John Force’s results at Pacific Raceways, site of this week’s 25th annual O’Reilly Northwest Nationals, have run the gamut – from spectacular to catastrophic and everything in between.
He has won the race a record seven times, has started from the front five times and has driven his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang to numerous track records including the current speed standard of 308.85 miles per hour.
Of course, insofar as the 15-time series champion is concerned, wherever there’s a Dr. Jekyll, there also is a Mr. Hyde, and the rub is that no one knows which of those personalities will emerge this week when drag racing’s biggest winner revisits his battle for a berth in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs.
In his last seven trips to the Northwest, Force has DNQ’d (2008), runner-upped (2007), lost in the second round twice and the first round three times including 2010 when he was disqualified for driving his 8,000 horsepower hybrid across the center line against Jack Beckman.
Nevertheless, despite all that and the fact that he has watched two of his daughters deal with potential disasters at Pacific Raceways (Ashley Force Hood’s Funny Car crash in 2007 and Courtney Force’s blown rear tire in 2010), the 63-year-old drag racing icon is looking forward to this week’s return thanks to a race car that has shown signs of resurgence after a lengthy and frustrating series of early exits.
If his hot rod is “turning around” as Force believes, the timing couldn’t be better. After winning the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., the recent inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame has tumbled to 10th place in Full Throttle points placing in jeopardy his streak of 27 consecutive Top 10 finishes.
He will roll his green-and-white Ford to the starting line for Friday qualifying leading Ford Racing teammate and three-time defending Northwest Nationals champion Tim Wilkerson by just 69 points with three races remaining in the NHRA regular season.
“We’ll be ready for Seattle,” Force said, “but the competition is tough. It was good that some of the cars behind us went out early last week (at the Sonoma Nationals), but if we’re gonna make the Countdown, we’ve gotta help ourselves. We can’t count on somebody else messin’ up.”
Despite his struggles this year, Force for once expects to benefit from NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs which were 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 NHRA Funny Car titles.
“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).”
Although Force once won seven times in 14 years at Seattle, he hasn’t gone to the winners’ circle since he beat Cruz Pedregon to win in 2004.
That’s a shortcoming the 134-time tour winner hopes to address this week in the final race in the Western Swing.