On fire, spinning backwards on the quarter mile track at Memphis Motorsports Park, his Castrol GTX Funny Car just seconds away from bone-crunching impact with the guardrail, a distressed John Force claimed he had a vision and “saw Elvis at 1,000 feet.”
It’s one of the Hall of Fame driver’s most famous quotes, the title in fact of book of Force-isms published more than 10 years ago.
Fast forward two decades to the opposite corner of the state where drag racing’s biggest winner is offering up a literal vision of Elvis for everyone else in the sport. His newest Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford Mustang has been adorned with likenesses of the “King of Rock ‘n Roll” for this week’s 12th annual Ford Thunder Valley Nationals presented by the Tri-Cities Ford Dealers Association at Bristol Dragway.
As a result, if anyone sees Elvis at 1,000 feet this time around, it’s going to be those against whom the 63-year-old icon is competing this season for an unprecedented 16th NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship.
The Fords of both Force and points-leading teammate Robert Hight are all-Elvis this weekend in recognition of the 35th anniversary of Presley’s passing at his Graceland home in Memphis. For Force, it’s the third time around with Elvis and he’s hopeful that it indeed is a charm.
He first raced an Elvis car on May 3, 1998 at the Castrol Nationals at Dallas, Texas, qualifying second and reaching the final round before losing to Ron Capps. That car now is displayed permanently at the Elvis Presley auto museum.
On April 7, 2002, he started an Elvis-themed Ford from the No. 1 qualifying position at the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but ran afoul of Del Worsham in round two.
"We never got Elvis to the winners’ circle,” Force said. “Now we’ve got another chance and I feel good about how our car has been running. We’re getting better. We’re consistent. Our ol’ hot rod goes down the track, now, but, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be quicker.”
Indeed, Force has had one of the most consistent cars in the Funny Car class over the last few events. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been consistent at the 4.0 second levels that would take it back to its customary position at the top of the category.
Of course, the reality is that despite his perceived struggles, Force has won this season, one of only six Funny Car drivers to have done so. The problem is that since his season-opening win at Pomona, Calif., he hasn’t been running with the lead group. In fact, since Pomona, his Ford has been the least productive of the four Mustangs in the JFR stable.
However, the man who has won at least one race in 26 different seasons believes that the tide finally is turning for him and his perplexed crew chiefs, Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro.
“You’ve heard it before,” Force said. “We’ve been struggling. This (combination) is new to ‘Guido’ and Danny from Indy (Force’s way of distinguishing his crew member from son-in-law Dan Hood, who occupies the same assistant crew chief position on daughter Courtney’s Traxxas Mustang), but they’ll get it and we’ll be fine.
“I’m not done racing,” said the May inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., “and I promise you, I ain’t dead. I still love it and I’m going to keep on racing until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore.”
Right now, no one is saying a word.
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