Last year was the first in 10 straight years John Force didn't win the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series Funny Car points championship in his Ford Mustang. Teammate Tony Pedregon did.
After 15 of 23 national events this season, the 55-year-old Force is a force to be reckoned with again. Entering the 23rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Friday through Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway, the 12-time Funny Car points champion is the Funny Car points leader. Arch-rival Whit Bazemore, in a Dodge, trails by 146 points, followed by Del Worsham in a Chevy, 160 points back, and Gary Scelzi in a Dodge, 181 points back.
"I know the game more than anybody else," Force said from Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. "I've done it for 30 years and I understand you can't win all the time."
"I don't take (winning) for granted anymore and I don't think I ever will."
John Force powered his Funny Car down a quarter-mile drag strip during an NHRA Powerade Series national event this season. Force, the current points leader in the class, will race in the 23rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Friday through Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.
Force, a 10-time winner at BIR and second on the all-time motorsports win list with 112, has won three national events this season. He also has qualified first 120 times.
Force remembers his first two goals, 100 wins and 10 straight championships.
He remembers all too well the most recent national in Sonoma, Calif. He jumped the start in the final after qualifying No. 1. Tim Wilkerson, in a Chevy, ranked seventh in points, won his fifth career national event and second this season.
It was Force's second foul start in 175 final rounds.
Force is still "beating himself" up over this foul start.
"I can't wait to get into Brainerd," he said, "I'm still in pain. There is no excuse for it."
John Force's 10-year streak of points titles was snapped last year, but he's back on top this year.
Force said he's more confident when he races veterans like Bazemore or Scelzi.
"It is hard to get up for a guy that's way overdue," he said. "I was too energized and made a mistake."
Make no mistake, Force is on a mission at BIR to win every round. He wants to go to the next event, the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, with the points lead.
"I want to win the championship," Force said, "and I really like the fight. I want to test myself to see how good I am."
Force said his opponents include Bazemore, Scelzi and Worsham. But he mentioned racers like Wilkerson and Pedregon and Pedregon's brother Cruz, who's 10th in points, could also "take him out."
"I know Tony knows how to win," Force said, "They know everything that we do and he's way overdue for a win and so is Cruz."
Force said his last win at BIR in 2002 was on a hot day. "I really like to get them in the heat," he said. "My car is real fast on a loose track."
If Force does win at BIR, it will be under new conditions. The track was resurfaced last year, which included a 700-foot concrete launching pad, his car's engine is running on 85 percent nitromethane instead of 90 percent and he's running on new tires.
The last two rules were implemented by NHRA after Top Fueler Darrell Russell died in a horrific crash June 27 at the Madison, Ill., national event.
Force, who holds the speed record of 319.82 mph at BIR, said his team, headed by long-time crew chief Austin Coil, tested the new nitromethane mixture on teammate and defending BIR champion Gary Densham's car before the rule was implemented.
"They just went out there and tried to see what it would do," Force said.
He did well at Sonoma. All four of his qualifying runs were under five seconds, including one at 4.823 seconds. He beat Scelzi in the semifinals with the event's top speed, a 322.42 mph blast.
As far as new tires, Force said his three-car team (Eric Medlen drives his other Mustang) has helped.
"I just think my guys are real savvy," Force said. "They adjusted to the tire."
Force has three daughters who race. Daughter Ashley is currently ranked eighth in Top Alcohol Dragster national points.
Another daughter Brittany has earned her Super Comp license and his 16-year-old daughter Courtney earned her Super Comp license Tuesday at Pomona Raceway.
Force said Courtney was fired up to race.
"Somebody has to feed me in my old age," he said.
For now, Force is just feeding on the competition.
Clint Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5869.
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