ON A ROLL, AGELESS FORCE EYES AAA MIDWEST TITLE 14-Time Champ Seeks Fourth Win of Season MADISON, Ill. -- Sixty is the new 40, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks and, if you want something bad enough, anything is possible. Those are the ...
ON A ROLL, AGELESS FORCE EYES AAA MIDWEST TITLE
14-Time Champ Seeks Fourth Win of Season
MADISON, Ill. -- Sixty is the new 40, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks and, if you want something bad enough, anything is possible. Those are the realities drag racing icon John Force brings to this week's 14th annual AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.
Racing against drivers more than 30 years his junior, including daughter Ashley Force Hood, drag racing's biggest winner is not just as a contender. He is the favorite to win Sunday's Funny Car championship.
At the wheel of a potent Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang that celebrates his 25 seasons with primary sponsor, Force is driving this year like it was 2002. That's the last time he won the Midwest Nationals, one of eight victories en route to a record-breaking 10th straight series championship.
Not only has the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection won three of the season's first six races, he's done so with a flair absent the last two seasons when he struggled to rebound from career-threatening injuries suffered in a 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex, near Dallas.
After six hours of reconstructive surgery and three months of physical therapy, Force was back in his car to start 2008. Nevertheless, even though he won that year at Topeka, Kan., he admits that in a season in which he failed to qualify an unparalleled four times, it probably was just a fluke.
Last year, his team had more consistency, but at a diminished level of performance. As a result, he qualified for every race but, for the first time in 23 seasons, failed to win a single NHRA tour event and was the only Top 10 driver who didn't race in at least one final.
That was a wake-up call for the 60-year-old phenom, who started the current campaign with a clean sheet of paper. In fact, he's earned his first three wins at the 1,000 foot distance with a car and a crew that bear little resemblance to those that helped him to his first 126 tour victories.
The key elements in his latest resurgence are a chassis developed in-house at John Force Racing, Inc.; the BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor designed by John Medlen and manufactured at JFR; a crew new but for clutch specialist Tom Ekstrom; and a third crew chief brought on board to assist Hall of Famers Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.
It is the latter change, though, that has attracted most of the attention.
Mike Neff, who last year drove the Ford Drive One Mustang to a season-ending victory in the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., has traded cockpit for computer and joined Coil and Fedderly in an alliance that has produced 17 championships in 29 years including Neff's 2005 Funny Car title with then driver Gary Scelzi.
"We just shook things up," Force said. "We put a young pup with a couple of old dogs and now everybody's happy."
And why not? Not only has Force won he won for the first time since 2008 and qualified No. 1 for the first time since 2006, he's done it in dominant fashion. His car has been quick and fast and so has he. At age 60, in total defiance of the odds, Force has left the starting line first 16 times in 18 races.
Above all else, that has provided vindication not only for the two years he spent rebuilding his body and his team, but also for the criticism leveled by those who believed he no longer could do the job. Apparently, age really is just a number and the number in Force's case is still