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Keeping Pace

John Force back at site of most recent NHRA Funny Car win

With just eight events remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship, John Force is battling with reigning series champ Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III and his own teammates, Mike Neff and Robert Hight, for the points lead.


Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

Topeka, Kan.–In a season in which Ashley Force Hood has emerged as one of the top performers on the NHRA pro tour, drag racing icon John Force this week tries to separate himself from a formidable pack of pretenders and join his daughter on the short list of real contenders for the Full Throttle championship.

With just eight events remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship, Force is battling with reigning series champ Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III and his own teammates, Mike Neff and Robert Hight, for the final three transfer positions.

Entering this week’s 21st annual O’Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka, Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford occupy the No. 9 position. They’re far from secure especially since most believe that while 10 drivers ultimately will qualify, only the top five or six have more than an outside shot at the $500,000 championship.

If that’s true, then Force has even more work to do, especially since he presently is in the midst of the longest stretch of races in his career in which he hasn’t appeared in a final round (23 straight).

“We’ve been in the hunt (for a 2009 tour victory),” Force said, “but we haven’t put this Mustang in the winners’ circle. We’re better than we were last year, but we’re not where we need to be. We don’t need to go rounds; we need to win a race.”

That’s the attitude that earned the sport’s biggest winner a record 126 tour victories and 14 championships.

Unfortunately, since his crash, Force’s world has changed from top to bottom. The Ford he is driving this week isn’t even close to being the same car in which he crashed at the Texas Motorplex.

Bulked up like a bodybuilder, the new generation chassis is 150 pounds heavier than its predecessor and since it also is stiffer, the result of additional bracing, it doesn’t have the same power transference as the old one.

Add a new clutch set-up and the installation of the JFR-developed Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor to the mix and co-crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly basically have had to start from scratch.

This week, though, Force is optimistic about his chances of returning to form.

That’s because, while he doesn’t have the paper on Heartland Park-Topeka, he unquestionably is the figurative “owner” of the concrete and asphalt track to which he returns as defending Funny Car champion.

If he can leverage that “ownership” position, one that includes nine victories and a winning percentage of 80.1 per cent (67-16), he still believes he can earn a Top 5 spot by the time the tour moves to Charlotte, N.C., for the start of the Countdown.


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

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