Sears Point: Force

SONOMA, Calif. â^À^Ó John Force has extra incentive this week (Aug. 4-6) in his bid to end three years of frustration in the Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway and it's not just the fact that former boat racer Jerry Toliver...

SONOMA, Calif. â^À^Ó John Force has extra incentive this week (Aug. 4-6) in his bid to end three years of frustration in the Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway and it's not just the fact that former boat racer Jerry Toliver leads the Winston driver standings at a point at which the nine -time Winston Champ usually already has established control.

Toliver, who leads by 32 points even though he's won three fewer races this year, is a prime consideration, but Force's real motivation in pursuit of a fifth career victory at Sears Point is to avoid revisiting the two weeks misery that followed his first round loss in the July 16th Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver.

Coming off a victory in last week's Prolong Northwest Nationals at Seattle, Wash., his first win at the wheel of the newest of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustangs, the eight-time Auto Racing All-American carries a lot of momentum into Sears Point. However, the Denver memories remain quite vivid.

"It's very painful," Force said of defeat. "You don't just leave the racetrack, have a beer and get over it. You're sick for days. When we lose, I hate (to have) a week off because I relive it the whole time.

"You win and you have a week off, you like to sit around and dream a little bit, stay home and see if you can watch the (TV) tapes. But if you lose, Denver (after getting beat in the first round by Scotty Cannon), I said to myself, â^À^ØI gotta be sick for two weeks.' You have nightmares about it until you can get back to the races and do something about it."

Nevertheless, despite the potential for more grief, Force is otherwise enjoying the battle with Toliver who, with Dale Armstrong turning the wrenches, has put Force in a position he hasn't faced since 1992, when Cruz Pedregon chased him down and beat him for the championship.

"The racing this season is good for everybody, I think," Force said. "It's painful to ones like me that are spoiled, but it's good for the sport. Maybe I won't be saying that when we come back (to California for the season-ending AAA of Southern California Finals). But the fans are into it. People get tired of one guy winning everything, I guess."

That should make Force an even bigger fan favorite this week at Sears Point because, after reaching the Fram/Autolite finals eight straight years, Force hasn't reached the semifinals in three years and the last two seasons has been ousted in round one, last year by Chuck Beal in a memorable race in which Beal's car exploded and crashed into Force's lane past the finish line.

This year, though, the 87-time tour winner believes he and his braintrust -- Crew Chiefs Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and John Medlen -- have an answer for Sonoma's heat and traction problems.

"Last week was our first win with the new Mustang body (designed by Tim Gibson)," Force said. "All the expense and all the time finally is paying off. (At Seattle), we went down the track all eight runs -- four in qualifying and four on race day -- and we couldn't have done that with the old car."

<pre> John Force at...... Sears Point Raceway Sonoma, California Starts: 12 No. 1 qualifier: 4 (1993-96) Final rounds: 7 Wins: 4 (1990- 92, 1994) Record: 30-8 Best Numbers: 4.949 secs, Aug. 9, 1999 307.86 mph, Aug. 9, 1999 LAST YEAR -- After qualifying second, John lost in the first round to Chuck Beal.

DID YOU KNOW: John has qualified for 243 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals....he has won at least one NHRA event for 14 consecutive seasons, the longest such streak in Funny Car history....John was runner-up for ESPN Espy Awards for Driver of the Year (to Dale Jarrett) and Driver of the Decade (to Dale Earnhardt) last Februrary....John is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996....John was the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.90 and 4.80 second barriers and the first to exceed 320 winning last week's Prolong Northwest Nationals at Seattle, Wash., John failed to break 300 mph for the first time in 18 races dating back to the 1999 Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa. It's the first time he's won a race without at least once breaking 300 since 1996 when he won the Virginia Nationals at Richmond with a best speed of 298.80 mph. He won 34 times between Richmond, 1996, and Seattle, 2000.

The Race on TV: Two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 pm (ET) on Saturday, Aug. 5; two hours of race coverage at 9:30 pm (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 6. ESPN Heat at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, all on ESPN2.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying at 5:30 and 9:30 pm (ET) Friday; 2:30 and 7 pm Saturday. Finals at 2 pm (ET) Sunday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Gibson , Austin Coil , John Medlen