Force Overcomes Anniversary Miscue, Wins Provisional Pole At Gateway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 27 2014

John Force had an interesting day on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

Funny Car icon John Force gift-wrapped an impromptu wedding anniversary present during qualifications for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Friday, a sidebar to a weekend that will include a rare, network news interview for the reigning/16-time world champion.

Force powered his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a 1,000-foot performance of 4.022- seconds at 319.52 mph at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, to take the provisional top spot over longtime rival Cruz Pedregon. A two-time world champion, Pedregon qualified second in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry with an identical elapsed time of 4.022-seconds but at a slower speed of 314.02 mph.

“My day started bad,” Brut Force said. “It’s my anniversary with my wife, Laurie; we’ve been married for 33 years. And so I went down and bought her a plaque and had it carved with her name and I put the wrong (wedding) date on it. So I went back with my daughter and got her another one but I told her (Laurie), ‘I’m going to run low ET for you tonight.’ She said, ‘Why?’ and I said ‘I just feel I can, I know this car has been fast.’

“And then it did, so then she comes over and says, ‘If you can pull that off then I’ll believe anything you say from now on.’ Anyway, we got away with it and that’s her anniversary present – and some roses.”

Force saw a seven-race final-round streak end last Sunday during the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals after a second-round loss against Tommy Johnson Jr. of Don Schumacher Racing. But Force still exited the Texas Motorplex in Ennis with a 45-point/two-round lead over teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight. The third annual event at Gateway is Round 3 of the six-event Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

“We always know we can run better at night; when conditions cool down, we run good,” Force said. “We’re in the third race (of the playoffs) right now, and there are only three after this. This is when championships are won and lost. I’m going to get my head right, be focused and race the way I taught my kids.”

Force, 65, is scheduled to appear on “CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood” (9 to 10:30 a.m., EDT) in an interview during which he tells Lee Cowan that he is not ready to retire. “My office is right in the seat of that car,” Force said during an interview conducted at the family home in Yorba Linda, Calif., as well as at the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash., near Seattle, in early August. “Once I get in there, an old guy like me gets young again. This firesuit makes me Superman. Not really, but I believe I am.

“I got a big ol’ house I oughta set in. Don’t care about it. This is my house. This is where I live.”

In addition to the Funny Cars driven by Force, 2009 world champion Hight and daughter Courtney, John Force Racing also fields a Top Fuel dragster for daughter Brittany. Despite Force’s comments in the CBS interview, the future of JFR remains in question. Force’s longtime manufacturer’s association with Ford Motor Company is scheduled to conclude at season’s end, as well as a similar long-standing sponsorship deal with Castrol motor oil.

Hight said at the Motorplex that JFR is planning make an announcement about the organization’s future during the annual SEMA Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center Nov. 4-7, one week before the 50th annual and season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. The SEMA Show is the premier automotive specialty products trade event in the world.

And while Force said in the CBS interview he has no plans to retire, a team source said at the Motorplex it remains unclear at this late date if Force has secured funding to keep all four of his teams running the full schedule in 2015. According to the source, Force said during a recent team meeting that if he does not have the money required to run four teams fulltime he would park his Funny Car in order to allow Hight and his daughters to continue their careers as the “next generation” of JFR. That decision looms as controversial, as its domino effect would deprive JFR, NHRA and television partner ESPN2 of drag racing’s marquee personality.

Meanwhile, Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were provisional qualifying leaders Friday.

Courtney Force _ the Funny Car event champion at The Plex _ qualified third Friday with a 4.047-second pass at 317.87 mph in her Traxxas Ford Mustang and was followed by Del Worsham in his DHL Toyota Camry at 4.049-seconds at 314.75 mph. Johnson Jr. was fifth in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger, running 4.053-seconds at 315.78 mph.

Top Fuel rookie Crampton led his category with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.764-seconds at 322.73 mph in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster. Crampton, who won the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to end the regular season, since has suffered first-round Countdown losses at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., and Ennis.

“We got our old race car back that we seem to have lost after Indianapolis,” Crampton said. “It would be pretty cool for me to, hopefully, hold onto that and get my first No. 1 qualifying position. That would be huge. It’s one of the things I haven’t been able to do this year. I’m pretty excited about how it ran tonight.”

Crampton qualified sixth in the opening session, but crew chief Aaron Brooks picked up the pace in the evening round. “The conditions were pretty good,” said Crampton, a leading contender for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award that recognizes the NHRA’s top performing rookie of the year. “A 3.76 was pretty strong but I’m a little surprised no one went quicker than that with such great cars running behind me. It was a great racetrack with great conditions, and it worked well for us.”

J.R. Todd, who qualified No. 1 at the first two Countdown races, was first in the opening session but ended up second overall after posting numbers of 3.779-seconds at 325.37 mph in his Optima Batteries/Advance Auto Parts dragster in the second session.

Seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who won the first two Countdown races and moved into a commanding 106-point lead in the standings, qualified third in his U.S. Army dragster with a performance of 3.780-seconds at 326.16 mph.

Doug Kalitta, who led the points for most of the regular season, was fourth in his Mac Tools dragster at 3.780-seconds at 324.83 mph. Reigning world champ Shawn Langdon qualified fifth in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster at 3.780-seconds at 322.11 mph.

