Seattle: John Force preview

DESPITE RECENT PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS, EXPERIENCE MAKES FORCE THE FAVORITE Champ Tries to Halt Free Fall in Return to Pacific Raceways SEATTLE, Wash. -- There's a reason John Force has won exactly half the NHRA tour events contested at...

Champ Tries to Halt Free Fall in Return to Pacific Raceways

SEATTLE, Wash. -- There's a reason John Force has won exactly half the NHRA tour events contested at Pacific Raceways the last 14 seasons and it has everything to do with the fact that he has been driving drag racing Funny Cars for 30 years on some of the most challenging tracks in the country.

However, on no other track in the 23-race NHRA POWERade series is that experience more important than it is at Pacific Raceways, site of this week's 18th annual CARQUEST Northwest Nationals,.

It's what enabled Force to get his Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford Mustang down the tricky left lane last year against Gary Scelzi on the way to his second straight win in Washington State's biggest drag race, a triumph that all but sealed his 13th series title.

Furthermore, despite his recent performance problems, that experience, which includes roughly 3,000 quarter mile runs in NHRA national events, another 1,500 or so in other races, is what makes the 56-year-old drag racing icon the favorite to win again this year.

"Seattle isn't a track you're going to run records on," Force said. "It's tricky. There's a bump in the left lane and if it gets hot, the right lane isn't a lot better. But I like it because you have to drive a lot more than you do at other tracks. It reminds me of some of the tracks where we used to match race."

That may be because, in its previous incarnation as Seattle International Raceway, it was a track on which Force did match race at events like 64 Funny Cars, the Northwest National Open, the Fox Hunt, races that paid appearance fees instead of purses.

In fact, when he was beginning his career, the 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection ran such races just to earn enough money to make an occasional appearance on the young, but expanding NHRA pro tour.

"We used to run Seattle, Portland, Spokane, all over the place. Even Canada (Edmonton)," Force said. "That was in the heyday of the Blue Max (Raymond Beadle), Snake and Mongoose (Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen, respectively), Ed 'the Ace' (McCulloch), Billy Meyers (sic). We all ran up and down the West Coast."

Not that he ran all that well.

"We were one of the fill-in cars," Force said. "There were the big guys, the Snakes and the Beadles. They got the big money. But they needed to fill out the fields, so we could pick up a thousand dollars for two runs, which was pretty good back then."

Nevertheless, because he ran on so many marginal racing surfaces, Force developed a knack for getting from Point A to Point B, a skill he refined after signing another former match race favorite, Austin Coil, as his crew chief to start the 1985 season.

"Coil taught me how to win," Force said. "He knew what it took. He won on the match tour and he won in NHRA (claiming the NHRA Funny Car championship in 1982 and 1983 with his own car, the Chi-Town Hustler, driven by Frank Hawley) before he came over here."

Together, Coil and Force struggled for two seasons before earning a breakthrough victory at Montreal, Canada, in 1987. They've rarely struggled since although they come into the CARQUEST race having won just one round in the last four events, a slump that last week cost Force the points lead.

A four-time winner this season, he currently trails son-in-law Robert Hight, driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, by 22 points, but leads Scelzi, the three-time former NHRA Top Fuel Champion, by 14.

     "It's a long season," Force said.  "Coil and Bernie (co-crew chief Bernie Fedderly)
have been working on (the problem).  They had a couple more things to look at this
week.  They'll figure it out."

* * * *

Did You Know? By making the lineup for Sunday's CARQUEST Nationals, John can extend to 360 the number of consecutive NHRA tour events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. That streak, perhaps the most remarkable of his 20-year career with Castrol, dates back to the start of the 1988 season...John has won at least one NHRA tour event for 19 straight seasons and three or more for 15 consecutive years...John is the Pacific Raceways track record holder at 4.827 seconds, a mark he established four years only two other events has John won more often than he has the CARQUEST Nationals. He's won eight times in the Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta; 10 times in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Don Prudhomme , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , Frank Hawley