FORCE SEEKS RETURN TO SPOTLIGHT AT 19TH FRAM/AUTOLITE NATIONALS 13-Time Champ Back Bids for Eighth Win at Infineon Raceway SONOMA, Calif. -- John Force is getting a lot more camera time these days but, unfortunately, it's all on the wrong...
FORCE SEEKS RETURN TO SPOTLIGHT AT 19TH FRAM/AUTOLITE NATIONALS
13-Time Champ Back Bids for Eighth Win at Infineon Raceway
SONOMA, Calif. -- John Force is getting a lot more camera time these days but, unfortunately, it's all on the wrong network.
While he is impacting a whole new audience as one of the stars of the real-life series Driving Force, which airs Monday nights on A&E Network, his face time on ESPN's coverage of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been minimal after early exits at each of the first two races in the grueling Western Swing.
Nevertheless, Force is hoping to muscle his Castrol® GTX® Ford Mustang back into the EPSN spotlight this week when he brings his latest NHRA championship quest to Infineon Raceway for the19th FRAM/Autolite Nationals, a race in which he has won six times previously, most recently in 2002.
Beaten in the second round two weeks ago at Denver, Colo., and in the first round of last week's Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals at Seattle, Wash., both times by reigning series champion Gary Scelzi, Force has fallen 88 points behind Ron Capps in the driver standings.
In fact, this week's race could be a make-it-or-break-it situation for the 57-year-old drag racing icon who, after years of dominating the Western Swing, has found it more and more difficult not only to win races, but to win rounds.
After sweeping the Denver, Seattle and Sonoma races in 1994, one of only five pro drivers to have accomplished that feat, and after just missing a similar sweep in 1996, Force didn't win a single round in the three-race set a year ago. He hasn't done much better through the first two races this year.
His recent malaise in the Westernmost races contrasts with the success enjoyed by his principal rivals for the $400,000 championship -- Dodge drivers Scelzi and Capps. Capps was runner-up last week at Seattle; Scelzi won the previous week at Denver and the two raced one another for the 2005 FRAM Nationals title.
That said, Force is a long way away from conceding a championship that has been his after 13 of the last 16 seasons.
"We've got fast cars but they're just not as consistent as they need to be," Force said, referring not just to his Ford but to the Mustangs of teammates Eric Medlen and Robert Hight, who currently are third and fifth in Funny Car points.
Indeed, the Fords have started 11 of the season's 14 races from the No. 1 qualifying position but No. 1 has yet to win a single race. Force's five No. 1s have yielded a single runner-up finish (at Gainesville, Fla.). His only win -- at Joliet, Ill. -- came from the No. 7 starting position.
Despite all that, Force bristles at any suggestion that he's lost his competitive fire.
"Bottom line, my job is to win races and I take that job very seriously," he said. "Castrol and Ford and Mac Tools and the Auto Club pay us to win and right now, we're not winning. But it's not because we're not trying and it's not because of the TV show.
"The competition is just better than it used to be. Instead of whining to the NHRA about domination, (car owner Don) Schumacher went out and got the people and got the technology and got the budget to challenge us. We made him better and now he's made everyone else step up including us.
"Competing is what it's all about. To be the best you've got to beat the best. Scelzi beat us last year. We're just trying to return the favor."
A tour winner for 20 straight seasons, Force is the NHRA national record holder for quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed 333.58 mph. A measure of his dominance is the fact that he has won 85 more tour races than any other Funny Car driver and he sees not reason why he can't win for another five years, which his how much longer he is under contract to drive the Castrol GTX Ford.