BRAINERD, Minn. – Within reach of a milestone that would apply yet another exclamation point to his resume as the most successful driver in the history of professional drag racing, John Force couldn’t find himself in a more favorable environment than the one in which he will compete this week at the controls of his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang.
For 25 seasons, Force has rolled a Castrol Funny Car to the starting line at Brainerd International Raceway and, on 11 occasions, he has driven it straight into the winners’ circle.
If he does so again this week, he not only will become the first pro driver to win as many as 1,100 competitive rounds in the NHRA Full Throttle Series (his current total is 1,096), he again will lock up a berth in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs, thus insuring his record 27th consecutive Top 10 finish.
Significantly, in no other event has the 62-year-old icon been more successful than he has in the Lucas Oil Nationals, contested this week for the 30th time.
Consider that in a competitive quarter century at BIR, Force never has experienced a DNQ, has qualified outside the top six just one time (last year, when he was 13th), has won 82.5% of his individual heats (66 of 80) and has averaged 2.64 round wins per start.
Now, he hopes to work his magic once more with a new team, in a new car prepared by a new crew chief tandem. After winning his 15th championship a year ago, the sport’s biggest winner opted to move over one pit spot to drive this season for crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas in a hybrid Ford driven the last four years by his daughter, Ashley Force Hood.
The seat in Force Hood’s car became available when the 27-year-old the two-time reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion, opted to take the year off to start a family with husband Dan.
Although it took Force awhile to adapt to new surroundings, he won last month at Denver, Colo., and now is focused on trying to move up in the driver standings in advance of the playoffs which begin Sept. 18 in Charlotte, N.C. He presently is seventh in points.
“Robert showed us that if you can win from anywhere,” Force said, referring to teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight’s 2009 run to the championship after making the Countdown in the No. 10 position, “but you don’t want to have to do it that way.
“I’ve got a good hot rod,” acknowledged the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection, “and we can make up some ground these next two races. That’s what we want to do. Mike Neff and Robert are already in (the Countdown) and we’re close. The higher you are (in the regular season points), the better your chances.”
“I’m just one point out of sixth, I think, behind (Ron) Capps,” said the 133-time tour winner. “I can still move up. I want to try and get into the middle of the pack. I’d like to get up to fifth. That would give us three in the top five with two other Fords in the Countdown with Tasca (Bob Tasca III, currently 10th) and (Tim) Wilkerson.”
Despite his glossy stats at BIR, Force hasn’t won the Lucas Nationals since 2007. That was his last victory before a devastating crash just a month later at Dallas, Texas, that left him with crippling injuries that may have sidelined someone with less resolve.
Instead, Force embarked on an accelerated physical therapy program that had him back in a race car in January, 2008, and back in the winners’ circle in May.
“I love this sport and I love my job,” said the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Detroit. “I’m under contract (to drive) through 2014 but as long as I can still compete against all these young guys, there’s nothing else I want to do.”
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