POMONA, Calif. -- The fact that he controls his own destiny in the race for the 2002 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship is small consolation to John Force, the 11-time series champion who this week (Nov. 7-10) rolls into the Los Angeles County...
POMONA, Calif. -- The fact that he controls his own destiny in the race for the 2002 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship is small consolation to John Force, the 11-time series champion who this week (Nov. 7-10) rolls into the Los Angeles County Fairplex with two things on his mind -- teammate Tony Pedregon and a recent spate of supercharger drive belt failures.
After winning a final round shootout with his protege two weeks ago at Las Vegas, Force knows that all he has to do to claim an unprecedented 10th CONSECUTIVE series title is win as many rounds in Sunday's 38th annual Automobile Club of Southern California Finals as does his teammate.
In fact, he even has a cushion, albeit a very small one.
Should he and Pedregon both advance to Sunday's final round, as they did at the 1996 and 1997 Finals, Force actually could lose the race and still win the championship.
Thirty one points is all that separates the driver of the Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford Mustang from his teammate, who drives the Castrol SYNTEC0x2122 Ford.
That equates to the closest Funny Car race since 1990 when Force beat Ed "the Ace" McCulloch, now Crew Chief for Don "the Snake" Prudhomme's Funny Car team, by a mere 43 points.`However, in the 1990 season, Force came into the Finals leading by 123 points.`He needed only to qualify to clinch the title.`This time, his challenge is more formidable.
If the pressures of the points race weren't sufficiently stressful, Force has had to deal with another issue.`In light of what has occurred this year on the Formula 1 circuit, where Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello orchestrated the finish of two different events including the U.S. Grand Prix, he has been bombarded with questions about whether "team orders" will play a role in his showdown with Pedregon.
It's a question with which the 105-time tour winner has become increasingly agitated.
"Bottom line, we're racing (for the championship)," he said.`"Why wouldn't we? We've locked up the championship for Castrol, Ford and all our other sponsors.`Tony deserves his shot.`I never like to lose, but if they can beat us, then I'll settle for being a happy car owner."
Nevertheless, the issue which most concerns the sport's biggest name is one over which he has absolutely no control.
"We put a camera on our car (in testing at Las Vegas)," Force said, "and it showed what's happening to the (supercharger drive) belts.`The stress on the front of the blower is so much that the pulley actually is cutting the belts.`That's why (Crew Chief Austin) Coil is having me do shorter burnouts, to help the belts live to the end of the run."
Force and Pedregon both lost $180 supercharger belts in the Las Vegas final and the champion said the average life expectancy is just two quarter mile runs.
"We used to put 20 runs on a belt," Force said.`"Now we're lucky if we get two.`But Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) and Medlen (John Medlen, Crew Chief on Pedregon's Ford) are trying to fix it.`I just don't want the championship to be decided on something like that, because no matter what you do, people talk.`If both of us can just go A to B, that's what I want.` I don't want it decided by something stupid like a blower belt."
That's the one thing on which all the interested parties probably would agree.