FORCE LOOKING FOR RELIEF AS TOUR MOVES TO ROUTE 66
Champ Struggling to Find His Way into Countdown to Eight
JOLIET, Ill. – On a track on which he began his march to the 2006 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship, John Force tries to jump start another title bid this week at the wheel of a Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang that has proven to be an enigma, not just for drag racing's most prolific winner, but for crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly as well.
Eight races into the season, the reigning NHRA Funny Car champion is mired in 17th place in the driver standings, further back than he's been in 25 years.
If he hopes to climb out of the abyss and still earn one of the eight berths in the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship format, he'll have to start this week in the 10th annual TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals.
Although he is the defending Funny Car champion at Route 66 Raceway, the 122-time tour winner has had a feast-or-famine history in the TORCO Nationals. After losing in the first round in 2003 and 2005, he came back the following year to win (2004, 2006).
"I'm not doing anything different," Force said of a 2007 slump that includes his first DNQ in 20 seasons and five first round losses, the most recent a week ago at Topeka, Kan. "I mash the pedal the same way, do the burnout the same way, stage the car the same way. The car just hasn't been consistent.
"Last week I said we needed to start making our move. Well, this week, I really mean it," joked the man who has won 14 of the last 17 NHRA Funny Car championships.
An engine misfire has been at the root of the 8,000 horsepower Mustang's performance malaise, a "dropped cylinder" in drag racing parlance.
Coil and Fedderly, the crew chiefs against whom all others in the sport are measured, believe they now have a better handle on the situation after adapting some of the new technology developed by teammate Jimmy Prock for use on the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford driven by Force's son-in-law, Robert Hight.
A two-time winner already this season, Hight presently is second in POWERade points even though he missed one entire race in the aftermath of the death last March of former teammate Eric Medlen in a testing accident.
Although he admitted that Medlen's loss has taken its toll on the entire team, Force has refused to blame the tragedy for his own on-track problems.
"We were bad before Eric's accident," said the 58-year-old veteran, "so that's not the problem. Bottom line, we need to fix this race car and start doing our job. Thank God for Robert and Ashley (Force, his 24-year-old daughter, who presently seventh in points as a Funny Car rookie)."
Not since 1982 has Force been this far behind in points and that was only because he ran an abbreviated schedule, appearing in just three of the 12 races that then comprised the series. In fact, before this year, the furthest back he ever had been eight races into the season was 10th in 1989.
Nevertheless, because of the new Countdown format, the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection has not yet given up on a record 15th series championship for himself and 16th for his team.
That's because he doesn't have to catch points leader Ron Capps or even Hight, who have distanced themselves from the other contenders. He only has to be eighth or better when the tour moves to Indianapolis, Ind., for the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at which time the points will be re-adjusted for the eight qualifiers with only 10 points between each position.
"(The new format has) kinda played into our hands," Force said, "but we still have to perform and we haven't done that. Bottom line, we have to start winning rounds."
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Did You Know:
Austin Coil, architect of the John Force Racing dynasty, is a Chicago native who was working as a line mechanic for now defunct Park Chrysler Plymouth when he hooked up with fellow Chicagoans John Farkonas and Pat Minick in 1967 to create one of the most legendary Funny Cars of all time the Chi Town Hustler. After winning more than 90 per cent of its match race appearances in the 1970s, the Chi Town Hustler made the transition to the NHRA series in the 1980s, winning championships in 1982 and 1983 with Coil and driver Frank Hawley.
– When he won at Route 66 Raceway in 2000, earning his 86th tour victory, John Force became the biggest winner in NHRA history, moving past Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden.
– John is the Route 66 Funny Car track record holder for both quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed 333.58 mph.
– John has been the No. 1 qualifier in four of his nine previous appearances in the TORCO Nationals (1999-2001, 2003).
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