Topeka: John Force preview

Force hopes that less is more at O'Reilly Summer Nationals TOPEKA, Kansas (May 23-25) -- The man who once jokingly likened driving a drag racing Funny Car to making love ("you only have to do it for five seconds") has made another startling ...

Force hopes that less is more at O'Reilly Summer Nationals

TOPEKA, Kansas (May 23-25) -- The man who once jokingly likened driving a drag racing Funny Car to making love ("you only have to do it for five seconds") has made another startling observation: in some situations, shorter may be better.

Burnouts, for instance.

After 12 series championships and 106 NHRA tour victories, seven of them at Heartland Park-Topeka, site of this week's 15th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals, John Force has shortened the duration of the tire-spinning, heat-generating ritual that precedes each and every two-car drag race.

That's bad news for race fans, but it may be even worse news for Force's Funny Car rivals.

Since altering his routine at the suggestion of Crew Chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, Force has seen a marked improvement in the performance of his national record-holding (4.731 seconds) Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.

For most drivers, the failure to win one of the season's first eight races wouldn't be cause for concern, but John Force isn't most drivers. In fact, he is the most dominant driver, not just in drag racing history, but in motor racing history.

In a career spanning 25 seasons, the 54-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., has appeared in 163 final rounds. Half the drivers against whom he is competing this week haven't even appeared in that many races.

Over the last 14 seasons, the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection has won 101 of the 273 races in the series and has been to the finals 144 times.

So, when someone of that stature goes beyond the second round just once in eight races, it is subject to attract a lot of attention. To his credit, Force has not panicked, knowing full well that his crew is working with a completely new setup this season, from chassis to camshaft to cylinder heads.

"We made big changes," Force acknowledged, "because we're trying to stay ahead of the game. We set our car up just like Tony's (teammate Tony Pedregon, whose Castrol SYNTEC Ford has been the dominant car in the series for the last 18 races), but it just didn't run like Tony's.

"So we started looking around at what was different and, bottom line, my burnouts were a lot longer."

That may not seem like much of an issue, but the longer the burnout, the more heat in the engine and clutch. Coil and Fedderly were interested in bringing the GTX Mustang to the starting line with clutch and engine temperatures more in line with those of the SYNTEC Ford.

"So I've shortened the burnouts and it seems to be working out. We haven't won yet, but part of that is driver error (a reference to last week's foul start at Englishtown, N.J., his first such misstep since Columbus, Ohio, in 1998)."

Indeed, Force has qualified first or second in each of the last three events while posting times of 4.770 and 4.786 seconds at speeds exceeding 320 miles per hour.

"We'll be fine," he said. "None of us has bumped our heads. We still know how to race."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Austin Coil