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FORCE IS STILL THE DRIVER TO BEAT IN POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE 13-Time Series Champ Just 47 Points Back of Scelzi READING, Pa. -- It is a measure of his total domination of NHRA drag racing the last decade-and-a-half that in a season in ...

13-Time Series Champ Just 47 Points Back of Scelzi

READING, Pa. -- It is a measure of his total domination of NHRA drag racing the last decade-and-a-half that in a season in which he has not yet clinched the POWERade championship, with an emphasis on "yet," John Force has been portrayed as a driver whose career is in decline.

Moreover, the 13-time champion regularly has been queried about his retirement, a presumption apparently born of the fact that his daughter, Ashley, has taken a turn or two in testing at the wheel of his national record-holding Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang.

Force, who rolls into Maple Grove Raceway as one of five drivers still in the hunt for the 2005 Funny Car Championship and as the owner of the Fords occupied by two of the other contenders, Eric Medlen and Robert Hight, just rolls he eyes and shakes his head.

"I'm not retiring," he said. "What would I do? Plus, I've got contracts with Castrol and Ford to drive until 2011.

"We've had some trouble this year, but there's nothing wrong with me and nothing wrong with this team that a win wouldn't fix," Force said as crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly prepared his 4.665 second, 333.58 mile per hour Mustang for this week's 21st annual Toyo Tires Nationals.

"I don't know if anyone has noticed, but there are a lot of good race cars out here," Force continued. "This is the best field (of Funny Cars) I've ever seen and that goes back to the days of 'Snake' and 'Mongoose,' Bernstein and the 'Blue Max' (references to Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Kenny Bernstein and the car driven by three-time champion Raymond Beadle). I raced against all of them and I got spanked regular. But, bottom line, it's tougher now. There are no easy rounds."

Statistics support the 12-time Auto Racing All-American's contention. For one thing, he has been beaten in the first round in HALF of the 18 races contested thus far. Until this year, he never had lost more than seven first round races in a season and never won the championship after losing more than five. However, despite those losses, he trails pacesetting Gary Scelzi by just 47 points, the equivalent of roughly two rounds of racing, with five events remaining.

The reality of the situation is that in a season in which he admittedly has struggled, Force has won more races (4) than anyone else in the category. Moreover, after a mid-season swoon that followed three-victories-in-three-weeks, the 56-year-old icon has shown recent signs of recovery.

Two weeks ago, in fact, he put his Ford on the "pole" at the biggest event in the series -- the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals -- by lowering the Indianapolis Raceway Park track record to 4.726 seconds. That was significant not just because it was his 10th No. 1 start in the last 15 years at Indy, but because it was his first No. 1 of the season, extending to 20 the number of consecutive years in which he has been No. 1 at least one time.

"My ol' hot rod's getting better," acknowledged the 1996 Driver of the Year, "and we're getting to some racetracks where we usually do pretty good (six wins at Maple Grove; six at the Texas Motorplex, site of next week's O'Reilly Fall Nationals). I'm not going anywhere. Racing like this for a championship, that's keeping me young; that and training these kids."

"These kids" are Hight, driver of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang; Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Mustang; and Force's 22- year-old daughter, Ashley, driver of the Castrol/Wheels Top Alcohol Dragster.

Despite predictions of doom and gloom when Force opted to put Hight and Medlen in his other Funny Cars even though neither had any previous experience, they've prospered in the John Force Racing environment, winning five times this year alone. Meanwhile, Ashley is being groomed to join them, perhaps as early as 2007.

Nevertheless, Force is quick to point out that he hasn't forgotten about the current generation in his zeal to promote the Next Generation.

"I still have a lot of quarter miles left in me," he said. "I still love to drive."

* * * *

Did You Know? This weekend, John can extend to 365 the record number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car....John has won at least one tour event for 19 straight seasons and three or more for 15 straight years....last year, after qualifying second behind teammate Eric Medlen, John set Maple Grove track records for time (4.728 seconds) and speed (327.82 mph) before losing to Gary Scelzi in the final.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Don Prudhomme , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Austin Coil