Topeka: John Force preview

Truck driver returns to roots as tour moves to Heartland Park. TOPEKA, Kansas When John Force sold the Hammond organ his mother-in-law won on the television show "Let's Make a Deal" and used the money, along with cash from a tax refund check,...

Truck driver returns to roots as tour moves to Heartland Park.

TOPEKA, Kansas When John Force sold the Hammond organ his mother-in-law won on the television show "Let's Make a Deal" and used the money, along with cash from a tax refund check, to buy a drag racing Funny Car, it probably was the worst thing that ever happened to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Had he not made that purchase a 1974 Vega made available by his cousin, the late Gene Beaver, Force likely would have applied the vision and dedication that have made him the most prolific winner in NHRA racing history to improving the plight of the over-the-road trucker.

"I probably still wouldn't be driving a truck," he said, "but I'd be trying to help make things better. I might even be (Teamsters) President by now."

Instead, he focused on a racing career that brings him back to Heartland Park-Topeka this week (May 24-26) as the sport's only 100-time tour winner.

Heartland Park is one of Force's favorite stops on the NHRA POWERade tour and not just because he has won four times in the last six years at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX .

Nope. The veteran knows that this is truck driving country and that means even more fan support than usual for him and his national record-holding Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

"I've spent a lot of hours in truck stops, I can tell you that," Force said. "There were a lot of times when things were going bad (in his racing career) that I was ready to hang it up and go back to truck driving, but something always came along that kept me out here."

In fact, Force has been a professional drag racer for almost 25 years and, to the disappointment of those who have spent most of the last 13 seasons trying to dethrone him, a return to truck driving no longer is an option entertained by the 53-year-old icon.

Today, as the owner of the most successful team in drag racing history, one that has won five of the eight races contested thus far this season including last week's Matco Tools SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J., Force owns six 18-wheelers, but doesn't drive any of them.

What he does drive is a 325 mile-an-hour hybrid Ford Mustang that accelerates from zero to 100 mph in less than one second.

Nevertheless, this blue collar champion never is far removed from the years he was behind the wheel of vehicles not quite as fast, but, in their own way, every bit as intimidating.

"My dad drove trucks in the logging business," Force recalled, "and when my brother Louie and I grew up, we drove trucks, too. I drove trucks for Garrett Freight Lines and a guy named Jerry Lumberg and when he moved over to Sterling Transit, a got them as one of my first sponsors on the cars I ran before Castrol and (Crew Chief Austin) Coil."

Actually, Force drove his own transporter as late as 1986. He drove the car to and from the races while Coil flew in to handle the tune-up duty.

Today, they fly together, both off the track and on it. However, Force is quick to point out that without trucks, there still would not be anything with which to race.

"Trucks move America," he said, "and I still love 'em."

FORCE at Heartland Park-Topeka...

*At only one other track on the circuit (LA County Fairplex at Pomona, Calif.) has he won more rounds of racing (52).

*Has reached the finals 11 times in 18 appearances with seven wins including four in the O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000).

*14 times in 18 appearances, has started third or better with 10 No. 1s.

*Is the only Funny Car driver to have broken 4.80 seconds at Heartland Park where he lowered the record to 4.797 seconds on Oct. 4, 1999.

*Was beaten in last year's final by teammate Tony Pedregon.

*Has reached the finals eight of the last 10 years at this race.

FORCE Highlights...

*With NASCAR legends Richard Petty and David Pearson, is one of only three drivers to have won 100 career events in a major motorsports series.

*NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds.

*1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.

*Is seeking his 10th straight championship and 12th overall.

DID YOU KNOW?
John this week will try to extend to 286 the number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified. The last time he failed to make the 16-car lineup, Ronald Reagan was president and the Minnesota Twins were baseball champions of the world. That was October, 31,1987, when he didn't make the show at the season- ending World Finals at Pomona, Calif....John has won at least one NHRA national event in each of the last 16 seasons....John has been a member of the last 10 Auto Racing All-America Teams selected by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Richard Petty , David Pearson