Keeping Pace

Force set to make history in Englishtown

NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car driver, John Force. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)
NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car driver, John Force. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)

John Force could pass NHRA Pro Stock icon Warren Johnson at the top of the all-time list by qualifying first in the 16-car Funny Car lineup at the event where Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending event winners. Force and Johnson are currently tied at the top with 138 No. 1 qualifiers apiece.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. – John Force Racing crossed one record off its 2011 to-do list in Kansas, becoming the first NHRA race team to join the 200 victory club. Now, the team has its sights set on conquering another longstanding record, and will try to push team owner John Force to the top of the all-time NHRA No. 1 qualifying positions order when the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series visits historic Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, June 2-5 for the 42nd annual NHRA SuperNationals.
 
Force could pass NHRA Pro Stock icon Warren Johnson at the top of the all-time list by qualifying first in the 16-car Funny Car lineup at the event where Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending event winners. Force and Johnson are currently tied at the top with 138 No. 1 qualifiers apiece.
 
To accomplish that goal, the 15-time world champion who has earned 132 victories during his legendary career, including four at the New Jersey track, will likely surpass a category performance milestone in the process, as many drivers and crew chiefs feel conditions at ultra-fast Raceway Park may be perfect for someone to record the first three-second Funny Car run.   
 
The national record for Funny Car is currently set at 4.011 seconds and held by Matt Hagan, who posted the time last October at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. Force teammate Robert Hight, who won two weeks ago in Topeka, holds the Englishtown track record at 4.025 seconds in his Auto Club Ford Mustang.
 
Should cool conditions persist in the Friday evening qualifying session, the sea-level track just might become the site of a little bit of history.
 
“Records are motivation for me,” Force said. “But I don’t like to talk about them until they’re done. You let records get in your head and you lose your focus; you forget that your job is to win the race and right now I need to focus.”
 
Even more than a record, Force says he is in hot pursuit of his first win of the season. He needs a win to improve on his seventh place points position as teams jockey for playoff position during the second half of the regular season.
 
“I’ve got a good race car,” Force said, “but I can’t seem to get a win. Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas (co-crew chiefs) have given me a hot rod that has been No. 1 (qualifier) four races-in-a-row but, on race day, I’m just struggling.”
 
Another Force team driver, Mike Neff, leads the series standings with one win in four final rounds. Neff, who pulls double-duty as both driver and crew chief, has had his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang running very consistently all season. The other driver in the Force Racing trio, Hight, has won three races, while former drag racing instructor Jack Beckman has won two in his Aaron’s/Valvoline Dodge Charger. Two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon is fourth in points and his Snap-on Tools Toyota team seems to be building momentum at the right time.
 
“This is the busy part of the season where you’ve got to make your move to secure your spot in the Countdown and we’re starting to see the top 10 take shape,” Pedregon said.
 
In Top Fuel, longtime Funny Car driver Del Worhsham leads the points based on his three early season victories in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Worsham, who drove a dragster on a limited schedule in the early 1990s, has made a seamless transition from Funny Car to Top Fuel. He says he is now going to focus on getting into position for the stretch run. With a win at Englishtown, Worsham could join Kenny Bernstein and Mark Oswald as drivers to win in both nitro categories at the legendary track.
 
“Now that we’re in the heart of the season…I see that we all feel more comfortable,” said Worsham, a two-time winner in Funny Car at Raceway Park. “I do, the team does, and I can see little things like the crew guys all being in their roles and in their rhythms. This is the time when we’ll all continue getting ready for the Countdown (to the Championship) in the fall; the playoff races are the ones that matter the most.”
 
As the second-half of the regular season unfolds, Worsham will have his work cut out to maintain his top spot. Seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher is second in points, followed by Worsham’s teammate, the defending world champ Dixon, a six-time winner at Raceway Park. A hungry group of would-be championship drivers follows, including Topeka winner Spencer Massey, two-time season winner Antron Brown and two-time E-town winner Doug Kalitta.
 
“There is a lot of talent in the Top Fuel class this season and it is going to be a real dogfight from this point forward,” said Brown, a New Jersey native who earned two victories at the track in Pro Stock Motorcycle before he switched to Top Fuel in 2008.
 
Jason Line has raced to three victories in Pro Stock and leads the way in NHRA’s top doorslammer category behind the wheel of his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Line is a three-time winner at Raceway Park.
 
“We’re off to a tremendous start this year, and I attribute that to the people we have working on these Summit Racing Pontiacs,” Line said. “Every member of this KB Racing team is focused and working hard, and even though we’re not where we want to be in terms of performance, we’re gaining on it.”
 
A bunch of drivers are making noise in Pro Stock this season as rookie Vincent Nobile, sophomore driver Shane Gray and ’09 champ Mike Edwards have all claimed victories. Rodger Brogdon, Erica Enders, Greg Stanfield and Allen Johnson have all been knocking on the door to winner’s circle as well. Line’s teammate, defending world champ Greg Anderson, has one victory and sits second in the point standings.
 
“I have to find a way to beat that guy,” Anderson said with a smile. “Seriously, I am very happy for Jason’s success. They have their Summit Racing Pontiac running really well, and he’s doing a great job behind the wheel.”
 
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, veteran racer Karen Stoffer leads the series standings for the second time in her career. Her GEICO Powersports Suzuki has been extremely consistent, as the Nevada racer has posted two runner-up finishes and a semifinal effort in three races.
 
“The team is just jelling really well,” said Stoffer, one of 11 females to have won an NHRA national event. “We’ve put a lot of coins in the bad luck jar over the past year and now we’re moving them back to the good luck side of the jar.”
 
A host of riders will challenge her for the top spot over the last few regular season races, including three-time world champ Andrew Hines, ’09 champ Eddie Krawiec and last year’s champ LE Tonglet. While all three of those riders have posted victories so far this season, Tonglet has been quick on his Nitro Fish Suzuki and also claimed two No. 1 qualifying positions.
 
“The bike is running phenomenally right now,” Tonglet said. “It’s just a matter of me getting good reaction times.”
 
* SCHEDULE (All times EST): Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, June 3 and noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 4.  Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 5.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying highlights at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, June 4. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours and 30 minutes of eliminations coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 5.



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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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