12-Time Champion Committed to Reclaiming Title POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 18-22) The number 3 seems eerily out of place on the window posts of the green-and-white Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang in which John Force will launch his bid for an...
12-Time Champion Committed to Reclaiming Title
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 18-22) The number 3 seems eerily out of place on the window posts of the green-and-white Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang in which John Force will launch his bid for an unprecedented 13th series championship this week during the 44th annual K&N Filters Winternationals at the Los Angeles County Fairplex.
That number, an indication of the points position occupied by each driver the previous season, is a source of intense motivation for the 54-year old Force, a drag racing icon who, despite 109 career victories, enters the 2004 NHRA POWER Series with something to prove.
After becoming accustomed to the No. 1 designation which appeared on his race car for 10 consecutive seasons, Force is trying to adjust to No. 3.
"It was Dale Earnhardt's number," Force said, referring to the late NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, "so it's not so bad."
Neverthleless, when you're John Force, drag racing's biggest winner, anything short of perfection can cause ripples in the pond.
A 10-time winner at the Fairplex, where he swept both the season-opening and season-ending events in 2002, Force admits that last year was atypical.
Although he won three times and lowered the official NHRA national record to 4.721 seconds, the fact that he never was in the points race caused many to wonder if he finally had lost his passion for the sport.
It's a suggestion that causes the 11-time Auto Racing All-American to bristle.
"It's tough out there," Force said. "There are a lot of good teams and good drivers, even more this year than last. You can't dominate like we did (in 1996, when he won 13 of 19 races and was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing)."
However, it wasn't just the competition. Force entered the 2003 campaign in a chassis manufactured for the first time by someone other than close friend Steve Plueger, once a racing partner of Force's current teammate, Gary Densham.
It took the veteran a full season to grow comfortable with the new pipe fabricated by McKinney Corporation.
The other mitigating factor was the change NHRA made to its "Christmas Tree" starting system, the apparatus that uses sequential amber and green lights to start each two-car heat.
Faced with an inordinate number of bulb failures, NHRA officials opted to upgrade to LED lights in all national event systems. The new bulbs were brighter than the conventional lights they replaced.
Unfortunately, for Force, they proved too bright. The result was four foul starts, equaling the number of "red light" fouls he had incurred in 25 previous seasons on the NHRA tour.
"I had to re-educate myself," Force said. "I had it in my head that I couldn't red light. Then I did. So I had to adjust. Now I know that on good tracks I have to be careful and I can't be as aggressive (at the start) as I used to be. It's just an adjustment, that's all. I told my guys when we were struggling, you fix the car, I'll fix the driver.
"All that's past. I just know it's been a long winter and I'm ready to go racing."