John Force’s seven wins at Atlanta Dragway are the most for any driver in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history. But the legendary Funny Car competitor also hopes to break an eight-year dry spell at the track, and with the way things have recently gone for Force and his John Force Racing team, the odds may be in his favor at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, May 16-18.
The reigning and now 16-time Funny Car world champion, Force has been to the final round in eight of the past 11 races dating back to last year’s highlight-filled finish that sent him to a world championship. Along the way, the iconic Force claimed four victories and both the e.t. and speed world records.
It gets even more incredible when JFR teammate Robert Hight’s blistering start to 2014 is included. Hight has advanced to the finals at the last five events, taking three wins, including the most recent event in Houston. He shot past Force to the top spot in the points standings, though Force remains focused and impressed with his team’s outstanding hot streak.
“We have been on a tear, and our other cars (Courtney Force in Funny Car and Brittany Force in Top Fuel) are coming around,” Force said. “I feel as a whole team we have come together, and the brain trust will keep us alive and winning. We have been to every final going back to Indy last year, which is 13 finals in a row. Winning is where the focus is, and we won’t forget safety.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
Force’s last win at Atlanta Dragway came in 2005, but if recent performances are any indication, he is in line for a good showing in 2014.
Coming off a storybook finish that included three straight wins to claim the world championship, Force started 2014 with a victory at the Winternationals, breaking both ends of the national record by going 3.966 at 324.12 mph. Additional final-round appearances have followed in Gainesville and Charlotte, and Force is also banking on crew chief Jimmy Prock’s strong success at Atlanta Dragway to pay off at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals.
“Atlanta can be tricky because of the heat,” Force said. “We have adapted and with Jimmy Prock that seems like one of the places where he does well. But Jimmy and I have never run this track together, and I am excited about that. I also love the people because they are really into their racing.”
Force also knows he can’t get complacent just because of a red-hot stretch from JFR. With a loaded Funny Car field that includes the likes of two-time Atlanta winner and 2012 world champ Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, and Cruz Pedregon, Force realizes the focus must be on improvement and pushing forward.
“I need to do well, and it is not just because we are up there in the points,” Force said. “It is the matter of you have to learn how to run by the time you get to the Countdown [to the Championship]. We say it every race at the team meetings, ‘This is the race you have to start winning.’ ”
All eyes at Atlanta Dragway will also be on the likes of Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, DeJoria and Courtney Force in Funny Car, Brittany Force in Top Fuel, and Katie Sullivan and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle as the landmark 100th win by a woman will be within reach at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals. Female competitors currently have 99 NHRA victories, and John Force is certainly aware that one of his daughters could be the one to get to that magical mark.
“I was thinking about Ashley and how no woman had ever won a Funny Car race until she beat me in 2008 in Atlanta,” Force said. “That will go down in history, but to also be the 100th female winner will be huge. What is really cool is Brittany and Courtney are overdue. To win that 100th race is a landmark, and I hope one of them gets it.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 16, with sessions at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 17, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, May 18. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, May 16, at 3:45 and 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 17, at 12:45 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Saturday at 2:45 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.NHRATIX.com or call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Children 12 and younger are free.