FORCE HAS ONE LAST CHANCE TO EXTEND CAREER RECORDS 14-Time Champion Trying to Recapture Past Form POMONA, Calif. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That's the situation in which drag racing icon John...
FORCE HAS ONE LAST CHANCE
TO EXTEND CAREER RECORDS
14-Time Champion Trying to Recapture Past Form
POMONA, Calif. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That's the situation in which drag racing icon John Force finds himself this week when he sends his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang into the season- ending 45th annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway with no chance of moving up in the Full Throttle driver standings.
Already certain to finish worse than he has in his last 25 years on the NHRA pro tour, Force opted last week to begin testing for a 2010 season in which he will celebrate a quarter century with Castrol as his primary sponsor.
Since the most recent test session was his fifth of the year, exceeding the NHRA-imposed limit of four, the sport's most high profile driver is ineligible to earn any additional points this weekend.
That means he will finish the season no better than ninth. That's his worst showing since 1984, when he was 12th, and it's only the fourth time in 25 years that he has finished outside the Top 5.
That said, the 126-time tour winner still hasn't given up on extending his streaks for most consecutive seasons with a final round appearance (currently 24 and holding), most consecutive seasons with a victory (stalled at 22) and most consecutive seasons with a winning record (also on pause, at 24).
For the Record:
John is trying to extend to a record-setting 23 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA tour event and to 25 the number of successive years in which he's appeared in a final.
John has won 12 races and an amazing 103 racing rounds at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. In the Auto Club Finals, he has gone to the final round 11 times with seven wins.
If he is to secure a winning record for the 25th straight season, John must reach the final round of this week's race. He comes in with a 22-23 record.
John is the only driver in the Funny Car Top 10 who hasn't gone to a final round this season. He's reached the semifinals on six separate occasions but has yet to advance.
All of John's wins in the Auto Club Finals have come in even numbered years, the most recent in 2006, the last time he won the championship. Of his other five wins at Pomona, four came in odd-numbered years.
"Robert and Jimmy Prock turned things around with the Auto Club Ford and they were struggling worse than me," Force said, referring to teammate, son-in-law, points leader and title favorite Robert Hight. "We're trying to get better. We've just had some issues."
Primary among those issues has been the inconsistency of a car that once was the most dominating hybrid in the sport.
Force hasn't started a race from the No. 1 qualifying position in more than three years and hasn't been in a final since winning at Topeka in 2008.
Nevertheless, it's been anything but a throwaway season for the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection.
For one thing, he is the owner of the Fords that enter the finale 1-2 in Full Throttle points (daughter Ashley Force Hood trails Hight by 105 points). That virtually assures John Force Racing, Inc., an unprecedented 16th championship in 20 seasons.
For another, 2009 this has been a year of validation for the Hall of Fame driver's safety initiatives. The challenge undertaken by the Eric Medlen Project has begun to pay dividends in the form of a much safer race car, one from which rookie driver Daniel Wilkerson emerged with not so much as an scratch after slamming into the guardwall last month at Memphis, Tenn.
"Winning is still a priority, but now it goes hand-in-hand with safety," Force said. "Vince Lombardi said winning is everything, but I don't think he ever lost a man on the playing field (and) we owe Eric Medlen to make the sport safer for the next generation."