FORCE FINALLY A FACTOR IN RACE TO COUNTDOWN' 14-Time Champ Seeks Eighth Win at Pacific Raceways SEATTLE, Wash. Those who already had counted John Force out of the NHRA title race have grown strangely silent now that the sport's most ...
FORCE FINALLY A FACTOR
IN RACE TO COUNTDOWN'
14-Time Champ Seeks Eighth Win at Pacific Raceways
SEATTLE, Wash. Those who already had counted John Force out of the NHRA title race have grown strangely silent now that the sport's most prolific winner has driven himself back into contention for one of the eight berths in the Countdown to the Championship.
With only this week's 20th annual Schuck's Nationals and three other races remaining before the POWERade points are re-adjusted for the top eight drivers, Force is a single round-win away from giving himself a shot at an unprecedented 15th NHRA Funny Car championship.
In just two weeks, the 58-year-old drag racing icon and the crew supporting his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang have managed to plug almost all the leaks in a ship that an unusually large number of skeptics believed was sinking.
They should have known better.
"I didn't wake up one morning and not know how to drive," Force said on the eve of his return to Pacific Raceways, a track on which he has won seven times in his career, "and (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) didn't wake up not knowing how to tune a hot rod. We had some issues, but we're working it out."
Those "issues" put Force in a hole from which few believed he could extricate himself. Off to the worst start of his 30-year career, the 14-time Auto Racing All- America selection lost in the first round seven times before mid-season, winning just two competitive rounds.
Not only that, he saw his ironman qualifying streak ended at 395 consecutive events when he failed to put the Castrol Ford in the starting lineup for last April's Summit Racing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"We've struggled," Force said. "Everybody knows that. We went from being one of the greatest teams in history to being (one of) the worst, but now the ol Mustang is starting to talk to me. With all the yellin' and screamin' and fightin' over here, we kept it together because we're family."
Languishing in 15th place in Funny Car points after yet another first round loss three weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, the team opted to make a major change, scrapping the chassis they had run for the first 10 races for a fresh one. McKinney Corporation built them both.
"Everybody said it's just pipe,'" Force mused, "but every car I ever had had it's own personality. We had a car that wouldn't talk to me. So, we put the new car together, went out and tested it (the Monday after Norwalk) and here we are."
In his first race out with the new combination, he prevailed at Bristol, Tenn., claiming his 123rd career victory and extending to 21 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA tour event. Last week at Denver, he might have won again except for a mental error for which he took full responsibility.
"I got too amped up," he said. "I was trying to get my energy up and I overdid it. I got too much caffeine in me and went up there with happy feet and (fouled out). But I'll fix that. I'm just glad I got my race car back. We haven't had a car to race with all year. Now we do."
However, it wasn't just the chassis that turned things around for the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection. Attitude also played a role.
"It's real easy to be a good boss when you're winning," Force said, "but the real test of a leader is what he does when things aren't going right and I've been a real jerk. So I called all my guys in and I said, I want to apologize to all of you. I've been wrong and I'm gonna fix it' and the attitude seemed to change. They were ready to race.
"It ain't just about winning," said the 1996 Driver of the Year. "It's about doing your best. I remember that when I think about Eric (teammate Eric Medlen, the 2005 Seattle winner who last March succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident). In the end, we may not make the chase, but at least we got our heart back."