ELVIS OF THE ASPHALT' CAN CLINCH SEVENTH STRAIGHT WINSTON TITLE SUNDAY AT MEMPHIS MOTORSPORTS PARK MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Just up the road from Graceland, where his Elvis-themed Castrol GTX Ford is permanently enshrined in the Elvis ...
ELVIS OF THE ASPHALT' CAN CLINCH SEVENTH STRAIGHT WINSTON TITLE SUNDAY AT MEMPHIS MOTORSPORTS PARK MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Just up the road from Graceland, where his Elvis-themed Castrol GTX Ford is permanently enshrined in the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, John Force this week (Oct. 8-10) is poised to claim his seventh straight Winston Funny Car Championship -- the ninth of his career. It's fitting that the man who's been called the "Elvis of the Asphalt" should lock up the title at Memphis Motorsports Park, site of the 11th annual AutoZone Nationals, which begins with two pro qualifying sessions on Friday. That's because, long before he won his first drag racing title, Force was a diehard Elvis Presley fan. "Elvis was an idol growing up as a kid," he said. "He liked cars and junk food, just like me. But most of all he had style." Force used to tape a picture of "The King" inside his Castrol GTX race car and, when he had a near-death experience at Memphis in 1992 when his car erupted in flames and hit the guardwall at 260 mph, he told a TV camera crew "I saw Elvis at a thousand feet." So in 1998, when he was approached by Fred Wagenhals, president of Action Performance Companies, Inc., regarding a joint venture with Elvis Presley Enterprises that would put him in a guitar-laden Elvis version of his Castrol Ford, Force jumped at the opportunity. The "Elvis Car" ultimately debuted at the Castrol Nationals at Dallas, Texas in May, 1998, and, after carrying the Californian to the second round of last year's AutoZone Nationals, was placed on permanent display at Presley's auto museum located across the street from the mansion where Presley lived and died. A replica of the same car occupies front row center at Force's own museum where the seven-time Auto Racing All-America selection proudly displays a number of Elvis Presley's gold records including a 45 rpm four-pack from "The King's" tenure at Sun Records (before he moved on to RCA).
Also included in the Elvis display is a miniature replica of Graceland, ceramic Elvis dolls, a Elvis driver's license, a replica of the famous pink Cadillac, autographed Elvis photos, a page of uncirculated Elvis postage stamps, a green-and-white street sign from Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, original accounts of Elvis' death from the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Memphis Press Sentinel newspapers and two autographed photos of Force with Priscilla Presley.
To his regret, Force never won a race with the Elvis car although he did coax it to 4.924 seconds last year at Memphis before losing to Al Hofmann. Coming off a victory last week at Topeka, Kansas, in which he lowered the track record to 4.797 seconds, the 79-time tour winner has realistically clinched the championship although it will take a Force victory or a Whit Bazemore loss to apply the mathematical frosting.
AutoZone Nationals Oct. 8-10, 1999 Memphis Motorsports Park Millington, Tennessee
Number starts: 11 Times No. 1 qualifier: 4 Final rounds: 3 Victories: 3 (1993, 1996 and 1997) Most recent win: Oct. 5, 1997 Won-Lost Record: 19-8 Best performances: 4.924 seconds, Oct. 9, 1998 314.35 mph, Oct. 5, 1997 (track record)
Noteworthy: After riding out one of the worst engine fires of his career in 1992 (and "seeing Elvis at a thousand feet"), John came back the next year to win for the first time at Memphis.
DID YOU KNOW:
John has qualified for 226 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 Winston Finals at Pomona, Calif....John is within six victories of tying Bob Glidden's drag racing record for career victories (85)....John has won at least one NHRA event for 13 consecutive seasons and has won three or more races for eight straight years, a record unparalleled in the sport... only seven times in NHRA racing history has a driver won as many as nine races in a season. John has reached that milestone four times (1993, 1994, 1996 and 1999). The only others to have accomplished that feat are Pro Stock drivers Darrell Alderman and Warren Johnson....John has broken the 4.80 second barrier five times and four different racetracks. He and Castrol teammate Tony Pedregon remain the only Funny Car drivers to have run in the 4.70s.