Phoenix: John Force preview

FORCE BACK IN FRONT AFTER POPULAR WIN Winternationals Victory Ended 40-Race Drought PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Coming off a wildly-popular victory in last week's season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals, a win that carried him to the very top of...

FORCE BACK IN FRONT AFTER POPULAR WIN
Winternationals Victory Ended 40-Race Drought

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Coming off a wildly-popular victory in last week's season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals, a win that carried him to the very top of the Funny Car point standings for the first time in more than three years, John Force rolls into Firebird International Raceway touting the benefits of a concept he once feared.

Force won a record 126 NHRA tour events largely because he was able to avoid change. He won No. 127 because he embraced it.

The Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Force will drive in this week's 26th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals is brand new, top-to-bottom. The support crew is new, too, with only clutch technician Tom Ekstrom returning from a 2009 season in which Force failed to win a race for the first time in 23 years.

However, perhaps the most compelling change came at the crew chief level where Force partnered Mike Neff with veterans Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.

"Obama may be struggling with change, but John Force isn't," said the 14-time NHRA champion. "I changed last year. I knew Robert Hight could drive a race car. I knew he could win a championship (and) I knew that Jimmy Prock could tune that car, but there was something wrong."

Hight, a perennial championship contender, had gone 16 races without reaching a final round, the longest such drought of his brief career.

Force opted to swap teams with Hight. For one weekend, Force drove a car prepared by Prock and his Auto Club crew while Coil and Fedderly worked with Hight. A race later, defying logic, Hight went to the finals for the first time all season, won three of the last six races and, ultimately, the Full Throttle championship.

If some change is good, Force reckoned, more is better. So, he turned his attention to his own team and, as he said last week, "the proof is in the pudding."

After two seasons of struggle that followed a devastating 2007 crash at Dallas, Texas, Force demonstrated last week that, even at age 60, he still can bring it. His 1000 foot times of 4.132, 4.120, 4.125 and 4.124 seconds recalled the dominating consistency that led him to 10 straight titles (1993-2002).

More discomforting for rivals, however, may have been the fact that Force drove the wheels off the green, red and silver Mustang that celebrates his 25 seasons with Castrol sponsorship. He was the quickest to react to the green start signal in every round and his .057-.073 edge over Ron Capps was the difference in the final round.

The win was only the second for Force since his accident and the first on the shortened 1000 foot course. It likely won't be his last.

"We had to shuffle the cards a little bit," Force said. "For financial reasons, we couldn't run the fourth car this year (the Drive One Mustang in which Neff won last November's Auto Club Finals). So it only made sense (to move Neff over to Force's car) since he was a crew chief (who) beat Coil and Bernie and me in 2005 (with driver Gary Scelzi).

"We just put a young (guy) in with the older generation to mix it up a little bit and they gave me a good hot rod," Force said. "To get a win after so many losses, it was big, but what was really big was we did it with the all-Ford chassis and the Ford BOSS 500 motor (both developed at the John Force Racing facility in Brownsburg, Ind.). That thing ran and it made the driver look good. It just whipped the numbers out."

Force will be looking for big numbers again this weekend in a race he has won eight times previously, most recently in 2005.

"We want to get John Force Racing back to when it used to dominate," Force said. "We had that (at Pomona). Let's see if we can do it again at Phoenix."

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , Mike Neff