NHRA Route 66 Nationals
Force loses national record; wins the race
Chicago, Sunday: John Force lost the national record that has been his almost exclusively for the last 10 years, but the 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion left Route 66 Raceway with what he really wanted - his 111th career victory.
Force drove the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang through the quarter mile timers in 4.752 seconds at 325.30 miles per hour to turn back new national record holder Whit Bazemore (4.713 seconds, 333.25 miles per hour) and the Matco Tools Dodge in the final round of the seventh annual NHRA Route 66 Nationals.
It was Force's second win in three races and it moved the 55-year-old veteran to within 16 points of the lead, which currently is Bazemore's
The No. 8 qualifier, Force turned back his newest nemesis, Phil Burkart, in round one and beat teammate Eric Medlen in the semifinals to reach the final round for the 171st time in his career. However, his biggest victory came in a round two matchup with former teammate Tony Pedregon, the No. 1 qualifier at 4.716 seconds.
A mechanical problem in the pits almost caused Force to miss the round in a situation eerily similar to the one the team endured earlier this year at Houston, Texas. Force brought the Mustang to the starting line basically dead, the result of a bent intake valve and a fouled ignition system.
Force left the starting line, then, at crew chief Austin Coil's direction, shut the car off. Pedregon, unaware of the extend of Force's problems, briefly lost control at mid-track and crossed the centerline, resulting in automatic disqualification.
"My hat's off to Tony for running the way he ran," said Force. "My hat's off to Bazemore for setting the record. But my hat's really off to my guys who hung in there and got the job done
Force extended his qualifying record to 331 consecutive events, won for the second time in the last three races and recorded a personal best speed of 329.50 mph while equaling his best career time (4.721 seconds).
Force tries to regain momentum
Chicago, pre-race: Stung by his first round ouster at last week's Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, drag racing's biggest winner tries to reclaim lost momentum this week on the racetrack on which he set the current NHRA national quarter mile record.
"We had momentum," said 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force, winner of at least one NHRA POWERade tour event for 18 consecutive seasons, "but we let it get away."
Indeed, after driving the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a May 3 victory in the O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn., Force appeared poised to move past Del Worsham and into the points lead he has occupied so frequently in past seasons.
However, he never was a factor at Atlanta and, after advancing as high as second, just 42 points off the lead, he slid back to third place, the same position in which he finished a year ago after stringing together 10 consecutive championships.
As a result, Force spent the time between events re-evaluating his team, top-to-bottom. After meeting extensively with all four of his crew chiefs Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, John Medlen and Jimmy Prock and with every member of his 53-man crew, Force determined that one of the main problems lay with himself.
"I've been out chasing money (seeking additional sponsorship for his three-car team)," Force said, "making appearances for sponsors, doing media, building a new shop in Indianapolis, expanding the shop in California. Bottom line, we had a meeting and the crew chiefs told me I've been so concerned with the future that I haven't been paying attention to the present.
"So I promised that I'd get my focus back where it belongs if everyone else would, too. It was a big wake-up call. Sometimes you forget why you're here."
Force's revelation could mean trouble for those trying to end the 11-year John Force Racing reign in the Funny Car division. After all, Force was clocked in 4.721 seconds in qualifying for last year's spring race, a time that still stands not only as the official NHRA national record but as the quickest time in Funny Car history.
"This is a great racetrack," Force said. "It's where I won my 86th race (breaking Bob Glidden's career record) and it's where I set the record. Even though the track is (newly resurfaced), we expect our ol' heap to go right down it. I think we've finally got everybody's mind right."
Bidding for an unprecedented 13th NHRA Funny Car Championship, Force has shown some brief flashes of the form that, from 1990 through 2002, carried him to 12 championships and one runner-up finish. In addition to a convincing victory at Bristol, Force was the No. 1 qualifier at the season-opening K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., extending to 19 the number of consecutive years in which he has won a "pole."
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