By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- If it takes John Force as long to get his 100th career win as it did his first, this could take a while.
Force, an 11-time Funny Car champion, is sitting on No. 99 going into today's finals at Gatornationals, where he qualified fifth. His first win came at Montreal in 1987, his 10th NHRA season.
"Getting the 100th is no different than getting the first, but if it takes me as long I'll be in trouble," said Force, who won the 2002 season opener at Pomona but lost in the final at Phoenix. "I want to get it done so we can focus on racing."
Though stumped by track temperatures approaching 130 degrees, Force likes Gainesville Raceway. He has won seven of the past 10 events, including his 50th win in a national event in 1996.
BIG DADDY TOO SLOW: Legendary Top Fuel champion Don Garlits, 70, failed to qualify. His best quarter-mile time of 5.095 seconds in Swamp Rat XXXIV was .428 off Larry Dixon's pole and .1 off 16th and final qualifier Andrew Cowin.
BEATING THE BOSS: Gary Densham, who drives for Force, posted the top Funny Car time in Saturday's final session in 4.885 seconds at 320.36 mph. Rather than complain about the heat, Densham and crew chief Jimmy Prock found a way to beat it.
"Jimmy was over there twirling his ear plugs saying we had a chance to go for the pole and I said, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " said Densham, whose Ford was seventh going into the final round. "When we laid down that number, I was truly impressed."
THE ULTIMATE FASTBREAK: Retired NBA player Tom Hammonds qualified second in Pro Stock at 6.845 seconds, 201.82 mph. Hammonds, 34, who played for the Timberwolves last season, has raced part time since 1996. This is his first full NHRA season.
"Ever since I was a little kid I've wanted to play basketball and race," said Hammonds, a 6-foot-9 native of Crestview.