13th Championship Would Be Team's 12th Straight

    Of all of the records he has set in his 27 years on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series tour, John Force's streak of having qualified a Castrol GTX® Funny Car for 344 consecutive NHRA national events may be the most impressive of all.
    That streak will be the focal point of this weekend's fourth annual NHRA ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where drag racing's biggest winner is expected to clinch an unprecedented 13th championship for himself and an amazing 12th straight title for his team.
    To mathematically lock up the championship -- and the accompanying $400,000 POWERade bonus -- the 113-time tour winner simply must do what he has done with monotonous consistency over the past 17 seasons: qualify his Castrol GTX Start Up¿  Ford Mustang for the 16-car starting lineup.
    The last time he failed to accomplish that feat was on Halloween night, 1987, when he found himself on the outside looking in at the season-ending NHRA World Finals at Pomona, Calif., a misstep that dropped him from second to fourth place in the final driver standings.
    Since then, Force's qualifying success has been as close to a lock as anything else in motor racing.  The second longest streak in history is 303 races by Pro Stock  driver Warren Johnson.  The second longest active streak is a mere 104 races by Pro Stock Bike rider Angelle Savoie.
    Nevertheless, the celebration can't begin until Force makes the show or until Del Worsham is eliminated, whichever comes first.  While the title might not yet be a mathematical lock for the 1996 Driver of the year, you couldn't get odds on Worsham at any sports book in town.
    That's because, even if he was abducted by aliens and held against his will until he was able to talk in complete sentences, Force still would win the championship.  Why?  Because Worsham not only would have to win the ACDelco Nationals, he also would have to win the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals AND set the NHRA national record at both events.
    "That's a good race team," Force said of Worsham's Checker/Schuck's/Kragen unit.  "They gave us a helluva fight for the championship, but I don't see anybody setting the record two more times this year."
    In fact, Force likely is the only driver who might challenge the current record -- his own -- in either of the season's concluding events. 
    After all, his GTX Start Up Ford has been the dominant race car on tour since NHRA opted to cut the percentage of nitromethane in the fuel mix from 90 per cent to 85 in an unsuccessful bid to put the brakes on the world's fastest racing vehicles.
    In the eight races contested since that rule was first enforced, Force has qualified No.1 five times, gone to the finals five times, won twice and set NHRA national records for quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour).
    As a result, at age 55, Force this week will reclaim the championship he lost last year to then teammate Tony Pedregon and, to the dismay of those who continue to chase him, retirement doesn't appear to be a consideration.
    "I'm signed up to drive five more years," he said.  "After that, who knows?  As long as I can still do the job, I want to drive the car.  That's what's fun for me and it's not like you have to stay in the car for hours like in NASCAR.  If I drove in NASCAR, they'd have to make rest stops.  Over here, you've just got to drive for five seconds."
¿ 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.
¿ It was at the inaugural ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals that John was involved in a bizarre double disqualification in the first round that ultimately produced an NHRA rules change.
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John is trying to extend to 345 the number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol-backed Funny Car, a record.  The last time he failed to qualify for an NHRA national event was on Oct. 31,1987 when he was only 24th quickest at the season-ending Winston Finals at Pomona, Calif.  To put it in perspective, the last time John failed to make the show, Ronald Reagan was president, Julius Irving still was playing professional basketball and Greg Maddux was a rookie pitcher for the Chicago Cubs....The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is one of the 15 different tracks on which John Force has broken the 4.80 second barrier....John has won at least one NHRA tour event for 18 straight seasons.  He has won at least three times in each of the last 15 seasons.