Phoenix: John Force preview

FORCE STILL THE MAN TO BEAT IN NHRA FUNNY CAR DIVISION After Daytona Visit, His Focus is on the Straight-and-Narrow PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Now that he has re-confirmed the fact that his attention span wouldn't be compatible with NASCAR's typical ...

After Daytona Visit, His Focus is on the Straight-and-Narrow

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Now that he has re-confirmed the fact that his attention span wouldn't be compatible with NASCAR's typical three-to-four hour competition format, John Force returns to the straight-and-narrow this week in hopes of jump-starting his latest bid for the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.

Following a whirlwind tour of Daytona International Speedway where he held a press conference, visited with drivers and fans in the garage area and guest-hosted on Speed TV's "Trackside" show with Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds, drag racing's biggest winner tries to refocus this week on a straight-line racetrack on which he has reached the final round 10 times in the last 13 years.

Ousted two weeks ago in the first round of the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., when his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang shucked a supercharger drive belt, Force nevertheless will be the favorite this week when racing begins at Firebird International Raceway in the 23rd annual Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.

"It's good to get back to what I know," Force said after his visit to the site of last week's Daytona 500. "I was pulling for Mark Martin there at the end to win one for the old guys, but (stock car racing is) a different world. If I was in NASCAR, they'd have to put in a lot more rest stops, I know that. In drag racing, we're not programmed to drive three hours. We just have to focus for four seconds. I told Waltrip it was kinda like sex, but it was great to go over there and see how the other half lives. Now I'm back where I belong on the drag strip."

Winner of 14 of the last 17 NHRA Funny Car Championships, Force has forged a remarkable record at Charlie Allen's Firebird track on which he has won eight times, most recently in 2005.

Since 1994, the 14-time Auto Racing All-American is 39-5 at the CSK Nationals, a race in which he was runner-up to Tommy Johnson Jr. a year ago.

However, it hasn't been all glory at FIR. There have been down times and even an awkward moment or two for the 1996 Driver of the Year.

He recalled one for the Daytona media, harking back to the 1995 season when driver Al Hofmann had accused him of hiding some sort of traction control device in his race car. Otherwise, Hofmann contended, there was no way Force could have put up the kind of performance numbers he had at the outset of the season.

Even though Force's car passed every inspection and although he was re-assured by crew chief Austin Coil that everything was on the up-and-up, his detractors still were not convinced.

"The rumor was I was carrying the (activating) device in my firesuit," Force recalled. "And we were at Phoenix and here I was standing at the end of the track and (the late TV commentator) Steve Evans said, John, I hate to ask you this, but you have to prove right now on national TV that you're not carrying that device.'

"Well, I unzipped my fire suit and dropped it to the ground and, buddy, when you see a guy like me with his Budweiser abs, it ain't a pretty sight. Okay? Sitting there in my underwear, ol' skinny legs. My wife (Laurie) cried; said she couldn't go to church for months. But there was no device on me. We were just good and we're still good to this day."

One of Force's most poignant Phoenix memories is of the 2001 race, one which took him through the gamut of emotion. Riding a performance high after winning the Funny Car title for the third straight year, Force was informed, in the winners' circle, that Dale Earnhardt Sr., with whom he had done a autograph signing just weeks before, had been killed in an accident on the last lap at the Daytona 500.

"Earnhardt Sr.," Force said. "That was a bad day -- now his kid's out there doing what he loves, just like my daughter, Ashley. You worry about em. You try to do everything you can to make em safe but, bottom line, they're doing what they want to do. Ashley grew up in the sport and this is where she wants to be."

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Did You Know:
John Force has qualified for a record 393 consecutive NHRA tour events dating back to the start of the 1988 season. The last time he failed to put a Castrol GTX Funny car in the 16-car starting lineup was Oct. 31, 1987 at Pomona, Calif. The second longest streak in history was 303 races by Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson. The second longest active streak is 161 races by Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta. The second longest active Funny Car streak is by Force's teammate, Eric Medlen.

Fifty-five of John Force's 122 career victories have come from the No. 1 qualifying position. The worst starting position from which John has won a race is No. 12. That's the sport from which he won at Firebird in 1995.

-credit: johnforceracing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Darrell Waltrip , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Eric Medlen , Austin Coil , Mark Martin , Tommy Johnson Jr.