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Keeping Pace

Force Off To Strong Start In 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series

John Force's Castrol Ford Mustang roars to life. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)
John Force's Castrol Ford Mustang roars to life. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)

John Force is showing that despite being five years shy of being able to collect retirement benefits from Social Security, he is still one the top drivers in the NHRA.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

BAYTOWN, Texas – For all those so-called drag racing experts who officially wrote John Force off as an NHRA dominator in the Funny Car class, and said his world championship total is finished at 14 titles, it’s time to eat a little crow.

Who could blame Force if he feels just a little bit of sweet satisfaction right about now?

After enduring a tough stretch of seasons marred by tragedy, turmoil, crashes and mediocrity, NHRA legend John Force has finally emerged from all the chaos and regained his swagger.

 He got it back through hard work, sweat, dedication and an incredible desire. It is the same desire that led him from a middle of the pack performer in the late ‘80s to the bigger-than-life 14-time world champ throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s.

However, this time around, he needs to show the world that last season’s dismal performance – his worst on record since 1984 – was not the true John Force. He wants to prove that he’s still got what it takes to overcome incredible odds and win races and championships once again in the highly-volatile 7,000-horsepower world of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

 “I have always been the kind of guy when somebody tears me down, it builds my strength,” Force said last week during a teleconference with national media. “If a driver gets after me, it makes me work harder. I was like that as a kid playing Pop Warner football. I never had a lot of talent, but I stayed after it, and I lived it.”

The 60-year-old Force, who has won twice in three final round appearances in the first four races of the 23-event 2010 season, will try to keep his hot start going as the tour heads to Texas for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Houston Raceway Park. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Ashley Force Hood (Funny Car), Ron Krisher (Pro Stock) and Craig Treble (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.

“I’m on a real big high right now and just excited,” said Force, who opened the season with an emotional win at the 50th Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winernationals in Southern California and last week made history by winning the much-anticipated inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in the racing hotbed of Charlotte, N.C.

Entering the event in Houston, Force holds an 89-point advantage over a strong group of rivals, including second place driver Ron Capps, talented Jack Beckman, defending world champ Robert Hight and daughter Force Hood, the defending event winner. Sure, there’s still a lot of races left in the season before the official talk of championship contenders begins, but Force certainly likes his current situation. And, he’s proven that he’s ready to work even harder to get back what he’s lost over the years.

“It feels real good because I’m not getting any younger, but I do live in the gym,” Force said. “And as long as I can do the game and react at the starting line like Robert Hight, Ashley or Bob Tasca or any of them, a lot of great young drivers out there, I will do it.”

During his career, seven of Force’s NHRA-record 128 career victories have come at HRP, his last in 2002. The track’s near sea level elevation makes it an ideal place for NHRA teams to produce jaw-dropping performances. No doubt his newly aligned crew chief tandem of Mike Neff and Austin Coil will be anxious to put a quick tune-up on Force’s Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang.

“I like Texas,” Force said. “It’s fun to go there and you can really run good if the conditions are right. I think I got my hundredth win there. We’ve been pretty consistent there over the years…and we’re just looking forward to getting back there.”

In Top Fuel, seven-time world champ Schumacher, winner of the last six season titles, is once again in the championship mix in his U.S. Army dragster. This season he is getting tough competition from teammate and veteran driver Cory McClenathan, a two-time winner this season who is chasing his long-overdue first world championship title and currently leads the point standings. Schumacher’s longtime rival Larry Dixon, driver of the Al-Anabi Racing dragster and a two-time winner at HRP, and biker turned nitro driver Antron Brown, who has been solid in his Matco Tools dragster since leaving the Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2007, are also in the championship hunt. A resurgent Doug Kalitta, driver of the Technicoat dragster, has advanced to three final rounds and is a win waiting to happen.

 Defending world champ Mike Edwards is once again leading the Pro Stock contingent in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. A three-time HRP winner, the Oklahoma native has recorded three victories this season and one runner-up finish in four races and holds a commanding 181-point lead over second place Jason Line, who has one win and one runner-up finish this season in his Summit Racing GXP. Team Mopar’s Allen Johnson and three-time world champ Greg Anderson also are among the pre-race favorites, along with Greg Stanfield and Phoenix runner-up Bob Yonke.

 Past world champions Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith have each earned victories this season in Pro Stock Motorcycle competition, but defending series titlist Hector Arana sits atop the point standings on his Lucas Oil Buell. Shawn Gann, Steve Johnson, Andrew Hines and two-time HRP winners Karen Stoffer and Craig Treble will be working hard at this event to improve their standing in the Full Throttle Series top 10.

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Keeping Pace

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