HOUSTON, Texas – On the 10th anniversary of his historic 100th NHRA tour victory, John Force is on a mission to reclaim the suddenly-elusive consistency that once made him virtually unbeatable.
The 62-year-old drag racing icon, who in one incredible stretch went to the Funny Car final in 119 of 210 races and won every championship from 1993 through 2002, currently is locked in a bizarre sort of competitive routine in which he seems either to go to the final or to go nowhere.
In the last 16 events in the Full Throttle Series, Force has driven his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang to a pair of victories including one in this year’s season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. Moreover, two weeks ago, he was one of the final four at the NHRA 4Wide Nationals at Charlotte.
By contrast, during that same stretch he has been ousted in the first round an unheard of 11 times. To put that statistic in perspective, consider that from 1990 through 2002 (a span of 265 races), he lost in the opening round just 32 times – an average of 2.5 times per season.
Not surprisingly, the sport’s biggest winner is frustrated by the current roller coaster ride which this week takes him to Royal Purple Raceway for the 25th running of the O’Reilly Spring Nationals.
Force has been exceedingly successful at Royal Purple, as he has been at most stops on the tour. He twice set the official NHRA quarter mile record at the track – at 4.996 seconds in October of 1993, just weeks after Chuck Etchells had become the first to break the 5.00 second barrier, and at a blistering 4.788 in October of 1999.
He won both Houston races in 1999, one of only two drivers to accomplish that feat, beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the 2002 final to earn his 100th win and has won a track record seven events overall.
The downside is that he hasn’t won or gone to the final round at Royal Purple since that 100th win, a situation he’ll try to address this weekend in a bid to lift himself back into title contention with teammates Robert “Top Gun” Hight, winner of the last four races in the series, and Mike Neff.
“Our car is making a lot of progress,” Force said, “getting to the final set of cars at the 4Wide. We still have a lot of work to do to get back in the hunt. At the end of the day, we’re not as consistent as Robert and Neff. Their cars go down the track almost every run. That’s what we need. We don’t need to beat ourselves.”
Force, who has won at least one tour event in 25 different seasons, rolls into Texas in fifth place in points behind his teammates and Dodge drivers Jack Beckman and Johnny Gray.
“We’ve always run good in Texas,” Force said, “so I feel good about going back (to Royal Purple Raceway). “‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and ‘Danny D’ (DeGennaro) are working hard to figure this thing out. We’ll be okay.”
Indeed, Force is the track record-holder at the 1,000 foot distance in negotiated in a career best 4.011 seconds at 316. 08 miles per hour on a No. 1 qualifying run in 2010. In fact, the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection who next month will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., has started his Castrol Ford from No. 1 three times in his last five Houston appearances.
The rub is that he won just three rounds in those three races. He and his crew chiefs hope to turn that around this week.
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