BRAINERD, Minn. -- The fact that no driver in history has failed to claim the Winston Championship after winning as many as seven races in one season is of small comfort to Funny Car points leader John Force this week (Aug. 18-20) as he ...
BRAINERD, Minn. -- The fact that no driver in history has failed to claim the Winston Championship after winning as many as seven races in one season is of small comfort to Funny Car points leader John Force this week (Aug. 18-20) as he prepares his Castrol GTXÂ® Ford Mustang for the 19th annual Colonel's Truck Accessories Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
No matter that he has won half the races contested thus far this season (seven of 14), is riding the momentum born of a two-race winning streak and is competing in an event he has won eight times in the last 12 years on a track on which he has gone quicker (4.869 seconds) and faster (307.86 miles per hour) than anyone else.
Nor is it of any consequence to The Man that he's won the last seven Winston Funny Car titles, has been an Auto Racing All-America selection for each of those seven years, has won more NHRA event titles (88) than any other driver and is the current national record holder for the straight-line quarter mile at 4.788 seconds, 324.05 mph.
Despite all of the credentials, impressive as they might be, drag racing's overpowering Force is anything but confident as he continues his drive toward what could be a record-tying 10th series championship.
In fact, the resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., acknowledges that he is looking over his shoulder -- and not just at Jerry Toliver, the former boat racer who led the points until stumbling two weeks ago at Sonoma, Calif.
"There are more good cars out there this year than we've seen in awhile," said the 51-year-old Californian. "Toliver, he's got a good team over there with (Crew Chief Dale) Armstrong and (team driver Jim) Epler. They're not going away just because of one bad race. Ron Capps (driver for the legendary Don "the Snake" Prudhomme), Baze (1999 Brainerd runner-up Whit Bazemore), Scotty Cannon, the kid, Del Worsham, my teammate Tony Pedregon and his brother Frankie. Plus Al Hofmann. You could go on-and-on.
"Bottom line, there are no easy rounds any more. The first round is as tough as the final round and it doesn't matter if you're at Brainerd or Las Vegas or Houston. When (Bob) Gilbertson beat us in the first round at Houston, nobody even knew who he was. Now they do, though."
The underlying theme for Force this season has been: "remember 1992." It is an easy year for the 1996 American motor racing Driver of the Year to recall because it is the only season in the last 10 in which he DID NOT win the Winston championship.
"We got into test mode because we were 1,200 points ahead and thought no one could catch us," Force said. "Then Cruz (Pedregon) won five straight races while we were struggling and took the title away."
Indeed, teammate Tony Pedregon's older brother won five of the season's last six races to catch and pass Force. His drive to title began with a victory at Brainerd, which is why Force is taking nothing for granted -- even on a track on which he has been virtually unbeatable the last dozen years.
"We know we're in a fight," said the man who has won almost 40 per cent of the NHRA races contested the last 11 years (83 of 219). "These guys (Toliver, Capps, Bazemore, et all) aren't going to go away."