important to his early development as a race car driver, John Force hopes to breathe new...
FORCE HAS HISTORY
AT RACEWAY PARK
14-Time Champ Trying to Jump-Start Latest Title Bid
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. - Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, a track so important to his early development as a race car driver, John Force hopes to breathe new life into his latest NHRA title bid this week when he sends his Castrol GTX Mileage Ford after the Funny Car championship in the 40th annual United Association SuperNationals.
The late Vinnie Napp, who as a promoter made Raceway Park the most active and successful track in the country by not being afraid to book taxi races, bus races, jets, jumpers and wheelstanders to augment a traditional drag racing program, saw in a raw, unproven John Force the charismatic personality who ultimately would become the sport's biggest winner.
"Vinnie gave me my start on the old match race circuit," Force recalled. "I'd never been out of California. In fact, Raceway Park was the first East Coast track I ever raced on. Vinnie was a throwback. He did it all. He was hard, but he was fair and I used to run here all the time. I still miss him."
Despite Force's familiarity with Raceway Park, the track hasn't exactly been kind to him in 27 previous appearances in the SuperNationals. While he never has failed to make the starting lineup and even though he went to the final round in his first ever SuperNationals appearance (1979), Force has won the race just four times and hasn't been in the winners circle since the turn of the century.
Granted, that was just 10 years ago, but in the Force world, that's an eon. In fact, outside of new events at Norwalk, Ohio, and Charlotte, N.C., the SuperNationals is the only race in the NHRA Full Throttle Series the Hall-of-Famer (2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Mich.) hasn't won in the 21st Century.
To put that record in perspective, the 14-time NHRA champion has reached the winners' circle just 14.7 per cent of the time at Raceway Park, but 23.8 per cent of the time overall. That's right: he's won 23.8 per cent of all the races he's run in a 32-year career (127 of 529 including the 17 for which he didn't even qualify).
So, the just-turned-60-year-old icon knows he has work to do this week in a Castrol Mustang that has yet to realize its potential. The challenge is not just mechanical. Force and every other driver in the field will have to deal personally with returning for the first time to the track on which two-time former World Champion Scott Kalitta lost his life in a 2008 crash.
Nevertheless, because of safety improvements made since the Kalitta tragedy and his own team's slow improvement, he is optimistic.
"I've fought with my guys off and on this year," Force said of the frustration that has mounted during the longest stretch of his career in which he has failed to reach an NHRA final round (24 straight events).
"I'm so used to winning that I tend to get kind of panicked (when we're struggling)," he said. "We've won 15 championships (as a team) and it wasn't all me, trust me. They're the best and that's what I told them when I apologized for the way I've been acting.
"They really dug into their hot rods and they're finding stuff (that needed to be addressed) from body tin to chassis flex to clutches everything you can imagine. We've had seasons where we were off two or three months, even six months, but not this far off. We're better than we were last year, but we're not where we need to be yet."