At Heartland Park, a track on which he has made drag racing history on more than one occasion, John Force hopes to deliver one last milestone this week when he sends his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS after the Funny Car title in the 31st annual Menard’s NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties.
After admitting that a driving mistake probably denied him a shot at winning an unprecedented 150th NHRA tour event last week at Joliet, Ill., the 16-time champion goes back to work this week in the best race car he’s had since 2013, the last time he hoisted the Mello Yello Championship trophy.
“I have a good race car,” he acknowledged. “(Crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Danny Hood, they’ve really put in a lot of hard work to get this thing running how it is and I’m learning (how to drive it).
“We didn’t get to the final (in Joliet),” lamented the former Driver of the Year (1996), “but that was driver error. I was late on the start (in a semifinal loss to eventual winner Tommy Johnson Jr.) because we made some changes that I’m still getting used to (but) I’m ready to get after it and win this thing for PEAK.”
On few tracks has the Hall of Fame driver enjoyed more success than he has at Heartland Park where on June 26, 1994 he beat Cruz Pedregon in the final round to break a 35-victory tie with Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and become the biggest winner in Funny Car history.
Overall, he’s won nine times on the Kansas track, lowered the NHRA record for elapsed time on three separate occasions and twice eclipsed the national speed record. Nevertheless, of all his accomplishments, none was more emotional or meaningful than a 2008 victory that completed his comeback from life-threatening injuries suffered in a 2007 crash in Texas.
Although he hasn’t won in Kansas in his last 10 starts, he was runner-up to Jack Beckman as recently as 2015 and his 73-26 record at Heartland Park is unprecedented, as is the fact that he’s gone to the final round 15 times in 35 appearances (including five starts in the no-longer-contested fall race).
Currently fourth in Funny Car points, Force has emerged as a legitimate contender for yet another championship thanks in no small part to the expertise of Corradi and Hood, who last year made the tuning decisions on the Advance Auto Parts Camaro in which Courtney Force won four races including the Heartland Nationals.
Qualifying for the Menard’s Heartland Nationals begins on Friday with nitro sessions at 4:45 and 8 p.m. Nitro qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 12:30 and 3:45 p.m. Eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Check out coverage on FS1 Saturday at 10 p.m. ET and Sunday starting with NHRA Sunday Live at noon and concluding with coverage of final eliminations at 5:30 p.m.