Reading: John Force preview

Jforce-Ful comeback quiets critics as champ moves into contention Castrol GTX0x00ae high mileage driver among favorites at Maple Grove READING, Pa. (Sept. 12-14) -- John Force may not be earning NHRA POWERade points at the rate rivals have...

Jforce-Ful comeback quiets critics as champ moves into contention

Castrol GTX0x00ae high mileage driver among favorites at Maple Grove

READING, Pa. (Sept. 12-14) -- John Force may not be earning NHRA POWERade points at the rate rivals have come to expect, but the 12-time series champion nevertheless has managed to quiet those critics who four months ago were declaring his reign as NHRA Funny Car Champion all but over.

Certainly, the sport's biggest winner faces an uphill battle in his bid to extend to 11 his consecutive championship streak, but entering this week's 19th annual Lucas Oil Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, the drag racing icon at least has put himself in position to strike should the two front runners continue to stumble.

Few expected the 108-time tour winner to be even this close (209 points) after he struggled through his toughest start in the last 14 seasons.

After four races, the 54-year-old drag racing icon and his new Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang weren't even in the Top 10, a circumstance that sent statisticians scrambling to the archives to determine the last time the 11-time Auto Racing All-American HAD NOT cashed a Top 10 bonus check.

The answer? Not since 1989, a season he salvaged by making the Keystone Nationals his only win of the campaign, thereby enabling him to keep intact a streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory that now stands at 17.

If Force was concerned about this year's early-season problems, he never showed it -- at least not publicly.

"We had a new chassis and a new (engine/clutch) combination," he said.J"I won 106 races in Steve Plueger cars and then I started the year in a McKinney car. I had to get to comfortable. You've gotta be friendsJwith your car and we weren't friends when we started."

Force's comfort level tumbled to an all-time low when it was determined that one of the reasons the engine in the national record-holding Ford wasn't surviving the entire quarter mile was because it was compromised by the champion's ultra-long re-race burnouts.

As a result, Force altered his technique, shortening the burnouts to make the motor "live" for the full 1,320 feet.

Then there was the adjustment to new LED light bulbs in the Christmas Tree starting apparatus. The new bulbs not only are brighter, they reach full illumination much more quickly than the old-style incandescent lights.JThe upshot is that drivers see the light sooner and therefore react more quickly.

For Force, that meant further adjustments to his driving. After three foul starts (almost doubling his career total to seven), the 1996 Driver of the Year seems again to have found his groove just in time for a stretch run.

A six-time winner at Maple Grove, a track on which he lowered the Funny Car record to 4.731 seconds on the way to a 2001 victory, Force is hoping to follow teammate Tony Pedregon's lead and use the Keystone Nationals as a springboard. Last year Pedregon won on consecutive weekends at Reading, Memphis and Joliet, Ill., to cut Force's lead at one juncture to just 18 points.

DID YOU KNOW?

John is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996) and is the only drag racer ever to be named a finalist for ESPN's "Best Driver" Espy (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002)....

John is trying to extend to 318 the record number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car.JThe last time he failed to make a starting lineup was at the 1987 World Finals at Pomona, Calif. (Oct. 31, 1987)....

John's 20-year-old daughter, Ashley, is competing this week in the Super Comp class at the wheel of a Ford-powered John Force Racing dragster....John's 17-year-old daughter, Brittany, recently earned her Super Comp license....construction has begun on a new 40,000 square foot John Force Racing shop facility in Brownsburg, Ind., just down the road from Indianapolis Raceway Park, home of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The new shop will provide a midwest base of operations for the team which will continue to maintain a permanent home at facilities in Yorba Linda, Calif., which are concurrently being expanded....

with Western Swing victories at Denver and Seattle, John extended to 17 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA national event. The record is 22 straight seasons by Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson, a Minnesota native....this is the first time in 11 years that John rolls into Maple Grove Raceway as anything but the Funny Car points leader.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force