Force Seeks Redemption as Tour Moves To Phoenix For C.S.K. Race 109-Time NHRA Tour Winner Back in Championship Form CHANDLER, Ariz. (March 5-7) -- With the exception of POWERade champion Tony Pedregon, no Funny Car driver won more races last...
Force Seeks Redemption as Tour Moves To Phoenix For C.S.K. Race
109-Time NHRA Tour Winner Back in Championship Form
CHANDLER, Ariz. (March 5-7) -- With the exception of POWERade champion Tony Pedregon, no Funny Car driver won more races last year than John Force.
In addition to three NHRA tour victories -- the 107th, 108th and 109th of his remarkable career, Force drove the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to an NHRA national record quarter mile time of 4.721 seconds and came within an eyelash of winning the $100,000 Budweiser Shootout bonus race for the sixth time in his career.
Nevertheless, it was not a typical season for the sport's most prolific winner who, for the first time in 14 years, never once led the POWERade point standings, the only driver in his three-car stable who did not do so.
Moreover, after enduring just four foul starts in his first 25 years on the NHRA tour, the 54-year-old veteran was flagged four times last year while adapting to new LED lights that flash green at the start.
As a result, drag racing's biggest winner is embarked this year on a self- proclaimed "Redemption Tour," one that brings him back this week to Firebird International Raceway for the 20th renewal of the Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.
Although he finds some solace in the fact that the No. 3 on his car, reflective of his finishing position in last year's driver standings, was Dale Earnhardt's number when he was running roughshod over NASCAR's stock car circuit, Force is determined to reclaim the No. 1 that has been his for 12 of the last 14 seasons.
"We're taking back the White House," he said as he prepared for the second race of the new season, one in which he has a new teammate (rookie Eric Medlen, who this year is driving the Castrol SYNTEC Ford) and a new resolve.
"Last year, we got behind and we never caught up," said the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection. "We made a lot of changes and it took a whole season to figure everything out. With as many good cars as there are right now, you can't get as far behind as we did and expect to catch up."
Indeed, Force wasn't even in the Top 10 after the season's first four races before rallying to salvage third place.
"Nobody's going to dominate this series like we did (in the past)," Force said. "Just look at what happened at Pomona (in last week's K&N Winternationals). (Jerry) Toliver goes out and finds some money (Schick razors) and wins with a Toyota.
"So that's another player. We already had the Dodges (Whit Bazemore and Gary Scelzi), Prudhomme's two cars (with drivers Tommy Johnson Jr. and defending CSK champion Ron Capps), the Worsham family (with cars for Del Worsham, Phil Burkart and Cory Lee) and the Pedregon brothers (Tony and Cruz) plus Tim Wilkerson. There's no room for mistakes."
Force's 2003 mistakes were to some extent a product of the system.
NHRA's decision to change the conventional light bulbs in its Christmas Tree starting apparatus to brighter and more durable LED bulbs proved his undoing. The new lights indeed were brighter -- too bright, as it turned out. At least for Force.
"I had to re-educate myself," Force said. "I had it in my head that I couldn't red light, but I did. So I had to adust. Now I know that on good tracks I have to be careful and not get too aggressive (at the start). It's just an adjustment, that's all.
"(Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) fixed the race car; I fixed the driver."