Houston Funny Car notebook

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 SLICK 50 NATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK *No fuelin' around: John Force is getting serious about his Top Fuel program, as he is planning to unveil his new dragster...


Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761


*No fuelin' around: John Force is getting serious about his Top Fuel program, as he is planning to unveil his new dragster in the late spring or early summer and is starting to hunt for sponsors.

"Around May or June, I'm going to throw what I call a giant Tupperware party," Force said. "I'm going to put my car on display in my building and serve prime rib. Depending on the budget, maybe I'll just serve hot dogs.

"I'm going to bring the media and anybody from around the world who wants to take a look at this hot rod that this old 47- year-old is going to try and jump in and drive."

But Force said he will wait until at least 1998 before he tries Top Fuel. His primary sponsor, Castrol, will pay him six- figure bonuses if he can surpass the record 85 victories posted by retired Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden and win eight NHRA Winston championships, one more than the seven NASCAR Winston Cup titles won by Dale Earnhardt. Force has won 63 races and six NHRA Winston titles.

Force said his dragster will race this year. He said his driver candidates include his Funny Car teammate, Tony Pedregon, and Pedregon's brother, Federal-Mogul Dragster driver Frank Pedregon.

*Watch out: There were a handful of drivers mentioned this winter as contenders to dethrone John Force as NHRA Winston champion, such as Al Hofmann, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon and Chuck Etchells.

Add Dean Skuza to that list.

Skuza, from Brecksville, Ohio, is third in the NHRA Winston point standings after three races this season. He finished a disappointing 12th last season in the Matco Tools Dodge Avenger, but crew chief Ronnie Swearingen made drastic improvements to the car's performance after Skuza failed to qualify last month at the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals.

Skuza was runner-up to Force in the final of the ATSCO Nationals and then smashed a huge psychological barrier by beating Force for the first time in his career in the quarterfinals of the Mac Tools Gatornationals. Skuza lost to eventual champion Al Hofmann in the semifinals.

*Good sport: John Force wandered around the starting line before final eliminations last month at the ATSCO Nationals near Phoenix when he spotted rookie Funny Car driver Randy Anderson.

Anderson failed to qualify at the race, and Force figured Anderson needed a lift. So Force went over to Anderson and spent a few minutes giving him words of encouragement.

"A lot of people asked me why I was talking to and helping my competition," Force said. "When he gets his stuff together, he's going to whup my butt. So when that happens I might as well keep him as my friend."

It didn't take long for Anderson to recover from the problems at Phoenix. He qualified fourth at the Mac Tools Gatornationals, right behind Force, with a career-best pass of 5.019 seconds in the Parts America Pontiac Firebird. Anderson lost to Tom Hoover in the first round due to a freak mechanical malfunction.

*Hey, it works: There's a good reason why John Force continues to wear the same frayed, soiled Castrol firesuit during eliminations: It helps him drive better.

Force has tried to break in a new suit during qualifying, when it's not as important for him to feather the throttle pedal to prevent tire spin. But tire spin during eliminations can lose a race, so Force puts on the old suit. The loose, broken-in fabric lets him "pedal" the car more effectively.

"It's seat of the pants," Force said. "If my suit is too tight on me, I react differently. (Crew chief Austin) Coil said, 'You can't pedal in that firesuit.' I said, 'No, I can't.'

"I swore I retired that old suit last year, but I was back in it looking disgusting on TV. But boy, she's a bad hombre. She works."

*Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. March 21 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 22. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 23. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. March 20.

*Tickets: Tickets are available for the Slick 50 Nationals. Call Houston Raceway Park at (281) 383-2666 or check the track's World Wide Web site at http://www.houstonraceway.com for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased from Ticketmaster. To order through Ticketmaster, call (713) 629-3700.

*On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of live, final-round competition from the Slick 50 Nationals at 4 p.m. (CST) March 23. ESPN2 also will televise Friday-night qualifying with a two-hour, same-day show starting at 11:30 p.m. (CST) March 21. All-day, live coverage of final eliminations will be shown on pay-per-view from 10:30-6 p.m. (CST) March 23. The telecast costs $14.95. Viewers must order the programming through their satellite or cable provider.

*On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30- 3/11/97-HT3-044

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Dean Skuza , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon