With the slump of five straight first-round losses now over, reigning Funny Car world champion John Force is ready to put on a show at Route 66 Raceway.
The startling and certainly frustrating string of early exits had reached a nearly maddening level for the legendary Force, especially considering the blistering start he had to his 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season included a win and three final round appearances.
But that confounding five-race stretch appears to be over after Force advanced to the semifinals last weekend in Epping. Next on Force’s list is continuing those good feelings in his 10,000-horsepower Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang in Chicago and that chance comes at this weekend’s 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Route 66 Raceway.
“When you go to the tracks that are the super stadiums you want to do well,” Force said. “Chicago has such great fans and we are excited to be headed there. One of our new sponsors PEAK will have a big group at the races so we will be racing hard. We’ll have two night sessions so the fans will see a great show. The key will be getting information for race day but the header flames will be flying on Friday and Saturday.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. The race is the 12th of 24 events during the 2014 season and comes in the middle of a busy summer kick-off that includes a stretch of four straight race weekends.
Chicago is third on that list of four in a row and, as expected, Force is attacking this part of the schedule with an energy level that has helped make him a 16-time world champion in Funny Car.
“I don’t worry about these stretches of races,” Force said. “We just go out there and race as hard as we can. We are always working. I was just in Canada and then we rolled right into these four races in a row. I am chasing corporate America so we have to do whatever it takes. We will work together and my brain trust will give all my drivers good race cars for all our sponsors like Castrol, Auto Club, Traxxas, Ford, PEAK, Mac Tools and BrandSource.”
Force was ready to do whatever it took to snap a string of first-round defeats that sent his season spiraling. It reached five straight and six of the past seven races after a loss to Alexis DeJoria in Bristol and Force knew that could not continue for much longer.
He responded in strong fashion in Epping, relying on a couple of veteran moves in eliminations. Force knocked off longtime rival Hagan and series points leader and John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight on holeshots before falling to DeJoria in the semifinals.
“Things were starting to look desperate for a round win,” Force said. “I’m going to go nuts out here because I built my name on these racetracks. We’ve been struggling to get past the first round. I don’t care who it is, I’m getting whipped by everybody. (So) it doesn’t matter what the tire or the tree says, I stole all the light and almost put the top bulb out. When you’re racing Hagan or Robert, those two are the best leavers out here and in the business; it’s the only way I can get them until my race car can start running faster.”
Force and his team, led by crew chief Jimmy Prock, certainly will continue to put in work to make that happen, especially with the two night sessions in Chicago capable of yielding impressive numbers. Force, who is currently third in points, is after his fourth win at Route 66 Raceway, but a host of stars, led by points leader Hight, will try to prevent that.
The other challengers include previous Chicago winners Del Worsham (three wins), Hagan (two wins) and Ron Capps (one win), who won the most recent event in Epping, as well as the likes of DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force, Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson and Bristol winner Tommy Johnson Jr.
“Jimmy has my Castrol hot rod running better,” Force said. “We made some progress in Epping. We went a couple rounds and I feel good about the direction we are going. I’m just excited my hot rod is running consistent, and hopefully we can go rounds and stay in the top of the points chase.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The race also will showcase the thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the fan-favorite JEGS All-Stars competition.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 27, with sessions at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 28, at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 29.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Route 66 Raceway at 888-629-RACE (7223) or visit www.route66raceway.com.