BRAINERD, Minn. – official series release — NHRA photo —
When you have 143 victories in your NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career, which is the case for 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force, that success is bound to be spread over every stop on the NHRA circuit.
But no facility has been as good to the iconic NHRA star as Brainerd Int’l Raceway, the site of this weekend’s 34th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Force has an incredible 11 wins at the track, the most at any one track for any racer in NHRA history.
Force, though, is eager to regain that Brainerd magic this weekend. He has not won at the track since 2007 and picking up his 12th win at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in his 10,000-horsepower Peak Antifreeze Chevy Camaro is a main priority heading into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“It’s an exciting race first of all,” said Force, who is currently fourth in the Funny Car points standings. “I have been on fire there and been sent to the burn center, but I have come back and won that race a ton. Hell I don’t even know how many times I have won it but I love racing there. This is a Lucas Oil race and I want to do well there for my new sponsor. Forrest, Charlotte and Morgan have been great for me and for the NHRA so you want to win their race.”
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the pivotal event. Pro Stock Motorcycle will make its return to Brainerd in 2015 after a two-year absence. It is also the 17th of 24 races in the 2015 season, serving as the penultimate race of the regular season.
Force is well aware of the importance of performing well in Brainerd and is hopeful his entire John Force Racing operation can pick up steam at the event to lead into the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis and the six-race Countdown playoffs.
Although not official yet, his spot in the Countdown is basically secured, but teammates Robert Hight and Courtney Force are ninth and 11th, respectively. Only John Force, who has two victories this season, has a guaranteed spot in the Traxxas Shootout as well, meaning the team must be focused heading into Brainerd.
“Starting with this race it is all about the Countdown,” Force said. “We are also trying to get cars into the Traxxas Shootout because that is the last race for Robert or Courtney to get a guaranteed spot. There are two more races before the Countdown starts and we want to get everyone into the top 10.”
To do so, Force and his team hope to see marked improvement during this crucial stretch after seeing the rival Don Schumacher Racing team dominate the 2015 Funny Car season thus far, winning 13 of the 16 events. Force’s two victories came in Las Vegas and Epping, but a victory by any one of the three Funny Cars this weekend would do wonders for the team’s momentum.
“You want to win the race of course because that is a big deal for your sponsors, but you are also preparing and building momentum for Indy and the Countdown,” Force said. “There is a lot going on that weekend because you are trying to get drivers into the Shootout, you want to stay in the top 10 and I want to represent Lucas Oil as best I can.”
That would include another Brainerd victory, but Force knows he will have to be in top form to do so. Despite his overall success at the facility, it is DSR’s Ron Capps who has dominated the Brainerd scene as of late, winning the race the past three seasons.
Other standouts include surging Jack Beckman, who is second in points thanks to five victories and a record-setting hot rod that stormed through the Western Swing by posting the two quickest runs for a Funny Car in NHRA history. Top contenders also include reigning world champion and points leader Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, Seattle winner Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham, and Hight and Alexis DeJoria, who both hold a 73-point lead over Courtney Force for the final Countdown spot.
John Force knows the competition is stout but his team, led by young crew chief Jon Schaffer, will be locked in headed to the crunch time of the regular season and into the Countdown.
“It is almost the beginning of the Countdown and you need every point you can get,” Force said. “This is the toughest competition I have ever seen in Funny Car. “
CREDIT: National Hot Rod Association