Gainesville: John Force preview

Driver's healthy; but questions remain about erratic Funny Car. Force looks for improvement in 34th Annual Mac Tools Gatornationals. GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 14-16) The driver has had a tune-up, but the health of his national record-holding ...

Driver's healthy; but questions remain about erratic Funny Car.
Force looks for improvement in 34th Annual Mac Tools Gatornationals.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 14-16) The driver has had a tune-up, but the health of his national record-holding Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang still is uncertain as the NHRA POWERade tour moves this week to Gainesville Raceway for the 34th running of the Mac Tools Gatornationals.

Just two weeks removed from a procedure that relieved him of a troublesome gall bladder, John Force is back up to speed in his bid for an 11th consecutive NHRA Funny Car title and 13th overall..

The question is whether his hybrid Mustang, erratic in its first two appearances of the new season, is as resilient.

In races at Pomona, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., Force won exactly one round, a result that has left him languishing in 10th place in POWERade Funny Car points.

It's his worst start since the 1989 season in which he won only one time and was no better than ninth in points through the first eight races.

Although no one expects the sport's biggest winner to duplicate that performance, there's no doubt that Funny Car rivals believe the 106-time tour winner is more vulnerable now than at any time in the last 13 seasons. That said, Force doesn't talk like a man who has lost his edge.

"We got beat in the first round at Pomona and they already had me buried," Force said. "We had some mechanical problems at Pomona and again at Phoenix. We've been fighting dropped cylinders and we haven't been as consistent as we've been in the past.

"But the championship isn't won or lost in the first two races.  (Crew Chief Austin)
Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) have been working on some new ideas   camshafts,
injectors, cylinder heads   and I've been trying to get used to a new car.
"But we'll figure it out and we'll be in the hunt (for the championship).  Everybody
asks me about retiring.  I'm NOT retiring.  I'm under contract to drive through 2007 and
if I'm going to drive, I'm going to try to win.  There's no fun in driving to lose."

When questions about Force's competitive drive were raised last fall when teammate and protege Tony Pedregon seemed poised to wrest the championship away, he responded like anything but a driver who has done it all and is looking for a career change.

Down the stretch, the 53-year-old icon beat Pedregon in a pair of classic head-to-head races, won the season's last two races and claimed his first championship in the POWERade era.

"I've been driving as good as I have for awhile," Force said, "and as far as I know, Coil hasn't bumped his head on anything. He's still the smartest guy out there."

On the other hand, Force concedes that the Funny Car field is as tough right now as it ever has been with Ron Capps and Pedregon at the head of the pack and three-time former NHRA Top Fuel Champion Gary Scelzi in 11th place, just two points back.

"We always run good at Gainesville," Force said. "I feel good. I'm ready."

It remains to be seen, however, whether his race car is yet up to that challenge. Force, however, is counting on it.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi