FORCE RACES TO QUICKEST QUARTER MILE IN FUNNY CAR HISTORY
Castrol GTX Ford Claims Top Spot at Joliet at 4.697 Seconds
JOLIET, Ill. ? Battling to secure his 13th NHRA Championship, John Force dealt his rivals a crippling blow Saturday when he drove the Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang to the quickest quarter mile in Funny Car drag racing history during qualifying for the fourth annual CARQUEST Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
Force, who on Sunday will try to become just the second pro driver to sweep both of the POWERade tour events contested at Route 66, became the first ever to break the 4.70 second barrier ? and he did it despite fuel restrictions imposed three months ago by the NHRA in a unsuccessful attempt to slow down the world?s fastest race cars.
Force stopped the timers in 4.697 seconds at a speed of 332.75 miles per hour in a jaw-dropping performance that enabled him to claim his 123rd No. 1 qualifying award; his fifth at Route 66; his first in the CARQUEST Nationals.
The quickest previous time was 4.713 by Whit Bazemore on the very same quarter mile last May. The difference is that Bazemore?s national record, which included a speed of 333.25 mph, the fastest ever, was established with a 90 per cent nitromethane fuel mix.
That percentage subsequently was reduced to 85 per cent by NHRA tech officials last July following the death of Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell in a racing accident at Madison, Ill. Until Saturday, the regulation had had some effect on performance insomuch as no Funny Car driver had recorded a time quicker than 4.749 or a speed faster than 324.20 mph.
In fact, most crew chiefs, including Austin Coil, the architect of the John Force Racing dynasty that has won 11 consecutive series titles, flatly stated that there would be no record this season as teams continued to adjust to the fuel regulation.
Apparently, he was wrong.
?Well, we spiffed it up a little bit,? Coil said. ?We thought it might run a (4.)72 but then we were in uncharted territory with fuel volume and some other things. So, yeah, it surprised us, too.?
The first hint that history was in the making came in Saturday?s first session when Force ran 4.750 only to be trumped by Chevrolet and Del Worsham, who sped to a career best time of 4.730 seconds at 328.54 mph in the CSK Monte Carlo.
?That made us change our thinking,? Force said. ?We knew there was more there and decided to go for it. Coil figured we?d give it everything we had and if it didn?t work, at least we knew how far we could push it.
?That speed (second fastest ever) was pretty impressive, too,? Force beamed. ?It got loose about 1,000 feet and it really skated around down there, but I wasn?t about to shut it off. This was like one of those chances in life. The track was right, the air was right, the car was right and I was just hanging on trying to do my job, too.?
Because of NHRA?s unusual record certification procedures, Force?s time, while the quickest in history, is not YET the official NHRA national record. That still belongs to Bazemore. Force must post a backup run within one per cent of the 4.697 to officially claim the record and the 20 bonus points that go with it. That means that during eliminations on Sunday, he needs at least one run as quick a 4.744.
?We still have work to do,? Force said. ?We still have to race and if conditions are like this (Sunday), who knows what kind of numbers everyone will run. They?ll take their shots at us, we know that. We just have to stay on our game.?
Force will oppose No. 16 qualifier Tony Bartone in Sunday?s first round at approximately 12:30 p.m. (ET). With the points adjusted for qualifying, he now leads second place Gary Scelzi by 233 points.
While Force was breaking another barrier, teammates Eric Medlen and Gary Densham also were putting their Fords solidly into position for eliminations.
Medlen, a prime Rookie-of-the-Year candidate at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang, wound up third in the order at 4.763 seconds, 325.30 mph and Densham, the reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion, finished fifth at 4.769, 326.32 mph.
Medlen?s numbers were especially gratifying because they suggested that crew chief John Medlen, the driver?s father, might have the team?s No. 2 Mustang back on track after anemic performances in the last several races.
The elder Medlen, who last year crewed Tony Pedregon to the NHRA title in the same car his son now is driving, said that the crew had found some debris, perhaps clutch dust, in one of the lines that activate the clutch timers. That debris apparently had been trying to work itself through the system and finally just locked down the line.
?We?ve been making adjustments for the last five weeks trying to find out why our car wouldn?t run like Force?s and Densham?s,? Medlen said. ?It?s been pretty stressful. Now, all the numbers show that it?s better than ever but on the first (qualifying) run today it was just a guess. We didn?t know where we were.
?We got some clues from Austin and Bernie and Jimmy Prock and fortunately, it all worked out. This can be a very humbling sport.?
Winner earlier this year at Brainerd, Minn., Medlen is paired with No. 14 qualifier Jeff Arend in round one but the biggest match is the one that sends Densham against No. 12 qualifier Whit Bazemore, one of the three drivers still not mathematically out of the hunt for the title.
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NOTES ? John Force also was the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.80 second barrier. He did so on Oct. 23, 1998 at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, where he was clocked in 4.787 seconds....Ashley Force, 21-year-old daughter of the drag racing icon, also performed well in qualifying for the CARQUEST Nationals, putting the Mattel Toy Store entry in the No. 3 spot in the Top Alcohol Dragster field at 5.272 seconds, 271.13 mph. She will oppose David Wells of Lemars, Iowa (5.388, 264.80 mph) in a first round race on Sunday. Ms. Force is seeking her third consecutive victory, having won at Indianapolis, Ind., on Labor Day and at Ennis, Texas, last week....as the No. 2 qualifier, Worsham moved to within four points of Scelzi and second place, just 237 behind Force. Bazemore, who started the day 250 points behind the leader, fell another six behind after qualifying only 12th. In fact, the Dodge driver wasn?t even in the 16-car field until the final run.