Enders-Stevens, the two-time/defending winner of the Gateway event, took the top spot in Pro Stock with a quarter-mile pass of 6.513-seconds at 212.90 mph in her Mach 1 Global Services / Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.

“I love racing in St. Louis,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve even had some good semifinal finishes here in Sportsman racing in some 100-car fields in Super Comp. I’m not sure what it is (about this track) but there are just some tracks that are good to certain drivers. We’re hoping for a three-peat this year.”

After leading the standings for much of the season Erica now trails two-time world champion Jason Line by more than three rounds with four races remaining.

“These qualifying points are going to be like thousandths-of-a-second in Pro Stock racing on Sunday, so every little point matters,” said Enders-Stevens, who earned a category-leading six of the qualifying bonus points Friday for being quickest in both sessions. “Especially coming into this race, we’re only nine points behind third and 16 behind second. They all add up.”

Shane Gray qualified second in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro with a 6.528-second pass at 212.06 mph. He was followed by Line at 6.529-seconds at 212.19 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro. Vincent Nobile was fourth in his Mountain View Tire Camaro at 6.529/212.36.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec was quickest aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod with a quarter-mile pass of 6.824-seconds at 196.44 mph. If Krawiec’s performance holds through Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions, it will be his category-leading ninth pole of the season. Krawiec is in a tight battle for the championship with teammate Andrew Hines, the current point- leader and three-time world champion.

“We’re battling within our camp, but we’re also aware of what’s going on in the rest of the field,” said Krawiec, also a three-time world champion. “Jerry (Savoie) has a quick Suzuki, and Hector (Arana Jr.) isn’t far behind. This deal is still wide open, but I’m pretty excited with the way our program is going. We have a great tune-up and have a great handle on my motorcycle. That’s what enables us to come to a track like this, unload from the truck and make the best run of the day. Sometimes it’s an accident, but we also use all the data we have. That’s very valuable. We don’t pick our tune-up when we get here. We start working on that as soon as we leave the previous race.”

Savoie sits second aboard his Savoie Alligator Farm Suzuki with a 6.852-second pass at 196.19 mph, followed by Motorplex winner Hines, who posted a 6.863-second pass at 194.63 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley and Arana Jr., fourth on his Lucas Oil Buell at 6.865/196.07.

ESPN2 will broadcast 90 minutes of qualifying highlights Sunday at 3:30 a.m. (EDT) and repeat the show at 3 p.m. Three hours of elimination round coverage from Gateway Motorsports Park will air Sunday starting at 4 p.m. (EDT) on the network.

Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the third of six playoff races in the Countdown to the Championship. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel _ 1. Richie Crampton, 3.764-seconds, 322.73 mph; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.779, 325.37; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.780, 326.16; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.780, 324.83; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.780, 322.11; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.786, 322.42; 7. Antron Brown, 3.796, 318.62; 8. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.798, 323.89; 9. Spencer Massey, 3.801, 323.50; 10. Brittany Force, 3.809, 323.12; 11. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.812, 319.98; 12. Pat Dakin, 3.826, 317.72.

Not Qualified _ 13. Terry McMillen, 3.856, 321.65; 14. Troy Buff, 3.945, 310.84; 15. Chris Karamesines, 4.058, 263.05; 16. Kyle Wurtzel, 4.294, 200.44; 17. Luigi Novelli, 4.636, 171.84; 18. Scott Palmer, 5.076, 150.48; 19. Clay Millican, 5.224, 106.03.

Funny Car _ 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.022, 319.52; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.022, 314.02; 3. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.047, 317.87; 4. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.049, 314.75; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.053, 315.78; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.075, 313.95; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.078, 311.49; 8. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.099, 313.00; 9. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.136, 300.80; 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.138, 293.73; 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.157, 307.23; 12. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.193, 302.21.

Not Qualified _ 13. Tony Pedregon, 4.201, 302.48; 14. Brian Stewart, 4.317, 294.63; 15. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.371, 245.67; 16. Jeff Arend, 5.178, 147.01; 17. Chad Head, 5.203, 144.19; 18. Alexis DeJoria, 8.310, 83.67.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.513, 212.90; 2. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.528, 212.06; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.529, 212.19; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.529, 212.36; 5. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.537, 212.13; 6. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.542, 211.73; 7. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.547, 211.49; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dart, 6.550, 211.73; 9. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.557, 211.56; 10. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.571, 211.20; 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.576, 211.00; 12. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.579, 210.60.

Not Qualified _ 13. Aaron Stanfield, 6.583, 211.49; 14. Larry Morgan, 6.601, 209.56; 15. Deric Kramer, 6.602, 208.97; 16. Dave River, 6.784, 204.29; 17. V. Gaines, 7.097, 203.16.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.824, 196.44; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.852, 196.19; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.863, 194.63; 4. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.865, 196.07; 5. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.876, 195.22; 6. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.878, 192.96; 7. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.894, 194.94; 8. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.905, 194.94; 9. John Hall, Buell, 6.905, 194.55; 10. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.948, 191.48; 11. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.953, 191.70; 12. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.956, 192.99.

Not Qualified _13. Steve Johnson, 6.961, 193.96; 14. Shawn Gann, 6.973, 193.52; 15. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.982, 191.92; 16. Craig Treble, 7.040, 189.55; 17. Mike Berry, 7.100, 189.90.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 27 2014
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