Memphis: John Force preview

12-Time Series Champ Tries to End Memphis Victory Drought MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Aug. 20-22) -- As the track on which John Force once claimed "I saw Elvis at 1,000 feet," the result of a near-death experience at the wheel of what, at the time, was...

12-Time Series Champ Tries to End Memphis Victory Drought

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Aug. 20-22) -- As the track on which John Force once claimed "I saw Elvis at 1,000 feet," the result of a near-death experience at the wheel of what, at the time, was a 285 mile-an-hour Funny Car, Memphis Motorsports Park has played a key role in creating a legend.

Nevertheless, while it is part of the Force folklore, it isn't one of the tracks on which the 12-time NHRA series champion has been particularly successful.

Just three times in 16 tries has drag racing's most recognizable driver put one of his Castrol GTX® Funny Cars in the winners' circle at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals.

That's equal to the fewest victories he's earned on any track on which he has made a minimum of 10 starts. More significant is the fact that he hasn't won at Memphis since 1997, the longest he's gone without a victory at any current venue.

Still, few inside or outside the Funny Car field would exclude the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection as a threat to win this Sunday.

For one thing, Force has the POWERade points lead and the momentum that goes with it. For another, his Castrol GTX Start Up™ Ford Mustang is the track record holder for the quarter mile at 4.824 seconds.

But, the biggest cause for optimism in the Force camp -- and biggest cause for concern elsewhere -- is the likelihood that race teams will be confronted by sunny skies and summer-hot temperatures.

Those are conditions in which Force seems to thrive. They also are conditions that haven't prevailed at MNP in the years since the Mid-South Nationals was moved from the spring to the fall (1997).

"I hope it IS hot," Force said, "because I think we're better in the heat. Me and (crew chief Austin) Coil have been doing this for more than 30 years and when it gets hot, that's when all that experience comes in. When it's cool, everybody's gnarly. In the heat, that's when you earn your money."

Bidding for an unprecedented 13th individual championship (which would be the team's 14th), Force leads second place Gary Scelzi by 164 points following developments in last week's Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., won by Force's rookie teammate, Eric Medlen.

"We need to focus," Force said. "Indy (the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals) is coming up and we want to be on our game going in. That's when the fight for the championship really begins."

If you read between the lines, what Force is saying is that if things go his way this week at Memphis, the fight for the championship, and the $400,000 POWERade bonus that accompanies it, may be all but over.

Right now, five drivers realistically are in the mix beginning with Scelzi and including Medlen, who is fifth, just 53 points out of second place.

As for Force, he hopes Elvis is riding with him this time -- instead of spectating as he apparently was in 1992 when an engine blew, sending Force spinning backward into the guardwall, on fire. That's when he said he saw the King at 1,000 feet. It's a scenario he doesn't want to repeat.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Eric Medlen