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JOLIET, Ill. ? First round pairings for Sunday?s fourth annual CARQUEST Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:
FUNNY CAR ? 1. John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, 4.697, 332.75 mph, vs. 16. Tony Bartone, Long Island City, N.Y., Pontiac Firebird, 4.862, 317.64 mph; 2. Del Worsham, Chino Hills, Calif., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.730, 328.54 mph, vs. 15. Tommy Johnson Jr., Avon, Ind., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.858, 319.29 mph; 3. Eric Medlen, Indianapolis, Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang, 4.763, 325.30 mph, vs. 14. Jeff Arend, San Dimas, Calif., Chevrolet Corvette, 4.854, 320.36 mph; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camarillo, Calif., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.766, 325.30 mph, vs. 13. Johnny Gray, Carlsbad, N.M., Dodge Stratus, 4.850, 317.34 mph; 5. Gary Densham, Bellflower, Calif., Automobile Club of Southern California Ford, 4.769, 326.32 mph, vs. 12. Whit Bazemore, Indianapolis, Dodge Stratus, 4.847, 314.31 mph; Mustang, 4.824. 293.35 mph, vs. 6. Phil Burkart Jr., Yorkville, N.Y., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.789, 323.43 mph, vs. 11. Bob Bode, Barrington, Ill., Pontiac Firebird, 4.844, 308.50 mph; 7. Gary Scelzi, Fresno, Calif., Dodge Stratus, 4.827, 324.59 mph, vs. 10. Jerry Toliver, Temecula, Calif., Toyota Celica, 4.832, 317.27 mph; 8. Tony Pedregon, Chino Hills, Calif., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.828, 313.07 mph, vs. 9. Bob Gilbertson, Charlotte, N.C., Pontiac Firebird, 4.830, 316.82 mph.
TOP FUEL? 1. Cory McClenathan, Anaheim, Calif., 4.490, 328.62 mph, vs. 16. Morgan Lucas, Corona, Calif., 4.716, 310.41 mph; 2. Doug Kalitta, Ann Arbor, Mich., 4.496, 330.63 mph, vs. 15.Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Williamston, S.C., 4.698, 321.96 mph; 3. Scott Kalitta, Ypsilanti, Mich., 4.517, 332.34 mph, vs. 14. Bruce Litton, Indianapolis, 4.690, 316.90 mph; 4. Clay Millican, Drummonds, Tenn., 4.540, 326.16 mph, vs. 13. John Smith, Williamston, S.C., 4.634, 306.74 mph; 5. Doug Herbert, Lincolnton, N.C., 4.540, 322.88 mph, vs. 12. Brady Kalivoda, Seattle, Wash., 4.625, 325.30 mph; 6. Brandon Bernstein, Lake Forest, Calif., 4.541, 333.41 mph, vs. 11. T.J. Zizzo, Round Lake, Ill., 4.622, 322.21 mph; 7. Tony Schumacher, Mt. Prospect, Ill., 4.542, 329.02 mph, vs. 10. David Grubnic, Ennis, Mont., 4.622, 324.28 mph; 8. David Baca, Pittsburg, Calif., 4.558, 329.83 mph, vs. 9. Bob Vandergriff Jr., Alpharetta, Ga., 4.615, 309.63 mph.
PRO STOCK ? 1. Greg Anderson, Concord, N.C., Pontiac Grand Am, 6.661, 207.75 mph, vs. 16. J.R. Carr, Pasco, Wash., Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.718, 206.13 mph; 2. David Connolly, Elyria, Ohio, Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.667, 207.30 mph, vs. 15. Ron Krisher, Warren, Ohio, Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.711, 206.51 mph; 3. Steve Johns, Mountville, Pa., Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.670, 206.48 mph, vs. 14. Mark Whisnant, Stockbridge, Ga., Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.707, 206.20 mph; 4. Jason Line, Terrell, N.C., Pontiac Grand Am, 6.675, 207.40 mph, vs. 13. Rickie Smith, King, N.C., Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.705, 205.88 mph; 5. Greg Stanfield, Bossier City, La., Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.675, 207.15 mph, vs. 12. Bruce Allen, Arlington, Texas, Pontiac Grand Am, 6.699, 206.29 mph; 6. Mike Edwards, C oweta, Okla., Pontiac Grand Am, 6.676, 206.86 mph, vs. 11. Vieri Gaines, Lakewood, Colo., Dodge Stratus, 6.698, 206.76 mph; 7. Larry Morgan, Newark, Ohio, Dodge Stratus, 6.680, 206.73 mph, vs. 10. Allen Johnson, Greeneville, Tenn., Dodge Stratus, 6.692, 206.13 mph; 8. Kenny Koretsky, Richboro, Pa., Dodge Stratus, 6.684, 205.94 mph, vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Delaware, Ohio, Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.685, 206.89 mph.