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If you were in Phoenix last week, that high-pitched whine you heard coming from Firebird International Raceway wasn't Indy Cars testing on the road course. Instead, it was Funny Car owners and drivers wailing about a vehicle that wasn't even in competition at the CSK Nationals: Winston Champion John Force's long-rumored "third car," a nondescript black Ford Mustang that debuted in testing on Monday.
Rumors were rampant that the car was longer than its pitmates. Not true. Also that it was narrower. Not true.
Nevertheless, not since Kenny Bernstein's "Batmobile" Buick has one car so incurred the ire of the Funny Car minions. You would have thought you had stumbled into the Pro Stock pits. But no, Whine Country apparently has a new address.
Guys, let's back up the bus. It's a test car. Say you stay over at a place like Firebird to take advantage of track conditions that most closely approximate those you would encounter on raceday. Does it make more sense to change the combination on your actual race car to accommodate new concepts or does it make more sense to simply roll out a second or third car for testing?
This ain't brain surgery. Force simply thought it made sense to have a third car for testing. Like it makes sense to have a car other than your race car for display.
The rub apparently has to do with plans to enter the car in competition at selected events.
One rival, who prefaced his remarks by saying that he always had supported Force's oft-criticized two-car team, said that if The Champ ran a third car, he was "protesting." Protesting what? Since when is it against the rules to enter a legal race car in an NHRA event?
If a guy like Force has the clout and the resources to add a team or two and a sponsor or two, why try to throw up a roadblock?
Hell, it seems that a sport like ours, which is fighting for its life in an increasingly crowded entertainment market, would benefit from any increase in the car and / or sponsor count. Frankly, I'd be encouraging Force to add as many teams as possible. I'd be hoping to put him in a situation where he was spread so thin that everything suffered.
Apparently no one has considered that.
So whadda you guys want? Do you want the NHRA to impose a limit on the number of race cars one individual can own? Or would you prefer that Graham Light just slap a cap on the number of rounds of racing you can win in a season? Once you reach the limit, then you have to park it. OK?
For 50 years drag racing has been all about pushing the envelope, breaking new ground, stretching the limits. When one team has enjoyed an advantage, it has been a source of motivation for others.
When Don Prudhomme was dominating Funny Car racing in the 1970s, Raymond Beadle's sole motivation was to unseat "The Snake." Don Garlits' dominance of Top Fuel bred a whole new generation of rivals with but one goal. Bob Glidden's Pro Stock success drove David Reher, Buddy Morrison and Lee Shepherd to accomplishments they would never have achieved had there been no "target."
John Force is a big, imposing target but it seems that many would-be hunters are so busy that they forgot about bringing the ammunition. How do they think Force got his advantage? He went out and put together a team capable of beating the best in the business.
He did that at great personal sacrifice and, to my knowledge, he did so without once whining about the disparity in his resources and those of, say, Bernstein. If he needed more stuff, he simply went out and got it. If he needed more people, ditto. If he needed more sponsors to pay the way, likewise.
That still is his strategy.
You think Dale Earnhardt is whining to NASCAR about Jack Roush and his five Winston Cup cars? You think Dale Jarrett is crying because Rick Hendrick has more cars than Robert Yates?
And where were all these drag racing crybabies when Larry Minor had three cars? Candies and Hughes? "Jungle Jim?" Don Schumacher? Apparently, this particular "fairness doctrine" applies only to John Force.
Is it advantageous to run a two-car team? Probably. Is there a further advantage to running three cars? Maybe.
The bottom line, though, is that John Force and Austin Coil kicked these guys butts when they had only one car. In fact, despite what you might believe if you listen to Al Hofmann, Force has won more championships as a one-car team than he has as a two-car operation. And unless his rivals pull their heads out of the sand or wherever else they might have stuck them he's likely to keep on winning: with one, two, three or 10 cars.
Dave Densmore, a paid columnist for DRO, also works for John Force.
Photo by Jeff Burk
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