Reading2: John Force preview

12-Time Champ tries to make most of Lucas Nationals postponement READING, Pa. (Oct. 4-5) -- John Force recalls the last time he and his Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage Ford Mustang made an October trip to Maple Grove Raceway. So do his Funny Car...

12-Time Champ tries to make most of Lucas Nationals postponement

READING, Pa. (Oct. 4-5) -- John Force recalls the last time he and his Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage Ford Mustang made an October trip to Maple Grove Raceway. So do his Funny Car rivals on the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour.

That's why the 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion has been installed as an early favorite in this week's rain-delayed conclusion of the 19th annual Lucas Oil Keystone Nationals.

It was on Oct. 6, 2001 in a race postponed by the tragedy of 9/11 that Force set the current Maple Grove track record (4.731) en route to what may be the most impressive single win of his career.

In that race, the 54-year-old drag racing icon became the first driver to string together four consecutive competitive quarter mile runs of less than 4.80 seconds (4.747, 4.762, 4.750 and 4.792), winning wire-to-wire and beating arch rival Whit Bazemore in the final round.

His 4.756 average remains the quickest series of race-day runs and his 4.731 second qualifying effort stood as the official NHRA national record for more than a year before Force himself finally eclipsed the mark earlier this year at Joliet, Ill. (4.721).

"My ol' hot rod likes to run when it's cool," Force said, "but so does Tony's (teammate Tony Pedregon's Castrol SYNTEC Mustang). We're really here to help Tony win the championship and keep it all in the family."

Indeed, if Pedregon manages to hang on to his current advantage in POWERade points, it would be the 13th championship in 14 years for Team Force and Team Castrol.

"It's important for Castrol and Ford and all our other sponsors," Force said of the title. "Tony's paid his dues. He may have struggled a little, but he's won seven races this year (including last week's CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Joliet, Ill.).

"We had our chances. The driver screwed up a couple of times (three foul starts, almost doubling his career total in a single season) and the car wasn't good early, but I'm proud of Tony and I'm proud of the way we came back (to win at Denver and Seattle and extend to 17 the number of consecutive years in which he has won a tour event)."

For Force, playing the role of rear guard to Pedregon is not natural.

"All those years Tony was watching my back while we were winning (12 championships)," acknowledged the 1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, "and now it's our turn to help him. I really hope I have the chance to do that; to take Baze (contender Whit Bazemore) out a time or two before the end."

Actually, Force already has delivered as Pedregon's "wing man." Bazemore opened the season by reaching the semifinal round in 10 consecutive races, a streak Force ended when he beat the Dodge driver in the second round at Columbus, Ohio.

He repeated that success two races later (at Denver) and then won beat Bazemore in the finals at Seattle. That took 140 potential points off the table, points the Dodge driver would love to have back right now.

"It's going to be fun," Force said. "You get in a race for the championship, it energizes the whole team."

DID YOU KNOW?

John is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996)....John is trying to extend to 320 the record number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. The last time he failed to make a starting lineup was at the 1987 World Finals at Pomona, Calif. (Oct. 31, 1987)....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 also are being expanded and upgraded....this is the first time in 11 years that John rolls into Maple Grove Raceway as anything but the Funny Car points leader....unless he rallies to win a race down the stretch, this would be the first time since 1989 that John has won fewer than three races. In the 1989 season, he won just once -- at Maple Grove, thereby preserving a streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory that now has reached 17.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force