14-Time Champ Eyeing First Win of the Season
BRAINERD, Minn. – Okay, here's the deal. John Force, drag racing's biggest winner, the only driver in any category to have won as many as 100 NHRA tour events and 1000 racing rounds, has gone 15 races into the season without a final round appearance for the first time in his 32-year NHRA career.
That's right. Never has the 14-time Auto Racing All-American, the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.90, 4.80 and 4.70 second barriers, reached this point in a campaign with so little in his competitive portfolio.
Granted, he's holding onto the No. 8 position in the current driver standings and his qualifying results in the Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang are vastly improved over a year ago (when he was a DNQ in a career high four events), but for a 14-time series champion, his team's current level of performance is wholly unacceptable.
Entering this week's 28th annual Lucas Oil Nationals, a race he has won a record 11 times, Force told his crew chiefs that he expects measurable improvement, not just from his own car but from the other two John Force Racing entries that currently are struggling to make the Countdown to the Championship: Mike Neff's Ford Drive One Mustang and Robert Hight's Auto Club of Southern California Mustang.
In a meeting that followed the team's less-than-successful performance in the three-race Western Swing (12-12 overall), Force threw down the gauntlet.
"After hours of meetings and listening to the sincerity of my guys, I asked for options," Force said. "I considered moving drivers around, moving crew chiefs and changing combinations. In the end, I listened to my brain trust and their vote was to stick with what we have. They convinced me (that) we are about to turn the (competitive) corner with these Ford Mustangs.
"I told them they have three races left (and) if we don't turn it around, then change has to come. I challenged my crew chiefs to show me improvement."
The upshot is that Force has created an intra-team Countdown-to-the-Countdown that encompasses the next three events this week's Lucas Oil Nationals, the Aug. 21-23 Toyo Tires Nationals at Reading, Pa, and the Mac Tools U.S. National Labor
Day weekend at Indianapolis.
Although he turned 60 this year and even though he is less than two years removed from the devastating crash that left him hospitalized for almost a month with broken bones in his arms, legs, hands and feet, insiders don't believe Force's abilities have diminished to any significant extent. If anything, he is in better physical condition today than he was when he crashed on Sept. 23, 2007.
Rather, the issue has been the lack of data available for the new, stronger-but-heavier chassis that
emerged following Force's crash and the earlier testing accident that claimed the life of Eric Medlen. Crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, both of whom won NHRA championships before coming to JFR, now believe that they're close to achieving a more Force-like level of consistency.
"Actions speak louder than words," Force said. "Right now, we need action."
* * * *
Did You Know?
– John is trying to extend to a record-setting 23 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA tour event and to 25 the number of successive years in which he has reached at least one final round.
– John hasn't qualified No. 1 since Sept. 1, 2006 at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind. That's a span of 64 races, the longest he has gone without a No. 1 start in his entire pro career.
– Last year, John was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Mich.
Force and Coil
– In the 25 years they have been together, John Force and Austin Coil have gone to the final round in 198 of 480 NHRA events (41.2 per cent).
– Coil won two Funny Car championships with driver Frank Hawley before coming to JFR in 1985.
– Together, Force and Coil have won 14 NHRA championships and 126 tour events.
At Brainerd International Raceway:
– John has won more races (11) and more rounds (64) in the Lucas Oil Nationals than in any other event in the NHRA Full Throttle Series.
– John is the track speed record-holder at 1,000 feet at 301.27 mph, a mark he established last year.
– John's winning percentage at BIR (84.2%) is only his second best overall. He's won 84.6% of the time at Richmond, Va. (22-4).
– 10 of John's 11 victories at BIR have come from either the No. 1 or No. 2 starting position. The only exception was his 1991 win from a No. 5 start.
– In 23 appearances in the Lucas Oil Nationals, John never has qualified worse than fifth and has gone to the semifinals or beyond 20 times.
– Only in the Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga., where he's reached the finals 14 times, has John appeared in more final rounds than he has at BIR (13).
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Overall NHRA records (and Funny Car division records)
Most career victories (126)
Most series championships (14)
Most career final rounds (202)
Most career rounds won (1028)
Most consecutive series championships (10, 1993-2002)
Most consecutive seasons with one or more victories (22)*
Most consecutive seasons with at least one final round appearance (24)*
Most consecutive seasons with multiple tour victories (18, 1990-2007)
Most consecutive national events without a DNQ (395, 1988-2007)
Most consecutive Top 10 seasons (24)
Highest winning percentage, one season (91.5%, 65-6)
*tied with Warren Johnson, Pro Stock
Other NHRA Funny Car division records
Most final rounds, one season (16, 1996)
Most victories, one season (13, 1996)
Most rounds won, one season (65, 1996)
Most career No. 1 starts (131)
Most No. 1 starts, one season (11, 1996)
Most consecutive final round appearances, one event (nine, 1992-2000, Atlanta, Ga.)
Career starts (517)
Driver of the Year (1996)
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (2008 inductee)
AARWBA Auto Racing All-America Team (14 times, 1990, 1993-2002, 2004-2006)
Jerry Titus Memorial Award (most AARWBA votes, 4 times, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2002)
AARWBA Comeback Award (2008)
Speed TV Comeback Award (2008)
SAE Motorsports Achievement Award (2008)
AutoSport Magazine's John Bolster Award for lifetime achievement (2005)
First round win, over Tom McEwen, June 1, 1979, Cajun Nationals, Baton Rouge, La.
First No. 1 qualifier, May 25, 1986, Cajun Nationals, Baton Rouge, La.
First tour victory, June 28, 1987, Le Grandnational Molson, Montreal, Canada
First Funny Car driver to break 4.90 second barrier, July 6, 1996, Topeka, Kan.
First drag racer to win Driver of the Year award for all of American motor sports (1996)
First Funny Car driver to break 4.80 second barrier, Oct. 24, 1998, Dallas, Texas
First (and only) drag racer to win 100 events, April 14, 2002, Houston, Texas
First Funny Car driver to break 4.70 second barrier, Oct. 2, 2004, Joliet, Ill.
No. 2 (behind Don Garlits) in balloting to determine Top 50 drivers in NHRA's first 50
First (and only) drag racer to win 1,000 racing rounds, May 4, 2008, Madison, Ill.
JOHN FORCE By the Numbers
1 Driver of the Year award (1996, the first drag racer ever so honored).
2 first round losses in 23 appearances in the Lucas Oil Nationals (1986, 2003)
3 screws securing ankle bones from compound fracture suffered in Sept. 23, 2007
crash at Dallas, Texas.
4 DNQs in the 2008 season, a career high
5 seasons with 10 or more tour victories (1993-94, 1996, 1999-2000).
8 current position in Full Throttle points.
9 runner-up finishes before winning for the first tim