Sonoma: John Force preview
FORCE TRIES TO GET DEAN A VICTORY IN SPECIAL EDITION CASTROL FORD Drag Racing Icon Bids for Seventh Win at Infineon SONOMA, Calif. -- This week at Infineon Raceway, site of the 18th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals, the "Rebel without a Cause" ...
FORCE TRIES TO GET DEAN A VICTORY IN SPECIAL EDITION CASTROL FORD
Drag Racing Icon Bids for Seventh Win at Infineon
SONOMA, Calif. -- This week at Infineon Raceway, site of the 18th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals, the "Rebel without a Cause" meets the "Rebel without a Pause." James Dean meets John Force.
"I would have liked to meet him," Force said of the movie icon who, 50 years ago this September, was killed in the crash of a Porsche 550 Spyder he was driving to a sports car race in Salinas.
"I saw all the movies," said the 13-time NHRA Funny Car champion known for his non-stop banter. "He was like Elvis bigger than life, so to have his (likeness) on my car is a big thing for me."
It is in a special James Dean version of his national record-holding Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford Mustang that Force will be seeking his seventh victory at Infineon, a track on which he has reached the finals 10 times in the last 15 seasons.
"James Dean loved fast cars," Force said, "so to be associated with my ol' hot rod and with (Doug) Kalitta's dragster, I think he'd be proud. We're gonna do our best to put him in the winners' circle. We never were able to get Elvis a win (with either of the Castrol Fords on which 'The King's' likeness appeared), but maybe we can do better this time."
The James Dean 50th Anniversary tribute car was conceptualized by Fred Wagenhals, chairman, president and CEO of Action Peformance Companies, Inc., who, in addition, has made a full-scale replica of Dean's Porsche Spyder from his personal collection available for display in a special traveling exhibit of Dean memorabilia.
"There's almost no one better to showcase The Rebel on a race car than John Force, who came up in drag racing the hard way the rebel's way," Wagenhals said.
Indeed, Force was winless in his first nine years on the NHRA tour, years in which he and his rag-tag crew often shared a single hotel room and lived largely on bologna sandwiches and food contributed by race fans. His first real sponsorship consisted of a gasoline credit card from Jolly Rancher Candies.
Things began to turn around in 1985 when Force convinced Austin Coil to come on board as crew chief. A year later, he hooked up with Castrol and the rest, to borrow a familiar cliche, is history.
Together, Force and Coil have claimed a record 118 NHRA tour victories and 13 series championships, winning at least three races for 15 consecutive seasons.
While he has enjoyed great success at Infineon, where he is the track record holder for both quarter mile time (4.814 seconds) and speed (322.42 miles per hour), the 12-time Auto Racing All-American has some additional motivation this time around.
"I let one get away last year," Force said of his foul start loss to Tim Wilkerson in the 2004 finals. "We had a car that should have won, but the driver went brain dead. We can't afford a mistake (like that) this time. The points are too close. Robert (Hight) has a lead but I've got (Gary) Scelzi and (Ron) Capps right behind me and with five or six more who could move up."
Indeed, the current campaign is unfolding as the most competitive in NHRA Funny Car history with nine drivers still realistically positioned to make a stretch run for the $400,000 championship.
Last year when he arrived at Infineon, Force had a dominant race car, one in which he already had lowered the NHRA national quarter mile record to 4.665 seconds, 333.58 miles per hour. This year, without such a car, he has had to call on 30 years of driving experience to keep him on track to a possible 14th individual championship and 13th straight title for his team.
Whereas almost half of his career wins (55) have come from the No. 1 qualifying position, Force has won this season after qualifying fourth (Phoenix, Ariz.), fifth (Atlanta, Ga.), eighth (Columbus, Ohio) and seventh (Topeka, Kan.) but comes into Infineon having lost in the first round at the last three POWERade events.
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Did You Know? This week, John can extend to 361 the number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. That record-breaking streak began with the first race of the 1988 season....John is a 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection and, in 1996, was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, the first drag racer so honored.