FORCE ON FAMILIAR GROUND AS TOUR MOVES TO NORWALK Champ Trying to Drive His Way Back into Title Contention NORWALK, Ohio -- The timing of Summit Motorsports Park's debut this week as an NHRA national event racetrack, site of the inaugural Summit...
FORCE ON FAMILIAR GROUND
AS TOUR MOVES TO NORWALK
Champ Trying to Drive His Way Back into Title Contention
NORWALK, Ohio -- The timing of Summit Motorsports Park's debut this week as an NHRA national event racetrack, site of the inaugural Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, could not be more fortuitous for struggling drag racing champion John Force.
In fact, the Bader family's revamped and expanded facility looks like a desert oasis to the 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion who, after 20 years of domination, finds himself 14th in POWERade points and in danger of missing the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship.
If the sport's most prolific winner is going to turn things around, SRP should be the place. After all, no other Funny Car driver on the planet has made more laps down the track's high-traction quarter mile than Force.
For the last 12 seasons, he and his Castrol GTX Funny Cars have been the headliners for the track's Night of Fire summer spectacular, an independent race not affiliated with the series.
"We know the racetrack," Force said, "so we're going in with the right attitude. We didn't come here to lose. Our ol' hot rod was better last week (at Englishtown, N.J., where Force qualified No. 2, posted the fastest speed of the event and won just his second round of the season). I think we've turned the corner -- but we still have to prove it, not just to everyone else, but to ourselves."
Off to the worst start of his pro career, Force already has lost in the first round six times, been beaten by a woman for the first time ever and failed to qualify his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Funny Car for an NHRA tour event for the first time in 20 years, ending at 395 his record-shattering streak of consecutive starts.
Moreover, with the mid-point in the season just ahead, the 122-time tour winner finds himself outside the Top 10 for the first time since 1982.
My focus is back on the race car. She needs to come to life and we need to race our way out of this funk."
"The schedule's tough (the Summit Nationals is the second of six tour events in as many weeks), but it's probably the best thing for us. We need to get back in a routine and get back in the game. We don't need to win rounds; we need to win races."
Ironically, Force still has a chance to defend his latest title only because the NHRA revamped its championship format this year to mimic that of NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series.
For the first time, the NHRA season has been split into three segments. In the first 17 events, drivers race for position with the Top 8 advancing to compete for the $500,000 POWERade championship.
At the end of 17 races, the points will be re-adjusted with only 10 points separating each of the top eight positions. After four more races, the points again will be adjusted in advance of a two-race "shootout" for the title.
Not a huge fan of the format at the outset, especially of the second cut, Force is keeping an open mind.
"It's kinda played into our hands," he said, "but we still have to perform. We still have to go rounds and win races. If we can do that, we can get right back in it."
Force's problems this year began early-on. After winning the 2006 season finale at Pomona, Calif., to secure his 14th individual title, he didn't win a round in the first three races of the current season and then had to deal with the tragic death of teammate and protege Eric Medlen, who succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.
Now, though, the 14-time Auto Racing All-American believes his team is back on track. He just hopes it's not too late.