Seattle: John Force preview

FORCE TRIES TO SOLIDIFY POSITION IN COUNTDOWN 14-Time Champ Aims for Season's First Victory SEATTLE, Wash. -- If all he had to do was improve on last year's performance, John Force's job this week would be relatively simple. That's because...

FORCE TRIES TO SOLIDIFY POSITION IN COUNTDOWN
14-Time Champ Aims for Season's First Victory

SEATTLE, Wash. -- If all he had to do was improve on last year's performance, John Force's job this week would be relatively simple. That's because just by qualifying for Sunday's 22nd annual NHRA Northwest Nationals, drag racing's biggest winner would trump the stunning DNQ he endured at Pacific Raceways just a year ago.

Unfortunately, languishing in eighth place in Full Throttle Funny Car points and with four drivers right on his heels, the 14-time NHRA champion needs to do more than merely put his Castrol GTX® High Mileage^Ù Ford Mustang in the starting lineup.

He needs to win rounds. More important, he needs to win a race, something he hasn't done yet this year; something he hasn't done, in fact, since June 1, 2008 when he prevailed at Topeka, Kan. So far, that's his only victory since coming back from injuries suffered in a Sept., 2007, crash in Dallas, Texas.

That said, the 60-year-old icon bristles at the suggestion that he no longer has the desire nor the skill to race for the championship.

"I wouldn't be out here if I didn't think I could win," said the seven-time Northwest Nationals champion. "We won a lot of championships and a lot of races because we were consistent (and) we don't have that right now but we're getting better.

"The other thing is, we're not winning the close races. When we were winning all those championships (ten in a row from 1993 through 2002), we seemed to win the races that were too close to call. Now it seems like we lose em. We've gotta turn that around -- and I think we can."

The other issue, one Force doesn't discuss, is testing -- or the lack thereof. Under new NHRA guidelines, testing in the pro classes is limited to four days per season. Force's team used to test 8-10 times on Monday after NHRA tour events and four or five other times during the year -- and those sessions weren't always limited to one day.

"It's the same for everybody," Force said. "I think it's good because it has helped save budget. Testing is expensive but, yeah, it's a problem not being able to test when you really have issues. In that past, when we were struggling, we'd just go and test until we figured it out. Now, you've got to figure it out at the races."

Nevertheless, after several personnel changes and adjustments to the heavier race car mandated by rule following the deaths of Force prot^ g^ Eric Medlen and two-time NHRA champion Scott Kalitta, Force believes his team is close.

Indeed, until he lost to his son-in-law, Robert Hight, in last week's Mopar Mile-High Nationals, he had lost just one first round match in 10 races. That's a substantial improvement over last year when he mixed eight first round exits with four DNQs.

The downside is that the 1996 Driver of the Year hasn't been able to turn that improvement into final round appearances. In fact, he hasn't been in a final since his win at Topeka, a 28-race drought that is the longest of his 32-year NHRA career.

Despite it all, Force still is in the Top 10 in the most competitive field in Funny Car history, locked in a battle for the final three transfer positions with rookie Matt Hagan, reigning series champion Cruz Pedregon and his own teammates Hight and 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year Mike Neff. Those five drivers are separated by just 71 points.

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Scott Kalitta , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Mike Neff