Memphis: John Force preview

FORCE TRIES TO PROVE HE STILL CAN BRING IT 14-Time Series Champ Seeks Sixth Win at Memphis MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- After coming back from a crash he probably shouldn't have survived, John Force knows in his heart, even at age 60, that he still can...

FORCE TRIES TO PROVE HE STILL CAN BRING IT
14-Time Series Champ Seeks Sixth Win at Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- After coming back from a crash he probably shouldn't have survived, John Force knows in his heart, even at age 60, that he still can win on drag racing's biggest stage. All the 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion has to do now is prove it to everyone else.

He gets another chance this week when the NHRA Full Throttle tour returns him to Memphis Motorsports Park for the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals, the halfway point in the sport's Countdown to One playoffs.

A 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection and the only driver, pro or amateur, to have won as many as 100 NHRA races at the national event level (126), Force hasn't put his Castrol GTX® High Mileage^Ù Ford Mustang in the winners' circle in more than a full calendar year.

For anyone else, that wouldn't be cause for concern. But Force isn't anyone else. In fact, that 35-race drought is the longest he's gone in 32 professional seasons without at least one final round appearance.

Even though he was winless in 65 races to start his career, the sport's most dynamic personality never, ever went more than 22 races without at least once racing for an event title. During the current streak, which began following his emotional June 1 2008 victory at Topeka, Kan., his first since the crash at Dallas, Texas that almost took his life, Force has gone to the semifinals 10 times but no further.

Even though he is seventh in Countdown points and already is assured of his 25th straight Top 10 finish, he is the only Funny Car driver in the playoffs who hasn't been to a final round this year and the only member of his own four-car team who hasn't started at least one race from No. 1.

"I know I can still drive," Force said, "and I know I can still win but, at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding."

However, if that proof doesn't begin to manifest itself this weekend, Force's hopes of reclaiming the title that last was his in 2006 are all but over.

On a track on which he crashed heavily in 1992, an accident that led to his now famous "I saw Elvis at 1,000 feet" remark, Force will start the race 110 points behind son-in-law Robert "Top Gun" Hight, the current leader. That's not an insurmountable deficit, but it is a formidable one, the equivalent of little less than six racing rounds.

Nevertheless, there is more at stake this week for Force than the championship. There also are the records that one day will be a major part of his competitive legacy.

If he can put everything together in one of the season's final four races, he can extend career drag racing records for most consecutive seasons with at least one final round appearance (24), most successive season with at least one victory (22) and most consecutive seasons with a winning record (24).

Despite an un-Force like season, the first drag racer to earn Driver of the Year recognition (1996), has rung up an individual record of 20-20 this season, winning 20 rounds or more for the 23rd straight year. That, in itself, would be a career-maker for almost anyone else. Force, though, still wants to win races.

He's shown this year that he still has the fire. The question is does he have the firepower?

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force