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Pedley: Force Finds The Problem And It Is He

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 26 2011

John Force has his head back in the game and his team back in Victory Lane. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Second Day Lede – A closer look at last weekend’s racin:

As John Force’s 2011 dry spell stretched from spring into summer, he thought he had looked everywhere for its causes. It took Robert Hight, his teammate and company president, to point out one last place where Force had not yet looked.

In a mirror. Preferably, in a mirror close to the team’s Brownsburg, Ind. race shop.

“I said (to Hight), ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. My luck is bad,’ “ Force said. “ ‘It could be that my race car is off and the weight is different.’ He said, ‘No, it’s you.’

“Robert told me to get back in the game. He said my head was in Oshkosh at the air show and the Indy 500 and every place I was going. He said you are not in your race car. He said that I had taught him and he knew my head wasn’t right. He reminded me I have to live it and I wasn’t living it. It was an eye opener. He was right.”

On Sunday at Bandimere Speedway in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, Force got his first NHRA Funny Car victory of the season. He got it when he beat young Matt Hagan in the Mopar Mile-High Nationals finals.

And even though he got it when Hagan red lit for the first time in his career, he got it.

John Force took a look in the mirror. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

And afterward he insisted he got it thanks to intervention from the people who work for him, and with him, at John Force Racing.

“I went back to (tuners) Guido (Dean Antonelli) and Ron (Douglas) and told them they would have everything from me this weekend. It is team work and yeah, we did some damage last night (when his car exploded) but we came back with those Fords.

“Before the semi-final race (teammate) Mike Neff looked at me and said get out there and fight like you want this. He told me to kick his butt if I could. He said I was better than I had been showing.”

The final pairing with Hagan seemed kind of sweet for the 15-time and defending Funny Car champ. It was Hagan from whom Force pried the 2010 championship at the end of the season in Pomona.

“I went up against that kid Hagan and I really felt good,” Force said. “I said in an interview I went up to Hagan right before the final. He said good luck and I said you and I were the champs last year. You and I fought it out to the wire when nobody else could and now we are in the final. I told him we are back where we belong. He had a big old grin on his face. He said you are right. We want to be there. We miss it. We miss that winners circle.”

For a few seconds, it appeared Force’s return to the winner’s circle would be delayed one more time.

“I thought I was dead late,” he said of the final at Bandimere. “I thought, ‘Oh the whipping is coming.’ You have to be really on your game against Hagan. Sometimes luck is part of it. He was outrunning me. I chased him all the way to the lights. I was hoping he would nose over. I did not know that he red lit. That is how close we were right on that tree. He is a champion. I really like the kid. He is the future.”

With a couple more performances like he had in the Rockies, Force could again be the NHRA’s present. Force is now seventh in points, but just 194 ahead of 11th-place Johnny Gray with four races left until the start of the Countdown.

The Western Swing portion of the schedule moves to Sonoma, Calif. and then to Seattle before the series heads to Brainerd, Minn. and then to the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indy.

That gives Force plenty of time to stumble or to keep on building.

But do not expect to see Force at supermarket grand openings or your local county fair for the next couple of months.

The kid looks ready

The plan at Richard Childress Racing right now is to have young Austin Dillon make his first Sprint Cup Series start at Kansas Speedway in October.

Austin Dillon is scheduled to make his Sprint Cup debut in Kansas in October. It looks like he will be ready. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

After watching him at Nashville over the weekend, there is little doubt that Dillon will be ready for that Cup debut.

On Friday night, Dillon patiently setup and then passed veteran NASCAR hand and current points leader Johnny Sauter with 23 laps to go and went on get the Camping World Truck Series victory. On Saturday night, he finished third to current Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards in the Nationwide Series race.

It’s not just the finishes and the numbers saying Dillon will be ready for The Show at Kansas, it’s the way he handles everything from his vehicles to interviews. The view from here is that Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress, has future star inked across his forehead.

OK, yes, sure, he’s in great equipment and is surrounded by the kind of talented people that other young drivers in trucks and NNS would lie, cheat and steal to have around them. But in racing these days, good cars cannot win without good drivers and Dillon is good.

And after Kansas? Some tough choices could be forced upon grampa in the very near future. Dillon is going to need a Cup seat and perhaps very soon.

The kid is obviously ready

Ricky Taylor in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series is already among the best in the sport and appears to be getting better every week.

He drives for the SunTrust Wayne Taylor Racing team owned by his father. But there is

Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor came up just short on Sunday.

no nepotism involved in him being put into the seat of his Chevrolet Dallara.

On Saturday, the 21-year-old Taylor won the pole at New Jersey Motorsports Park in the Daytona Prototype division. It was his fifth straight pole.

In the race, he double stinted on a day which was so hot it was sending other drivers to the care center for IV fluids. He got out after his second stint looking ready for a third.

He and co-driver Max Angelelli suffered a major blow early in the race when they were knocked off track and off pace when Taylor was rammed from behind by Scott Pruett, who is the best in the business.

Still, Taylor and Angelelli fought back and re-captured the lead. On the final pit stop of the day, they opted to take tires while Pruett and his Chip Ganassi Racing team did not. That proved the difference as Pruett held off Angelelli and got the win.

Angelelli was hot – and not just from the record heat – afterward. He ripped into the shunt by Pruett.

The Taylors had cooled down.

“Considering how much action there was today, it was a very good effort by the SunTrust guys,” Ricky Taylor said. “As always, Max put us in the position to win, again. He managed to get by the 99 (car of Gainsco/Bob Stallings). The 01 (Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas) was very strong today, but if Max would’ve had a couple more laps, he might have been able to eat into that gap a little more and maybe we would’ve been a step higher on the podium.

“I was doing my best. I’ve learned a lot from these guys and I was applying what they’ve taught me the last couple of years. You don’t want to let them get a run on you coming out of the corners, so I was just doing my best to apply some of those things I’ve learned to keep people behind me. Scott (Pruett) had just gotten around the 90 car and he hadn’t been behind me up until that lap, really, and I was struggling a little bit. The hit was not intentional, by any means. It was just one of those things.”

The victory by Pruett and Rojas was the fifth of the season for the Ganassi team. It opened up a 29-point lead in the championship over Angelelli and Taylor and the SunTrust team, who are second in the championship with three races remaining. Jon Fogarty and his Gainsco teammate Alex Gurney are third in the championship, 16 points behind the SunTrust team.

“I can’t say the incident with Pruett is what cost us the race,” said team owner Wayne Taylor. “The bottom line was, we’re all struggling with tires, and we probably struggled a little bit more than everybody else and I don’t really know why. The team did a good job. The strategy was good. Max drove his heart out, there, at the end. You know, those 01 guys, they never make a mistake – not that we made any mistakes. It’s just how it panned out in the end. I’m happy for the team and everybody. These conditions, with the tires and stuff, I’m pretty happy with a second-place finish today.”

Nashville blues

You have to wonder about the future of NASCAR in Nashville after watching what went on

There were almost as many people working in the pits as there were sitting in the grandstands at Friday night's Camping World race at Nashville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

at Nashville Superspeedway on Friday and Saturday night.

Not the racing on the track – it was, as usual, very good. But what was going on the grandstands and that was; not much.

RacinToday.com colleague Larry Woody, a veteran of the Nashville racing scene, reports that on Friday, actual attendance was a couple thousand people. As in 2,500 to 3,000 people.

On Saturday, the situation was considerably better but those who went probably didn’t have to worry about getting stuck and traffic. Suffice it to say, the parking lots at the 25,000-seat track could handle the “load”.

Attendance at the place has been weak for years but track officials vowed to press on after the weekend produced more bad news.

It is always tempting to blurt something like; gosh, hope things improve and the track stays healthy and the great fans in the great racing area of Nashville get to keep their races.

But, if a trucks race – which many think is the best NASCAR racing going these days – can only attract a couple of thousand fans on a Friday night (heat wave or not) near a big city in the heart of NASCAR country, you got to figure the thrill is gone in Nashville.

If fans do not support an event or a track over an extended period, of time, then the show is going to be outta there.

Support it or lose it, fans. That has become the clear message these days. Ask the folks who loved Rockingham, the Milwaukee Mile and Gateway.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 26 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Glen Harness says:

    When the Nationwide and Truck races were at the Fairgrounds, you couldn’t get a seat (that is, the Fairgrounds, with a seating capacity if 12,000 or so, always sold out). When the “Nashville” superspeedway came along, I think fans gave it a chance. But then they saw what lousy racing goes on there (despite your comment above about the racing being “as usual, very good”), they started staying away in droves.

    They need to “finish” the track and put a layer or two of asphalt on it so the racing would improve. Or even better, move the races back to the Fairgrounds, and let Dover close another track.