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Stung by his failure to qualify for last week's Schuck's Nationals at Seattle, Wash., John Force said Tuesday he'll race naked when he defends his Funny Car championship this week in the 21st annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

In the interest of complete accuracy, it's not really the 14-time champion who'll be naked, it's his Castrol GTX High Mileage™ Ford Mustang, naked being a euphemism for a carbon fiber body sans paint and decals.

Force, whose second qualifying failure this season has put his bid for an NHRA Countdown berth in jeopardy, is working with crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly to fix the problems that have transformed what once was the most feared race car on the circuit into just another 8,000-horsepower Ford.

"We're re-evaluating our race car," Force said. "We found some gremlins in the fuel system and we found that it's 30-40 pounds heavier than Robert's," a reference to the Auto Club Ford Mustang of son-in-law and teammate Robert Hight.

"I've still got that fight at 59 years old (and) my other three cars are doing too good for our car to be struggling like this," he said. "I'm still up in the Top 10 (No. 7); I can still make the Countdown, but this isn't the car it used to be."

Running it "naked" basically an all-white Mustang with minimal Castrol identification, Force expects to be closer to the minimum Funny Car weight. The question is how that relates to performance.

"We've got to get back to the basics," said the 126-time tour winner. "At the end of the day, I want to be safe, but I still want to win. That's what it's all about."

And the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection doesn't much care whether the track is a standard quarter mile in length or just 1,000 feet, the distance at which races in Funny Car and Top Fuel will be contested for the rest of the year while engineers continue to process data from the crash last month that claimed the life of two-time World Champion Scott Kalitta.

In either configuration, Force still hopes to be a factor in the battle for the $500,000 POWERade championship that will be decided in a six-race shootout beginning Sept. 14 on the new, all-concrete track at Charlotte, N.C.

That's remarkable considering the fact that just 10 months ago he was laying in a hospital bed in Dallas, Texas, with a compound fracture of the left ankle and broken bones in every other appendage.

Nevertheless, Force is not interested in racing if he can't be competitive.

"I don't want to just fill a spot," he said. "If you can't deliver as a driver, it's not fair to these young kids to stay in the seat just because you own the car. They work to hard for that. We're gonna fix the problems with out car. We're gonna be fine."
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