Keeping Pace

Force still after first round-win in Summit Nationals

John Force, driver of the Castrol Ford Mustang NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (The Spokesman-Review)
John Force, driver of the Castrol Ford Mustang NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (The Spokesman-Review)

Since winning last year in Topeka, John Force has advanced to the semifinals five times but hasn't been able to go any further. He hopes to change that Sunday.

Norwalk, pre-race: John Force's name, in letters 10 feet tall, identifies the main grandstand at Summit Motorsports Park, site of this week's third annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. While he is humbled by the recognition, the 14-time NHRA champion would prefer to see his name on a Funny Car winner's check.

 

Force, who has won more races (126), more championships, and more rounds (1,024) than anyone in history, hasn't fired a shot since the NHRA opted, three years ago, to add the Summit Nationals to its schedule.

 

A 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Force started his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang from the No. 12 and No. 10 positions in his first two Summit Nationals starts. On both occasions, he was a spectator by noon, losing in the first round to Jack Beckman in 2007 and Del Worsham a year ago.

 

Although he considers his anemic performance an embarrassment, the 60-year-old icon also believes he has a chance this year to give the folks in "his" grandstand something more to talk about than the track's legendary ice cream promotion.

 

"We're getting better," Force said. "New chassis, new engine, new clutch, new rules. Everything's different than it was before Eric's crash [a fatal testing accident involving team driver Eric Medlen in March, 2007], my crash [September, 2007, in Dallas], and Scotty Kalitta's [June, 2008, in Englishtown].

 

"Some have been able to adjust a little quicker, but some, like us, have struggled. We're a lot better than we were a year ago, but we're not where we want to be yet. Every week, I think we're going to turn the corner. Maybe this is the week."

 

Force currently occupies the No. 8 position in Funny Car points but is less than a round ahead of reigning series champion Cruz Pedregon and rookie-of-the-year contender Matt Hagan.

 

"I've fought with my guys off and on this year," Force said of the frustration that has mounted during the longest stretch of his career in which he has failed to reach an NHRA final round (25 straight events).

 

"I'm so used to winning that I tend to get kind of panicked [when we're struggling]," he said. "We've won 15 championships [as a team], and it wasn't all me, trust me. [My crew is] the best and that's what I told them when I apologized for the way I've been acting.

 

"They really dug into their hot rods and they're finding stuff [that needed to be addressed] from body tin to chassis flex to clutches everything you can imagine. We've had seasons where we were off two or three months, even six months, but not this far off, but I can see it starting to turn around."

 

Although his qualifying effort has improved dramatically from 2008, when he failed to qualify for a career-high four events, including the biggest race in the sport, the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Force has not yet been able to string together the three or four solid runs necessary to get him to the winner's circle.

 

Since winning last year in Topeka, Force has advanced to the semifinals five times but hasn't been able to go any further. He hopes to change that Sunday.

 

"We've got a great history with the Bader family," he said. "This would be a great race to win."




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.






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