Indianpolis: John Force preview

FORCE SEEKS REDEMPTION, POINTS LEAD IN BID FOR FIFTH U.S. NATIONALS TITLE 13-Time Series Champ 47 Points Down to Rookie Teammate INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- For John Force, the 2005 season has been both the best of times and the worst of...

13-Time Series Champ 47 Points Down to Rookie Teammate

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- For John Force, the 2005 season has been both the best of times and the worst of times.

Drag racing's most prolific winner has been ousted in the first round a record eight times and, during one stretch, didn't win a round in four consecutive events.

To put that in perspective, the 56-year-old drag racing icon never lost more than five first round races in any of his championship seasons.

In addition, his usually potent Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang, this week adorned in special 13-time Champion paint, hasn't been the intimidating presence it was a year ago when it went to the final round in seven of the final 10 races and set the current NHRA national records at 4.665 seconds, 333.58 miles per hour.

In fact, Force rolls into Indianapolis Raceway Park for this week's 51st annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals having failed to start a single race from the No. 1 qualifying position, placing in jeopardy a streak that dates to 1986.

Rival Ron Capps this year became the first driver to beat him in the first round three times in a season. Not even his Next Generation teammates, rookie Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Mustang, and second year pro Eric Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford, have cut him any slack.

The two are a combined 3-3 against the boss this year and last month Medlen had the audacity to beat Force in the final round at Brainerd, Minn. with a slower quarter mile time (a hole shot). Hight almost did the same at Atlanta, Ga., last May, losing the final to his father-in-law by a razor thin .002 of a second.

That said, the man who has reigned over the Funny Car division for almost a decade-and-a-half is just 47 points off the Hight's points lead (little more than two rounds) entering a stretch run that traditionally begins at IRP.

A four-time Indy winner, Force rejects the suggestion that he has lost his edge.

"We've struggled this year," he said, "but that's because of the competition. It's tough (just 71 points separate the top five drivers). Everybody wants to beat the champ so you have a big bullseye on your back. They all get up to race us."

The other issue is technology and the development of parts, pieces and concepts that will keep Force and his Castrol teammates in the hunt for seasons to come.

     "If you stand still, you're going to get run over," Force said.  "We're always trying to
get better.  Bottom line, when you're trying new things, they don't always work.

"But it's been a great year. Robert's in the points lead, Eric's been beating up on all of us lately (three wins in the last four races) and I've been able to spend a lot more time with my family. My oldest daughter, Adria, runs the office; Ashley will be here this week to defend the (Top Alcohol Dragster) title she won last year; and we just announced that my youngest girls, Brittany and Courtney, will be racing in Super Comp later this year for Brand Source.

"The only thing that could ruin it," Force said, "is if one of these cars doesn't win the championship."

Although Hight has been the points leader since the start of the Western Swing and even though the Dodges of Capps and Gary Scelzi are second and third in points coming in, Force still will be the driver on whom most of the attention is focused. After all, he has been the No. 1 qualifier at the Nationals nine of the last 15 seasons including the last two. Moreover, it's not like he hasn't been competitive this season. He's just been uncharacteristically erratic. In fact, before his mid-season slump, he had won four times. That's the most wins by anyone in the division this year.

Plus, Force didn't win 118 tour events by reacting adversely to pressure. Rivals expect him to bring his A game to Indy. The 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection doesn't plan to disappoint them.

* * * *

Did You Know? At Indy, John can extend to 364 the number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. That record-breaking streak began with the first race of the 1988 1996, John was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, the first drag racer so honored....John twice has "doubled-up" at IRP, winning both the U.S. Nationals and the companion Skoal Showdown Funny Car bonus race. He accomplished that feat in 1993 and again in 1996. Veteran Gary Densham followed suit last year in the Force-owned Auto Club of Southern California Ford.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Robert Hight