With his record streak of 27 consecutive Top 10 finishes in jeopardy, John Force could not find himself in a more comfortable environment this week when the NHRA Full Throttle Series moves to Brainerd International Raceway for the 31st renewal of the Lucas Oil Nationals.
After all, the 63-year-old drag racing icon, who is battling Bob Tasca III, Tim Wilkerson and reigning series champion Matt Hagan for one of the last two spots in the Countdown to 1 playoffs, has won more races at BIR (11) than the combined total of every other Funny Car driver in the field (eight).
The father of Rookie-of-the-Year contender Courtney Force has gone to the finals in every other appearance at Brainerd (13 times in 26 races) and has compiled a 66-15 individual record, a winning percentage of 81.5 percent.
That said, it’s been five years since his Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford last rolled into the winners’ circle and three years since he last won a racing round at BIR. The reality of the situation is that if he is unable to recapture his old form, he faces the prospect of watching from the sidelines when his teammates vie for the $500,000 Funny Car title he’s won 15 times in his career.
Despite his struggles since winning the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Force for once expects to benefit from the Countdown format that was introduced in 2007 largely to prevent the kind of runaway championships the former truck driver manufactured in the 1990s and early 2000s when he won 10 straight titles.
Currently ninth in points, the recent inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., is focused this week on one goal and one goal only.
“Robert (teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight) won the championship in 2009 from No. 10,” Force said, “so we know you can do it. Whoever gets the hot hand can win it all. They say, ‘you gotta be in it to win it,’ so we’re just fighting to get in – me and ‘Guido’ and Danny D (crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro).”
Coming off a solid, if not spectacular performance in the grueling Western Swing (reaching the semifinals in the first and last events in the three-races-in-three-weeks grind), the 134-time tour winner earned himself some breathing room, moving from 10th to ninth in Full Throttle points.
However, his participation in the six-race Countdown still is no sure thing especially with Hagan just 69 points behind with two races remaining before the points are re-adjusted.
“We still have to do our jobs,” said the first drag racer to earn Driver of the Year honors for all of American motor racing (1996). “We’ve been struggling but we’ve addressed the issues. We’re all working together – ‘Guido’ and Danny with Jimmy Prock and Mike Neff and Ron Douglas plus we’ve got John Medlen and Ron Armstrong on board. That’s the ‘brain trust.”Prock, Neff and Douglas are crew chiefs on the other three John Force Racing Ford Mustangs. Medlen is a former NHRA championship-winning crew chief for JFR (2003) who now manages the team’s R&D program and Armstrong is a former NASCAR engine builder and offshore boat racer who was instrumental in developing the RacePak data collection system that today is the standard in many motor sports.
“I told my guys, ‘as long as we work as one team, we’ll win as one team,’” Force said.
It’s a formula that has delivered NHRA Funny Car championships in all but five of the last 22 years. Force sees no need to change it now.