Seattle: John Force preview

Force leads the way at 23rd northwest nationals SEATTLE, Wash. - In the movies, Superman wears blue-and-red tights, is faster than a speeding bullet and is able to defy the laws of gravity. In real life, Superman wears a green-and-red...

Force leads the way at 23rd northwest nationals

SEATTLE, Wash. - In the movies, Superman wears blue-and-red tights, is faster than a speeding bullet and is able to defy the laws of gravity. In real life, Superman wears a green-and-red firesuit, is faster than a speeding bullet and apparently is able to defy the effects of aging.

At age 61, John Force knows he really isn't Superman, but don't try to tell that to the 20, 30 and 40-somethings against whom he will be racing this week at speeds near 315 miles per hour. At an age when his peers have yielded to younger, stronger and supposedly more enthusiastic rivals, Force isn't just competing on his sport's biggest stage, he is dominating.

Entering this week's 23rd annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways, the 14-time champion has taken his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to the Funny Car final round in almost half the races thus far contested in the Full Throttle Series (six of 13).

With just five events remaining before the points are adjusted for the NHRA's Countdown to 1 playoffs, Force leads reigning series champion Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford by 73 points and Matt Hagan and the Die Hard Dodge by 175.

That margin, coupled with his four 2010 wins, makes it appear more and more likely that he will start the Countdown at the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., as the Funny Car leader, likely making him the first sexagenarian ever favored to win a major championship in, well, professional sports history.

It's not just the fact that he's won more than 70 per cent of all the races he's run over the last 33 years. It's not just that he once won 10 successive championships. It's not that he once qualified for a record 395 consecutive events over 20 seasons. There's that, but there's also the fact that after surviving an accident that threatened his livelihood, after struggling for two seasons, he has regained his legendary superpowers.

The only thing larger than Force's resume, which includes 130 NHRA tour victories, 33 more than anyone else, is his personality, which kept him and in the media spotlight the last two years even though he wasn't winning. Nevertheless, after two seasons during which it seemed like someone found his Kryptonite, Force is back.

"I've got a great team," he said, "(and) not just my crew chiefs - Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and Mike Neff. I have a whole bunch of young guys, kids that put my Mustang together, week-after-week."

With Neff making the tough tune-up decisions with support from Coil and Fedderly, Force once again is a threat not only to win, but to qualify his special edition Mustang at the top of the order. He's done so three times this year after failing to start from the No. 1 qualifying position for three entire seasons (73 races).

"Coil and Bernie were like a couple of old dogs up on the porch," Force said. "It took us putting a young pup like Neff over there to get 'em going again."

With improved equipment and a rejuvenated crew, the final essential element in the equation was the health of the driver. After enduring months of rehab after being seriously injured in a 2007 crash at Dallas, Texas, Force admits that he had some physical limitations the last two years that have been resolved through nothing more supernatural than hard work.

"I live in the gym," said the 2008 Hall of Fame inductee. "If I miss a day, I can tell it. It's what I gotta do to keep myself in the game, but I'm in better shape now than I was before the crash. I'm stronger, especially my legs."

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Austin Coil , Mike Neff