Gainesville: John Force preview

FORCE BRINGS 'REDEMPTION TOUR' TO 37th ANNUAL GATORNATIONALS New Castrol GTX Mustang, New Resolve Drive Ex-Champ GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 17-19) -- John Force's Redemption Tour continues this week at Gainesville Raceway, a track on which...


New Castrol GTX Mustang, New Resolve Drive Ex-Champ

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 17-19) -- John Force's Redemption Tour continues this week at Gainesville Raceway, a track on which the 119-time NHRA tour winner hopes to show off the 2006 Ford Mustang to which he has tied his hopes of reclaiming the NHRA POWERade championship.

A seven-time winner of the ACDelco Gatornationals, contested this week for the 37th time, Force hasn't put a Castrol GTX Funny Car in the winners' circle here since 2001. For most of those chasing the championship, that wouldn't be cause for concern.

However, when you're the most prolific winner in NHRA drag racing history, when you've been a finalist in more than half the NHRA races contested over the last 17 years (169 of 336) and when you once "owned" the Gatornationals, winning five consecutive titles (1992-1996), a four-year victory "drought" is a big deal.

In fact, at only one other racetrack has the 13-time Auto Racing All-American gone longer without a victory. At Old Bridge Township Raceway Park (Englishtown, N.J.), another track on which he once was dominant, Force hasn't won since 1999.

"We've run good (at Gainesville)," said the NHRA national record-holder for both quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour). "We just haven't won. This year, though, we've got a fast hot rod for a fast racetrack. Once (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) get it consistent, it's going to be one gnarly race car."

By many criteria, it already is.

After stumbling through a 2005 season in which he started from the No. 1 qualifying position just one time, his worst showing since 1989, Force has been putting up near record numbers ever since the start of pre-season testing.

First, he pushed the new-and-improved Castrol GTX Mustang to a time of 4.673 seconds at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Then he then ran 4.678 in testing at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. Finally, he was clocked in 4.664 seconds, the quickest time in Funny Car drag racing history, in qualifying No. 1 at the season- opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.

Despite the widely-held perception ithat he had a "bad year" in 2005, finishing, as he did, behind both Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps in points, the reality is that Force won five races, two more than anyone else in the category. Ultimately, it was his trademark consistency, more than anything else, that let him down.

     Ten times the 56-year-old icon was ousted in the first round.  That's 10 times in 13
events and "that's unacceptable," he said.  "I was building buildings and training drivers
and chasing money.  Bottom line, I guess I thought I couldn't be beat.  I was wrong."

Stung by the loss of a championship that had been his for 13 of the previous 15 seasons and his team's for 12 consecutive years, Force spent the off-season agonizing over what went wrong and working to fix it.

     "We worked hard all winter," he said.  "Coil came back from vacation a week early
because we knew we let one get away.  I took it for granted we were going to find a way
to win.  When we didn't, it was a wake-up call."

Although he has called the new 2006 body "sleek and sexy" and said his car "looks like a Ford Mustang but runs like a Top Fuel dragster," Force said his team's biggest performance gains weren't aerodynamic in nature.

"Coil and Bernie found some motor things, some clutch things," Force said. "We've made a lot of changes from last year and the new body, even though it took 18 months to get here, is just the icing on the cake. It might take awhile to get the consistency, but it'll come."

     "You lose 10 times in the first round, you shouldn't win the championship," Force
said.  "That won't happen this year."

* * * *

Notable: John Force isn't Irish, but the "wearing 'o the green" has worked well for him. All of his career victories have come in Castrol GTX Funny Cars that were predominantly green in color.

Notable: John Force has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car for a record 371 consecutive NHRA tour events dating back to the start of the 1988 season.

Notable: If John Force wins just one round of racing on Sunday, the Gatornationals will become the fifth different tour event in which he has won as many as 50 racing rounds.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi