St. Louis: John Force preview

FORCE TRYING TO JUMP START BID FOR 2007 FUNNY CAR TITLE Drag Racing's Biggest Winner Off to Worst Start of His Career MADISON, Ill. -- Insisting that he "hasn't forgotten how to win," drag racing icon John Force tries to jump-start his bid for...

FORCE TRYING TO JUMP START BID FOR 2007 FUNNY CAR TITLE
Drag Racing's Biggest Winner Off to Worst Start of His Career

MADISON, Ill. -- Insisting that he "hasn't forgotten how to win," drag racing icon John Force tries to jump-start his bid for the 2007 POWERade Funny Car championship this week at the wheel of a Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang in which he has yet to win a racing round this season.

The only driver to have won as many as 100 NHRA tour events (currently 122), Force rolls into Gateway International Raceway for this week's 11th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Midwest Nationals in 20th place in NHRA POWERade points

The last time he was that far back in the driver standings, Ronald Reagan was in his first term as President of the United States, USA Today was in its first year of publication and Jimmy Connors was celebrating a mens' singles victory at Wimbledon.

That said, it would be ludicrous to count the 14-time champion out of contention, especially this early in the season and particularly with the debut of the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship.

The new system, loosely modeled after that adapted by NASCAR, dissects the season into segments. The first 17 races will determine which eight drivers will compete over the last six events for a $500,000 champion's bonus.

It's a format that could play right into Force's hands if the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection can start to regain the form that has made him one of the most prolific winners in sports history.

Instead of trying to chase down pacesetting Ron Capps, who comes into Gateway leading him by 392 points (the equivalent of 20 racing rounds), Force needs only to be among the top eight Funny Car drivers when the tour moves to Indianapolis, Ind., for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

Once the elite eight have been identified, the points will be re-adjusted and none of the qualifiers will be more than 80 points behind. In effect, it'll be a six-race shootout.

As a result, Force isn't worried about Capps not yet, anyway. Instead, he is focused on the drivers who currently are fifth through 12th, the ones with whom he likely will battle for one of the last four spots.

It's not a group that will be easily overtaken insomuch as it includes 2005 champ Gary Scelzi, Kenny Bernstein and Force's 24-year-old daughter, Ashley, who beat him in the first round of last week's Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga., to move into eighth place at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford.

"I'm really proud of her," Force said, "but I'm not ready to turn all this over to her, not yet. I still love driving this race car. I'm still motivated to win and, no matter what you read on the Internet, I'm not getting ready to retire.

"People don't understand that when I was growing up, I lost at everything I did," Force said. "In high school, we lost every game we played for three years. My first 10 years drag racing, I never won anything. They're talking about (Top Fuel driver) Bob Vandergriff and how he's gone to the finals eight times and never won. Well, I was a runner-up nine times before I won in Canada (at the 1987 Grandnational in Montreal)."

He's been winning ever since. His current plight, while troublesome, does not yet constitute a changing of the guard.

"It's been a tough couple of months," Force said, referring specifically to the death of teammate and protege Eric Medlen, who succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident last month in Florida, "but we're slowly coming back.

"I think we still have a lot of racing in us, me and (Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly). My crew chiefs didn't just wake up stupid one day and I just didn't wake up not remembering how to drive. We'll fix it and we'll get back in the hunt with Robert (Hight, currently second in points) and Ashley."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Eric Medlen