RESURGENT FORCE RIDES MOMENTUM INTO JOLIET Drag Racing Icon Eyes 15th NHRA Funny Car Title JOLIET, Ill. -- To put John Force's longevity in perspective, when the drag racing icon won his first NHRA national event, Ronald Reagan was president...
RESURGENT FORCE RIDES
MOMENTUM INTO JOLIET
Drag Racing Icon Eyes 15th NHRA Funny Car Title
JOLIET, Ill. -- To put John Force's longevity in perspective, when the drag racing icon won his first NHRA national event, Ronald Reagan was president of the U.S. of A., Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of England, gasoline was 89 cents a gallon and you could mail a letter to your mamma for just 24 cents.
A lot has changed in the years since Force beat Ed McCulloch for that first win at Montreal, Canada -- but not everything.
Twenty-two years after he won his first NHRA Funny Car race, Force still is sponsored by Castrol GTX0x00ae, his car still is prepared by Austin Coil and, at age 59, he's still winning.
His most recent victory -- at last week's O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., was the 126th of his remarkable career but it was the first for him and his Castrol GTX High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang since the crash last September that left him with what were believed to be career-threatening injuries.
When he outran points leader Tim Wilkerson in his record 202nd NHRA final round, he beat the longest odds he's ever faced to stamp himself, once again, as a contender, this time for an unprecedented 15th series title.
"It was a huge win for me, mentally," Force said, "(because) I didn't know if I could win again. We just didn't seem to have that magic like we did (before). Coil and I even argued. I told him, maybe we should put (Phil) Burkart back in the car and maybethat'll give me time to heal more (because) you watch these kids work around the clock and you think it just ain't fair to them' if you can't deliver as a driver."
Nevertheless, neither Coil nor co-crew chief Bernie Fedderly ever doubted that Force could do the job once he committed himself to coming back.
Coil, a Chicago native who won two titles with Frank Hawley before he ever hooked up with Force, ended the conversation by reminding the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection of the pact they had made years before.
"You always told me that if we go down, we go down together," Coil told Force. "If I suck, you're staying with me, and if you suck, I'm staying with you."
So, even though Burkart did an admirable job last season in his two races in Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang, earning runner-up honors last November at the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., Coil said there was no way anyone else was going to drive.
"Yes, it's the biggest win for me personally because I can stay in the business and I can do what I love to do," Force said. "Being an owner doesn't excite me. Driving excites me. Working with my drivers excites me. I may not win another championship because there are so many good cars out there now, but at least I know I can compete."
The upshot is that Force returns this week to Route 66 Raceway on his own termsas one of the Funny Car favorites on a track on which he holds the quarter mile records for time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 mph). Some things never change.