FOCUSED FORCE SEEKS REDEMPTION AS SERIES MOVES TO MAPLE GROVE 13-Time Champ Tries to Put Indy Foul Start Behind Him READING, Pa. -- For John Force, the only thing worse than fouling out in the opening round of drag racing's biggest event, the...
FOCUSED FORCE SEEKS REDEMPTION
AS SERIES MOVES TO MAPLE GROVE
13-Time Champ Tries to Put Indy Foul Start Behind Him
READING, Pa. -- For John Force, the only thing worse than fouling out in the opening round of drag racing's biggest event, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., was having to wait an extra week to redeem himself.
That wait ends Friday with the start of the 22nd annual Toyo Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, a race in which Force has driven the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang into the final round each of the last two seasons.
Drag racing's all-time leader in final round appearances (194), tour victories (121) and individual rounds won (958), Force will begin his bid for a seventh career victory at Maple Grove 19 points down to Ron Capps in the battle for a championship worth $400,000.
If the 57-year-old veteran needed any more motivation in his bid to win his 14th championship in 17 years, he got it at Indy.
After winning Sunday's Skoal Showdown Funny Car bonus race for the sixth time (a victory worth $100,000) and qualifying No. 1 for the 131st time in his career, he was guilty of a foul start in round one against Jim Head, the slowest of the 16 qualifiers for the U.S. Nationals.
"I had the best race car and the best crew," Force said. "Bottom line, I wasn't on my game when I needed to be for this team.
"I over-amped," said the 13-time Auto Racing All-America selection. "The team does everything right and I (have) brain fade. I'll be reliving (the moment) until Pomona (and the season-ending Auto Club Finals).
"Coil (crew chief Austin Coil) said anybody can make a mistake," Force continued, "but not at Indy. I failed and I don't like to fail."
As a result, all eyes will be on the 57-year-old icon and his national record-holding Ford (4.665 seconds, 333.58 miles per hour) from the start of qualifying on Friday.
Although Force has won six times at Maple Grove and is the track record-holder (4.729 seconds, 327.82 mph), he last visited the winners' circle in 2001, losing the last two finals to Gary Scelzi and Tony Pedregon.
A two-time winner this season, Force has doggedly pursued Capps since the second race of the season. The two friends have been 1-2 ever since with Capps surrendering the lead just once after Force prevailed last month at Memphis, Tenn.
"He's not going away," Force said of the points leader. "He's hungry, him and 'Ed the Ace' (McCulloch, Capps' crew chief), but we're hungry, too, and only one of us is going to eat."
Remarkably, Force has won a third of all the races contested in the NHRA series over the last 17 seasons (116 of 352) and while he may no longer enjoy that kind of dominance, he still believes he can compete at the top level for at least the next five seasons (when his current contracts are due to expire).
"It's not like NASCAR," Force has said. "You don't have to drive for three hours. I always said if I was in NASCAR, they'd have to put in some rest stops. But in drag racing, you just have to focus for five seconds. As long as I've got my health and as long as I've got my vision, I can do this. It's what I love."
Right now, that vision is 20-20 and focused clearly on another championship.