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FORCE HAVING CAREER YEAR, SEEKING RETURN TO WINNER'S CIRCLE AT AUTOLITE NATIONALS SONOMA, Calif. - During the past two seasons, John Force must have felt like a nomad wandering around in the land of the lost at Sears Point Raceway. Force, from...

FORCE HAVING CAREER YEAR, SEEKING RETURN TO WINNER'S CIRCLE AT AUTOLITE NATIONALS

SONOMA, Calif. - During the past two seasons, John Force must have felt like a nomad wandering around in the land of the lost at Sears Point Raceway. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., hasn't made it to the final round of the Autolite Nationals in his last two attempts. Which is quite odd, considering that since 1990 the eight-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion found a way to make it to the final round at one of his favorite races on the circuit. During that span, he won the race four times.

I guess you could say he got a little used to the routine: travel to beautiful San Francisco Bay area, race, make it to the final round and celebrate. For two seasons, that routine has been off a little. Last season's defeat at the quarter-mile track nestled in the heart of Northern California's wine country was perhaps his most insulting. Archrival Al Hofmann pulled the upset in the first round, outrunning Force's familiar Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in a sensational side-by-side affair.

OK, time for a little payback.

Force is riding a wave of success entering this season's version of the popular event. He hopes to find his way back to the final round, and ultimately the winner's circle at the 12th annual Autolite Nationals, Aug. 6-8 at Sears Point Raceway. The $1.2 million race is the 14th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

With the way his Mustang has been running, that's entirely possible. Force has won seven events this season, while his teammate, Tony Pedregon, has won three - giving Funny Car's dynamic duo an incredible 10 victories in 12 starts.

Force, named Driver of the Year by a nationwide panel of motorsports journalists in 1996 for his incredible 13-win season, is in stride to put up similar numbers in 1999. He's already set the national elapsed time record for his category at 4.788 seconds, and increased the national speed record to 324.05 mph. He holds a commanding 294 point Winston series lead over second place driver Tony Pedregon.

Force is definitely in the zone.

"It's all about teamwork," said Force, also a winner at the inaugural Winston Showdown, NHRA's all-star event and the first to feature Top Fuel dragsters against Funny Cars. He defeated a host of dragster drivers to earn the title of NHRA 'Superman'.

"It took 20 years of losing to get to this point in my career," Force added. "Nobody wants to remember those lean times. They just want to see me beating everybody and think I'm getting spoiled by being on top. It's all about making the right business decisions. I hired the right people to do specific jobs and it's paying off. Trust me, this didn't happen overnight."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , John Force