force sees opportunity as tour moves to vegas
LAS VEGAS – Despite a disastrous chain of events that two weeks ago completely changed the dynamic of the race for the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship, John Force rolls his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang onto The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week acting like anything but a victim.
Down 64 points to Matt Hagan entering this week’s 10th annual Las Vegas Nationals, the season’s next-to-last event, Force admitted that he’s been energized by the battle with his 27-year-old rival, one in which he now finds himself cast as underdog.
“I was an underdog the first 10 years of my career,” said the 61-year-old icon, “and now I’m an underdog again. That’s a great team over there (Hagan’s), but we’re a great team, too.”
Rather than lament the fact that a $3 part prevented his high-flying Mustang from backing up after the obligatory burnout procedure preceding his first round race with Dale Creasy Jr. at the Toyo Tires Nationals in Reading, Pa., a stumble that effectively gift-wrapped the points lead for Hagan, Force is focused on the upcoming fight.
“Being in Vegas, that’s perfect,” said the 130-time tour winner, “because all the big prize fights are in Vegas. This is what it’s all about. After three years, I’m back in the hunt for a championship. We’re not owed anything but we’ve still got a shot and that’s all you can ask for.”
It’s a classic showdown worthy of the Las Vegas stage: Ford versus Dodge, Castrol versus Valvoline, John Force Racing versus Don Schumacher Racing, experience versus youthful exuberance, the veteran who, at the quarter mile distance, broke the 4.90, 4.80 and 4.70 second barriers, against the newcomer who has established himself as the most likely to break the 4.00 second barrier at 1,000 feet, and, finally, the owner of the second quickest time of the season (4.021 seconds) against the man who set the record at 4.011 seconds at Reading.
Not surprisingly, for Force the situation recalls a movie.
“Remember in the movie Patton, where he says ‘all my life I've wanted to lead a lot of men in a desperate battle,’” Force said, “well that’s where we are. We’re in a battle for the championship and we’re ready for the fight.
“Things are different now,” said the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Detroit. “When you’re leading the points, sometimes you get cautious because you don’t want to do something stupid that might cost you.
“But now that we’re behind Hagan, anything goes,” said the 14-time champ. “There’s no reason to hold back. We’re gonna go after all the bonus points (a maximum of three per qualifying session), the (national) record and the win. We’ve put our hot rod on a diet (reducing its weight by 40 pounds) and we’re going after it.
“I’m usually not lucky in Vegas,” Force continued, “but I think we got rid of all our bad luck at Reading. I feel good (about our chances) and I feel good about having Ashley and Robert and (Bob) Tasca and (Tim) Wilkerson fighting the battle for Ford.”
Although he’s struggled more at LVMS than at most tracks in the series, Force has won more than 50 percent of his head-to-head races at the Nevada track and is coming off a victory last April in the companion SummitRacing.com Nationals.
“Mike Neff (who shares crew chief responsibilities on Force’s Castrol Ford with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly) said no national records at Vegas because of the altitude,” Force said of his hope to earn a 20-point record bonus like Hagan did three weeks ago, “but if they get a cold front, you never know....”