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Straightened out, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force ready for a late run

John Force
John Force

Sixteen-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force isn’t ready to declare himself a championship contender for No. 17 quite yet after back-to-back race victories.

But at least he can see down the track in a straight line.

The 67-year-old can match a feat that only he has ever accomplished in Funny Car this weekend at the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Kent — sweep the three-race “western swing.”

Two weeks ago, Force took down his daughter, Courtney, in the finals in Denver for his first victory this season. And last Sunday, he edged Funny Car points leader Ron Capps to win his second consecutive race.

Now he comes to a track where he has won eight times in his career.

“My chances to win,” Force said, “are as good as anyone else.”

Force won all 16 of his points titles in a Ford Mustang, but the team switched to a Chevy sponsorship at the start of last season.

And in May, he debuted his new 2016 Chevy Camaro SS ahead of teammates Robert Hight and Courtney Force.

“In the old (car) body, we had bars that came down (in the windshield), so that is how we lined up center,” Courtney said. “Now it is more of a panoramic (view) … and you can see a lot more, but it causes more distractions down the track.”

In his first race in Topeka, Kansas, John Force wrecked his new car during his second qualifying run.

And when he got the car back, Hight and crew chief Jon Schaffer began noticing that Force was lining it up crooked on the starting line.

Force, who admitted to being “thick-headed,” kept lining it up his way. And in three races leading up to the western swing, he was sent home after the first round of eliminations.

In mid-July, Force and his team took the car to Indy for test runs. That is where he got the idea of using a St. Christopher medal as a sight line, so the team welded one on top of the super charger.

“I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea,” Courtney said. “I was worried he would be staring down at it instead of down track, and be like cross-eyed looking at it.”

But it’s worked. Force has had no driving issues — and he’s won twice.

Force downplayed this week the thought of sweeping the “western swing” again, and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to do it twice. He last did it in 1994 — on the same exact dates as this year.

But his daughter knows better.

“He was talking about it (Thursday) morning on the way to the airport,” she said. “It means a lot more to the drivers, and the fans and everybody — and even him. He doesn’t like to have it in the back of his mind, but I know for a fact that is what he is going for this weekend.”

29th NHRA Northwest Nationals

When: Friday-Sunday.

Where: Pacific Raceways, Kent.

Schedule: Friday — professional qualifying sessions at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday — pro qualifying sessions at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday – eliminations start at 11 a.m.

Defending event champions: J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock).

Skinny: Everybody knows the likes of Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown in Top Fuel. But Todd is a good racer. He captured his first national-event victory in almost a year last week in Sonoma, California — and is defending last year’s crown in Seattle. … What more can you say about 16-time Funny Car champion John Force? He is the all-time winningest driver in Seattle (eight wins) and has a chance this weekend to sweep the “western swing’ for the second time in his career (along with wins in Denver and Sonoma). No NHRA driver has accomplished that. … Can anybody break the KB Racing stranglehold in Pro Stock? Teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line have won 14 of the 15 races this season — seven victories apiece. Last week’s win in Sonoma gave Anderson the 85th of his career, which ties Bob Glidden for No. 2 all-time in the class.

Tickets: Daily general admission for adults is $46 Friday, $56 Saturday/Sunday. Daily reserved seating for adults is $51 Friday, $67 Saturday/Sunday. Junior reserved daily seating is $15 Friday, $22 Saturday/Sunday. Weekend pass is $139 for general admission, and $150 for reserved seating.

Online: Live results at nhra.com.

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