St Louis: John Force's "fat-bodied" car back

MADISON, Ill. - Forty-eight hours after being sent to the sidelines because of perceived imperfections, John Force's new "fat-bodied" Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was put back in the lineup for this week's (June 22-24) fourth annual Sears...

MADISON, Ill. - Forty-eight hours after being sent to the sidelines because of perceived imperfections, John Force's new "fat-bodied" Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was put back in the lineup for this week's (June 22-24) fourth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.

Although a Monday test session at National Trail Raceway in Kirkersville, Ohio, yielded less than spectacular numbers, it proved to Force's satisfaction that steering problems which plagued him during qualifying for last week's Pontiac Excitement Nationals had been corrected.

Chassis components added to accommodate the new Tim Gibson-designed carbon fiber body apparently compromised the steering, causing Force to cross the center line on one qualifying attempt and to almost hit the wall on another.

"(Crew Chief Austin) Coil asked me, "did you forget how to drive?' But I was turning the wheel as hard as I could and nothing was happening," said the defending Sears Craftsman Funny Car Champion. "I almost hit the wall twice."

Amazingly, even with the lack of steering control, Force managed to put the car in the field in the No. 15 spot, his worst qualifying effort in 130 races. Unfortunately, that paired him with two-time 2000 winner Jerry Toliver in the first round.

Unsure of the source of the handling problems, the team opted to temporarily abandon the new body and chassis setup in favor of an already proven one.

Results were mixed. While steering control returned, lack of horsepower remained an issue in a first round loss that ultimately cost the eight-time Auto Racing All-America selection his points lead.

"We thought the problem was in the body," Force said. "It turns out the motor was weak and the steering arm had too much play in it. (As) soon as we put the chassis back like it was, the steering was there."

    Force tested the car Monday with the body in place but without the  
extra chassis components and was satisfied with the results.            

"We blew a spark plug out of the motor and threw the (supercharger drive) belt off, but I could steer it," Force said. "I never thought there was anything wrong with the body, really, but we had so many problems that it was just better to go back to square one and start over."

The new body, distinctive because of the location of the parachutes (below the taillights on either side of the rear deck) and the configuration of the rear stabilizer, was designed to provide additional downforce in conditions likely to prevail this weekend - heat and humidity.

Last week it was decided that the body actually worked too well, producing maximum downforce but at the same time causing additional drag which may have contributed to both the steering and horsepower problems. As a result, minor changes were made for this week's race in which Force is the defending Funny Car Champion. www.johnforceracing.com

John Force at...... Gateway Int'l Raceway Madison, Illinois Starts: 3 Times No. 1: 0 Finals: 1 Wins: 1 (1999) Won-Lost Record: 6-2 Best Performances: 4.916 seconds, June 25, 1999 *310.70 mph, June 25, 1999 *track record LAST YEAR From the No. 2 qualifying position, John beat Al Hofmann, Whit Bazemore, Jim Epler and teammate Tony Pedregon.

DID YOU KNOW: John has qualified for 240 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals....he has won at least one NHRA event for 14 consecutive seasons, the longest such streak in Funny Car history....John was the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.90 and 4.80 second barriers and the first to exceed 320 mph....John is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996).....With five victories already this season, John has become the most prolific winner in NHRA drag racing history with 86 titles....John is coming off his poorest performance in the last six seasons. After qualifying 15th at last week's Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Kirkersville, Ohio, he lost in the first round to Jerry Toliver. That's his worst showing in 130 races -since a similar result at the 1994 Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.....John is the current NHRA national record holder for quarter mile time and speed at 4.788 seconds, 324.05 mph.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying at 4:45 pm and 8:45 pm (ET) on Thursday and Friday; Finals at 5 pm (ET) Saturday.

THE RACE ON TV: Two hour qualifying highlights at 8 pm (ET) Saturday and two hour race highlights at 10 pm (ET) Sunday on ESPN2. "NHRA Heat" at 6:30 pm (ET) on Thursday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tim Gibson , Jerry Toliver