109-Time Tour Winner Seeks NHRA nationals Title
     It is a measure of John Force's reputation that even though he trails Del Worsham by 110 points in the current NHRA POWERade Funny Car standings, even though he has yet to win a race in 2004 and even though his record at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is less than stellar, he nevertheless is considered the favorite in this week's fifth annual Nationals.
     Force, who has won just once in seven previous appearances at LVMS and has not advanced beyond the second round in the Nationals, has been installed as a 3-1 favorite by Las Vegas oddsmakers at Station Casinos.  Worsham, is the second pick at 7-2.
     "Do I think we can win?  Yes," Force said.  "Do I think we should be the favorite?  No.  How can Worsham not be the favorite.  He's won two races in a row and is a whole race ahead in the points.  Bottom line, who would bet on a drag race anyway?  All the things that can go wrong...."
     That said, it's not like Force is going into battle without a weapon.
     The 109-time tour winner is second in POWERade points, was runner-up in the most recent event in the series and is driving a Castrol GTX High Mileage┬┐ Ford Mustang that last year set the NHRA national record when it negotiated one-quarter mile of straight line racetrack in just 4.721 seconds.  From a dead stop.
     Still, Force has struggled at LVMS, especially in the spring race for which he qualified just 14th a year ago before losing to then teammate Tony Pedregon in the first round.  The three previous years, despite more advantageous starting positions, he was ousted in round two -- by Tim Wilkerson, Dean Skuza and Worsham, respectively.
     Things have been only a little better in the fall race, memorable (1) because it was the event in which he was involved in a fluke first round double disqualification in 2001, and (2) because it was the event in which he beat then teammate Tony Pedregon in the finals in 2002 to all but clinch his 10th consecutive championship.
     Despite his problems, Force would prefer to focus on that 2002 victory, one secured by a margin of just .050 of a second.
     "We've run good at Vegas but I've never had much luck there, either gambling or racing," Force said.
     "But we're bringing a good hot rod with us and I think I'm back on the Tree (the Christmas Tree apparatus which starts each race).  I had to re-educate myself after they changed the lights (a reference to NHRA's decision to replace conventional bulbs with brighter LED bulbs).  I thought I couldn't red light (foul).  I found out I could."
     In fact, Force was guilty of four foul starts in 2003, equaling his total for 24 previous years on the circuit and contributing mightily to his worst series finish in 14 seasons (No. 3).
     "I told (Crew Chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly), 'you fix the car; I'll fix the driver,'" Force recalled.  "Over the winter, I worked on my Tree and they worked on the hot rod.  Bottom line, I think we're both a little better."
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2    Current points position
10   Consecutive series titles (1993-2002)
12   Career series Championships
109  NHRA POWERade tour victories
326  Consecutive series starts
399  Number of NHRA series starts entering this week's race    
842  Competitive rounds won
--John has won only one time at LVMS, but it was a memorable victory.  With the points lead and, ultimately, the points championship on the line, he beat then teammate Tony Pedregon in the final round of the 2002 AC/Delco Nationals to all but sew up his 10th straight title.
--John lost in the first round of both Las Vegas events last year   to Tony Pedregon in the spring and to Gary Scelzi in the fall.
* * * *
John is trying to extend to 327 the number of  consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol-backed Funny Car, a or the other of the John Force Racing Mustangs has won the last four races contested at LVMS.  Gary Densham won the 2002 Nationals, Force the 2002 AC/Delco Nationals and Tony Pedregon both races in 2003, his last year with the team....John's daughter, Ashley, will be among the contenders in the Top Alcohol Dragster class off a a standout showing last week at Memphis, Tenn.  Ms. Force, 21, was the No. 1 qualifier in the Mattel Toy Stores dragster and reached the final round before losing to Randy
Meyer when tire shake slowed her performance by more than a tenth of a second.  Despite the loss, the former high school cheerleader is third in national points and leads the Lucas Series point standings in the South Central Division (Division 4)....John will join Carroll Shelby, Edsel Ford and others next week at Nashville Speedway to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ford Mustang.