FORCE STILL LOOKING FOR FIRST WIN ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- For the first time this decade, seven-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force will enter the eighth race of the season without a victory. While some may look at his early ...
FORCE STILL LOOKING FOR FIRST WIN
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- For the first time this decade, seven-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force will enter the eighth race of the season without a victory. While some may look at his early season effort as a sure sign of the end of a dominating era, those folks don't know Force.
The Yorba Linda, Calif. racer will try to earn his first trophy of the season at the 29th annual Mopar Parts Nationals, May 14-17 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. The $1.6 million race is the eighth of 22 events in the $30 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Force's absence from the winner's circle hasn't been from a lack of effort. In fact, Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang has made four final round appearances this season, all producing runner-up finishes.
However, despite not having won a race this season, Force isn't too worried. His runner-up finish in the recent Castrol Lone Star Nationals at Dallas placed him atop the Winston point standings.
What, Force worry?
"We're not really doing bad," Force said. "I guess I'm so used to winning, that maybe I'm a little spoiled. In the last few weeks I've got my mind right. We always knew the competition would make a move. There's an equal playing field right now and that's exciting. I love the competition."
Increased competition has been the buzz word in the Funny Car pits, as Ron Capps, Chuck Etchells and Cruz Pedregon have managed to earn two victories each. Force's teammate, Tony Pedregon, also has one win.
"A lot of these teams have managed to stick together over the years and that's what it takes to win," Force said. "There used to be one or two teams that you worried about. Now, there are guys that are capable of taking you out from the first round all the way through. It's a lot tougher now."
Force says many of the teams have gotten better by attracting bigger sponsors, having a low turnover rate among crew members and packing a lucky rabbit's foot. He says each aspect plays an important role in the overall picture.
"You can have a good crew chief and driver, but with bad employees the car will fail you in four rounds," Force said. "You've got to have money, an experienced team and luck -- when you put all that together you can win the Winston championship. We've done that seven times."
If Force is to win Winston championship No. 8 this year he's definitely got his work cut out. The Funny Car title chase is as close as its been in years. Force holds a 54 point lead over Capps, while Etchells is 56 points out of first and Cruz Pedregon is 59 behind.
"We've got a good car and great talent with our group, we just have to keep after it," Force said. "I want to win (No. 8). This season has really motivated myself, Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and the whole team. We're not used to getting slapped around, and we don't like it."
* King for a week: Chuck Etchells held the Winston points lead for one week following his victory April 26 at the Pennzoil Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park. It was the first time in Etchells' 11 year NHRA Funny Car career that he held the No. 1 spot.
However, his celebration was short-lived after an untimely DNQ at the Castrol Lone Star Nationals one week later. Etchells' Kendall Oil Chevrolet Camaro wasn't quick enough to qualify for the 16-car Funny Car field at the Texas Motorplex.
"In all my years in Funny Car racing I've never seen anything like what happened at Dallas," Etchells said. "I lost the blower belt two times and the burst panel came apart at the seams on another run. We were on three great runs and those three things happened. Never saw that in 19 years. We worked hard to get where we are, we gave something up, but it's still early in the year."