TOPEKA, Kan. (May 28-30) In 1897, reacting to stories published in several newspapers, Samuel Clements, the author better known as Mark Twain, cabled the Associated Press in New York with the following message: "reports of my death...
TOPEKA, Kan. (May 28-30) In 1897, reacting to stories published in several newspapers, Samuel Clements, the author better known as Mark Twain, cabled the Associated Press in New York with the following message: "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
More than one hundred years later, it's a quip that as easily could have come from John Force, drag racing's most prolific winner and the Funny Car favorite in this week's 16th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka.
In Force's case, however, it would reference not his physical death, but rather his competitive one.
After he lost the 2003 NHRA POWERade Championship to then teammate Tony Pedregon, after he endured a series of foul starts while adapting to changes in his starting line routine and after he failed to win one of the first five races of the current campaign, Force was the subject of widespread speculation, some of it so bizarre as to be ludicrous.
The gist of it was that the 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion's career was, if not already dead, then certainly on life-support. The implication was that Force either (1) was past his prime, or (2) had lost his passion.
However, try to find one of those nay-sayers now that the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection has driven his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang to victory in two of the three most recent NHRA tour events, including last week's Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill.
Higher in the driver standings than he's been in the last 15 months (No. 2, 16 points off Whit Bazemore's lead), the 111- time tour winner clearly is focused on winning an unprecedented 13th Funny Car title for himself and 12th straight for his team, which this year includes veteran Gary Densham and Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Eric Medlen, a semifinalist in four of his first eight pro starts in the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford.
A tour winner for the 18th consecutive season, Force is seeking his eighth victory at Heartland Park, a track on which he never has lost a first round race but one on which he hasn't won since 2000, the last year the race was contested in the fall.
The first driver to break the 4.80 second barrier at the Kansas track, Force believes that whoever wins the race will have to accomplish that feat in all four rounds on Sunday.
The question most often asked, though, is "how low can he go?" Specifically, will conditions at Heartland Park-Topeka be favorable enough to yield performance numbers as good as those posted last week at Joliet, where Bazemore broke Force's NHRA record with a time of 4.713 seconds?
"It depends on the weather," Force said. "If it's cool, like it was in Chicago, we could see those numbers. I know Baze and (crew chief Lee) Beard were pretty pumped up when they got the record. Hopefully, we can get it back before it gets too hot (to support such a performance) but, bottom line, our No. 1 goal is to win the race."
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