NORWALK, Ohio – Now that he has returned from performance exile to prove that he still can win in the NHRA’s Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, John Force is anxious to apply his name to something other than one of the garish grandstand signs at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
On the only track on which he has neither won an NHRA tour event nor appeared in a final round, Force tries this week to sustain the momentum that has propelled him to the top of the Funny Car standings for the first time since 2006.
Despite his unusually modest resume at the Norwalk track, Force will be among the Funny Car favorites in the fourth annual Summit Racing Equipment Nationals.
Coming off a victory last week at Bristol, Tenn., his fourth of the current campaign, the 61-year-old icon has put two seasons of mediocrity behind him at the
wheel of a resurgent Mustang assembled largely from components designed and manufactured at his John Force Racing East shop facility in Brownsburg, Ind.
Although the chassis, BOSS 500 engine, supercharger, manifold and cylinder heads on the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang all were designed and built at JFR, Force doesn’t attribute his current success solely to new equipment.
“I’ve got a great team,” Force said, “(and) not just my crew chiefs – Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and Mike Neff. I have a whole bunch of young guys, kids that put my Mustang together, week-after-week. I don’t know how they do it, especially when we’re racing every week like we have been.”
That crew is entirely new this season except for clutch technician Tom Ekstrom and includes Tom Buckingham, Phil Conley, Chad Crawford, Tim Fabrisi, Richard Jackson, Jon Schaffer and E.J. Veenstra, most of whom moved over to the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford with Neff who, after a pair of Top 10 finishes as a Funny Car driver, has returned this year to his crew chief roots.
With Neff making the tough tune-up decisions with support from Coil and Fedderly, Force once again is a threat not only to win, but to qualify his green-and-white Mustang at the top of the order. He’s done so three times this year after failing to start from the No. 1 qualifying position for three entire seasons (73 races).
“Coil and Bernie were like a couple of old dogs up on the porch,” Force said. “It took us putting a young pup like Neff over there to get ‘em going again.”
With improved equipment and a rejuvenated crew, the final essential element in the Force equation was the health of the driver.
Seriously injured in a 2007 crash at Dallas, Texas, Force admits that he had some physical limitations the last two years that finally have been resolved.
“I live in the gym,” said the 14-time champion. “If I miss a day, I can tell it. It’s what I gotta do to keep myself in the game. But I’m in better shape now than I was before the crash. I’m stronger, especially my legs.”
The package – car, crew and driver – has proven to be a formidable one. In 12 races, Force already has won as many rounds as he did in 24 events the last two seasons. More important, he already has won more races than he has in any season since 2005.