Pomona: John Force preview

FORCE STILL THE MAN TO BEAT IN NHRA FUNNY CAR DIVISION 14-Time Champ Starts 30th Season at CARQUEST Winternationals POMONA, Calif. -- John Force is larger-than-life, a former truck driver who pulled himself up from nothing to become the most ...

FORCE STILL THE MAN TO BEAT IN NHRA FUNNY CAR DIVISION
14-Time Champ Starts 30th Season at CARQUEST Winternationals

POMONA, Calif. -- John Force is larger-than-life, a former truck driver who pulled himself up from nothing to become the most celebrated personality and most decorated driver in NHRA drag racing history; the winner of 14 of the last 17 NHRA Funny Car Championships.

As a result, it's unlikely that anyone was taken in by the 122-time tour winner's recent assertion that he is not the focus of a 2007 POWERade season that begins this week with the 47th renewal of the CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

"It's not about me anymore," said the man who has won 12 times at Auto Club Raceway, more than he has on any other track in the 23-race series. "It's about Eric (Medlen) and Robert (Hight) and Ashley (his second oldest daughter) and all the rest of these kids.

"I've been busy working on a 30-year plan for Ashley," Force said, referring to his 24-year-old Funny Car protege, "and I asked (crew chief Austin) Coil, what's the 30- year plan for you and me?' He said, it ain't pretty.' Don't get me wrong, I'm still gonna race as hard as ever for Castrol and Ford to win the championship, but when you look around the pits, that's where you see the future."

Nevertheless, there's no doubt that Force remains a factor in the present. In fact, he will be the favorite this week when he brings his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to the starting line for the first time on the track on which he earned a dramatic, title-clinching victory in last November's Auto Club Finals.

Despite the fact that he is beginning his 30th year on the NHRA tour, the 57-year- old icon hasn't shown by his performance that he is relaxing his grip on a Funny Car division that has become one of the most competitive in the POWERade series.

After all, he has won at least three tour events in each of the last 17 seasons and at least one race in 20 consecutive campaigns dating back to 1987. Moreover, he'll begin the season having qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car for a record 392 consecutive NHRA tour events and he could end it as the first driver in any category to win 1,000 rounds and appear in 200 finals.

Those milestones, which once seemed like a pipe dream, are well within reach for the 1996 Driver of the Year.

He's just 33 round wins shy of reaching 1,000 and if he goes to the final round five times this season, something he's done each of the last 17 seasons, he would become the first to race for the money 200 times.

Besides, Force has an additional motivation this season. He wants to get back the Funny Car performance records that presently belong to second year Funny Car pro Jack Beckman.

After winning last October at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Beckman started the next race, the season-ending Auto Club Finals, from the No. 1 qualifying position. In the final round, he lowered the NHRA national record to 4.662 seconds, breaking Force's track and national record. He earlier had bumped the speed standard to 333.66 mph.

Unfortunately for the driving instructor, it wasn't good enough to win. Force edged him at the finish with a time of 4.697 seconds augmented by a .045 of a second starting line advantage.

While he cherished the victory, losing the record was a difficult pill for Force to swallow over the break. After all, he has held the record for most of the last 15 years as the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.90, 4.80 and 4.70 second barriers.

* * * *

Did You Know: When John Force wins his first round of racing in the 2007 season, crew chief Austin Coil will become the first driver or crew chief in drag racing history to win 1,000 rounds of competition in NHRA series. Coil, who won two series championships with Frank Hawley (1982, 1983) before he came to John Force Racing in 1985, has compiled a 999-336 record in 468 NHRA events with four different drivers (Pat Minick, Denny Savage, Hawley and Force). His cars have failed to qualify just three times in those 468 races.

Driving Force: A second season of the real-life series starring John Force, wife Laurie and their three drag racing daughters begins March 27th on A&E Network. The show moves from Mondays to Tuesdays this season at the same time, 9 p.m., Eastern.

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Jack Beckman , Austin Coil , Frank Hawley