RESURGENT FORCE BIDDING TO EXTEND LATEST STREAK 14-Time Champ Aims For Third Straight Final Round GAINESVILLE, Fla. - John Force is like crabgrass. Just when you think he's gone, shazam, back again, stronger than ever. After a ...
RESURGENT FORCE BIDDING
TO EXTEND LATEST STREAK
14-Time Champ Aims For Third Straight Final Round
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - John Force is like crabgrass. Just when you think he's gone, shazam, back again, stronger than ever.
After a brutally long 2009 season during which he failed to win an NHRA tour event for the first time in 23 years, the 60-year-old icon began the current campaign in spectacular fashion.
After driving his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to an historic season-opening victory in the 50th annual Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Force ended three years of qualifying frustration by starting No. 1 and reaching the finals just one week later in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Phoenix.
As a result, for the first time in eight years, the sport's biggest winner rolls into Gainesville Raceway as the NHRA Funny Car points leader and the favorite to claim the Funny Car championship in Sunday's 41st annual Tire Kingdom Gatornationals.
At an age when most of his peers are content to manipulate nothing more challenging than a TV remote, Force this year has demonstrated that he still can muscle an 8,000 horsepower hybrid race car down a 1,000 foot course as quickly as anyone in the world.
The upshot is that a 15th individual Funny Car Championship - and 17th in 21 seasons for John Force Racing, Inc. - suddenly seems both realistic and achievable, something that wasn't true a mere three months ago.
This time, Force owes his resurgence to a willingness, 35 years into his career, to effect major change. He's added a crew chief, replaced all but one member of last year's crew and swapped last year's chassis for a new one built in-house at the JFR facility in Brownsburg, Ind.
With the new chassis, a new 2010 Ford Mustang body and a BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor developed at JFR, Force's current mount bears little resemblance to the one he last drove to a title in 2006. Nevertheless, the most provocative of Force's moves was aligning Mike Neff, who last year was a Top 10 driver, with Hall of Fame crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.
Combining Neff's "young gun" mentality with the experience of Coil and Fedderly thus far has proven to be genius.
"Obama may be struggling with change, but John Force isn't," said the 127-time Full Throttle tour winner. "We had to shuffle the cards a little bit. For financial reasons, we couldn't run the fourth car this year so it only made sense (to make use of the tuning expertise Neff demonstrated when he and driver Gary Scelzi beat Team Force for the title in 2005).
"We just put a young (guy) in with the older generation and they gave me a good hot rod," Force said. "We want to get John Force Racing back to when it used to dominate. We had that at Pomona and we had it at Phoenix. Now, let's see if we can do it again."
Force has won the Gatornationals seven times, once stringing together five straight wins (1992-1996) and reaching the final round nine times in 11 years. That said, the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection admittedly has struggled in his most recent appearances.
Although he reached the semifinals a year ago (losing to eventual race champion Bob Tasca III), he was eliminated in the first round in both 2007 and 2008. He last won the Florida classic in 2001 although he was runner-up in both 2004 and 2006.