Reading: John Force preview

Reading Points Leader Has Won Last 19 Championships READING, Pa. (Sept. 17-19) -- Will it be feast or will it be famine? As applied to Funny Car points leader John Force and the Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang, it's a question ...

Reading Points Leader Has Won Last 19 Championships

READING, Pa. (Sept. 17-19) -- Will it be feast or will it be famine? As applied to Funny Car points leader John Force and the Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang, it's a question generating considerable interest inside the Funny Car community this week as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series moves to Maple Grove Raceway for the 20th renewal of the Lucas Oil Nationals.

Force enters the season's 19th event leading Gary Scelzi by 206 points in his bid for an unprecedented 13th individual championship.

His performance this week at Maple Grove, a track on which he has been notoriously inconsistent, could either end or extend the chase.

That's because while he has been very, very good in the race formerly known as the Keystone Nationals, winning six titles and going to the finals 10 times in the last 17 years, the 113-time tour winner also has been very, very bad, losing in the first round four of the last five years.

That Jekyll-and-Hyde performance -- four first round losses sandwiched around a 2001 victory -- has given hope to rivals not yet willing to concede the championship.

"It looks good for (Force), but we're not dreaming about next year just yet," Scelzi said after beating the Ford driver in a second round showdown two weeks ago at Indianapolis. "Until they come over and tell us it's over, we're gonna keep fighting."

Nevertheless, Force has performance and history on his side.

The track record holder at 4.731 seconds, the 113-time tour winner has won the series championship every time he has left Maple Grove with the lead as he will do next Monday regardless of his performance on Sunday.

In fact, the Funny Car points leader leaving Pennsylvania ALWAYS has won the championship. From Kenny Bernstein to Bruce Larson to Force, Cruz Pedregon and, last year, Tony Pedregon, the lesson has been clear: leave Maple Grove with the lead and win the championship.

That said, Force isn't about to start spending the $400,000 POWERade bonus.

"All it takes is a couple of first round losses (on our part) and a couple of wins (on Scelzi's part or Whit Bazemore's part or Del Worsham's part) and you've got a fight," he said. "We have to stay focused. We have to qualify at the top and we have to win rounds."

Nevertheless, Force holds his fate in his own hands and, historically, that hasn't been good news for the competition.

A four-time winner this season, the 55-year-old veteran is poised to reclaim the title he lost last year to then teammate Tony Pedregon.

"When Tony left (to join brother Cruz in forming Pedregon Racing), I got motivated," Force said. "I heard all the talk (about losing his edge and losing his energy) and I wanted to come out and show everyone that I've still got a lot of racing left in me."

His rivalry with Scelzi, the three-time former NHRA Top Fuel Champion, has provided a showcase for his resurgence. The two heavyweights have met in each of the last five races and in seven of the last eight events and despite the Indy result, Force has won four of the seven and three of the last five.

"I hope we race every week," Force said. "To be the best, you have to beat the best and right now, that's Scelzi."

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Bruce Larson , Cruz Pedregon