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Keeping Pace

Force eager to reclaim Indy magic at this weekend’s US Nationals

John Force competes in the Funny Car division on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)
John Force competes in the Funny Car division on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)

John Force has been a threat at nearly every U.S.Nationals over the years on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. As the veteran looks to gain a spot in the series Countdown to One playoffs a win this weekend would go a long ways to securing that berth.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations


INDIANAPOLIS – John Force put an end to one winless drought this season, snapping a 31-race streak without a victory in June at Bristol Dragway. Now the 15-time Funny Car world champion hopes to put another drought behind him when he takes his 8,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.


It’s been 11 years since Force won the world’s most prestigious drag race, with his last victory coming in 2002. That has left him stuck on four wins at Indy for more than a decade, but coming off a strong testing session and a solid summer has Force excited about his chances at the 2013 edition of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.


The defending winners from the iconic event in 2012 include Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).  The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the final race of the regular season in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, will be contested Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at the multi-purpose motorsports facility located just west of downtown Indianapolis. Once again, the race will be showcased nationwide on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD during more than 10 hours of coverage.


Force hopes one of the lasting images of this year’s race will be him celebrating a fifth Funny Car win at Indy, which would tie him with Ed McCulloch for the most in class history.


“Indy is the biggest race of the year and it always has been,” Force said. “Every time you roll through the gates you think of Big Daddy (Don Garlits), (Don “The Snake”) Prudhomme and all the greats. It has been a while since I won Indy but we have a hot rod that is running well. (Crew chief) Jimmy Prock has the Castrol GTX Mustang flying and we ran well in testing last week. You have to be ready for anything and I am excited to be racing there with my whole family.”


During last week’s test session at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Force, who is currently fifth in the points standings and has clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, powered his car to a time of 4.021 seconds at 318.24 mph, the best time of any Funny Car over a two-day stretch.


It’s a further sign that things continue to move in the right direction for Force, who has advanced to three more finals since winning at Bristol. He’s still searching for that second win in 2013 and Indy would be the perfect spot in his mind. Force is also well aware of what a fifth Funny Car win at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals would mean and he is readily embracing that challenge.


“I think getting a fifth win at Indy would be huge,” Force said. “You want to see your name up there with the greats, but more important is being ready for the Countdown. I have so many great memories of Indy. I just love going there because everybody is there.


“I think we have been running well the past couple of races. I am ready and we have my Mustang ready. We found a couple things that are going to make me more comfortable in this hot rod. The key is to be confident and our teams are confident. We need to make sure Robert (Hight) stays in the top ten and we would all like to move up. I am ready to get into the fight.”


To put it mildly, the John Force Racing team will have plenty going on and plenty at stake in Indy. Hight is currently 10th in points and needs to ward off Del Worsham to secure his spot in the Countdown. Meanwhile, John and daughter Courtney are both qualified for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout while Hight and daughter Brittany in Top Fuel are both vying for the final fan vote-lottery drawing spot in their respective classes.


It will certainly add up to a hectic weekend, but Force, the 2012 Traxxas Nitro Shootout winner in Funny Car, has repeatedly shown a spectacular ability to take care of business throughout his impressive career.


“Having the Traxxas Shootout at Indy is huge,” Force said. “It makes the event that much bigger. It will be a busy weekend and you have to stay focused. That is what I tell all my drivers. You have to be mentally ready all the time. Qualifying will also be the Traxxas Shootout so you have to approach it a little different. The key will be making good runs early in the race so you can race all out in the Traxxas Shootout and not have to worry about qualifying. You want to get that $100,000 prize but you also have to be qualified to race on Monday. I want to win that Traxxas Shootout again but it will be tough with all these great Funny Cars out there.”


Force’s top challengers at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals include Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan, who is seeking his fifth victory of the season. Ron Capps has won two of the last three races and will be a force in his NAPA Dodge Charger. Those two drivers lead a strong group who are trying to win the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the first time, including four-time season winner Johnny Gray, Courtney Force and defending world champ Jack Beckman. Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson also will be trying to return to Indy’s winner’s circle. Ninth place Bob Tasca, Hight and Worsham will be battling for the final two spots in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.


In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher will be looking to make history as the first 10-time winner in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. To do so he will need to hold off series points leader Shawn Langdon, a four-time season winner, along with another four-time season winner, teammate Spencer Massey. Defending world champion Antron Brown, ultra-quick Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas and Khalid alBalooshi are also among those to watch in the 8,000-horsepower category. Steve Torrence, Bob Vandergriff and David Grubnic will not only be looking for a race victory, but the trio also will be in the hunt to secure a post-season playoff position.


Pro Stock points leader Mike Edwards only has one victory at Indy, but is riding the season momentum from five victories in his I Am Second Chevy Camaro. Defending world champ Allen Johnson, three-time Indy winner Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, six-time Indy winner Greg Anderson and fellow Chevy Camaro driver Shane Gray are also among the pre-race favorites.


In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. has been in front of the standings all season on his Lucas Oil Buell, but he will be challenged by past Indy winners Matt Smith and Hector Arana Sr. Newcomer Michael Ray, sitting third in points with two victories this season, will also be one of the pre-race favorites, along with John Hall, Scotty Pollacheck and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec. Six Countdown spots are open in the bike class, and four riders – Shawn Gann, Steve Johnson, LE Tonglet and Andrew Hines – will compete for the final two positions in the top 10.


Teams in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Series also will compete during the weekend. In addition, the world’s fastest Super Stock cars will race for bonus bucks and bragging rights during the intense Mopar HEMI Challenge.


Fans can get a taste of the excitement on Wednesday, Aug. 28th by attending the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Fan Fest, which will feature a display of race cars, live music, a huge jumbotron and plenty of giveaways at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. The Fan Fest, which starts at 11 a.m., also will feature a premier autograph session with many of the top professional drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. In addition, a press conference will be held during the Fan Fest, where several news announcements will be made and the random lottery drawings for the No. 8 spots in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will be held. 


The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, which will be finished off with a thrilling fireworks display. Two sessions will be held on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. and will also be capped with a fireworks show. The final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 2. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Aug. 31 with rounds at 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car will be held on Sunday, Sept. 1 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.


ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Five hours of qualifying coverage and coverage of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will air on ESPN2 HD at 1 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 1. Eliminations for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be featured during six hours of coverage on Monday, Sept. 2, starting at noon (ET).


Keeping Pace

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