TOPEKA, Kan. (May 16, 2018) — Legendary drag racer John Force is ready to ride a steady and consistent wave into the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. After a roller coaster start to the season, the 16-time champion has seen progressive improvement with his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car.

Throughout qualifying at the most recent stop on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit, Force steadily climbed the ladder as he improved with every pass and ended up with the fifth qualifying spot. Tricky track conditions on Sunday race day handed him a first round exit, but the progress wasn’t lost on the 148-time event winner.

“We had to start over with this tune up,” explained Force. “The brain trust got together and we worked as a team like we always do. Have to thank Jimmy Prock, Brian Corradi and Danny Hood for working with Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch. Jon and Jason are sharp guys and we have been getting better the last couple of races. Atlanta was a good event for us even though we didn’t get the win. Courtney put that Advance Auto Parts hot rod in the winner’s circle but we were OK.”

The 16-time world champion has gone from blown-up to runner-up and now is looking for his first win of the season at a familiar track where he’s had success after a trying time before. Following his infamous 2007 crash in Dallas, Force defied all odds and proved doctors wrong when he climbed back into his Funny Car after being told he would never walk again. The resilient drag racer picked up his first win after the life-threatening incident at the NHRA Heartland Nationals.

“The doctors told me I was nuts to think I could race in 2008. I did the physical therapy and got better,” said Force. “I wasn’t 100% but I was good enough to drive. That win in Topeka was awesome. I hopped out of the race car and jumped a fence. I just wanted to be with the fans. They kept me going then and they are keeping me going now. I try and get out on the ropes as much as possible and they are all cheering for me. How can I not stay motivated no matter how many trips to the hospital I have to take. Hopefully that stuff is over and we can just keep racing.”

Albeit his start to the 2018 season hardly compares to the 2007 crash, but another victory at the Heartland Nationals to turn things around for the winningest driver in NHRA history could be just what his team needs to chase down the rest of the fiercely competitive Funny Car category. Force has won the NHRA Heartland Nationals a total of six times and secured seven No. 1 qualifiers. He has a total of 12 final round appearances, his most recent was in 2015. Since 1989, Force has qualified outside of the top 10 at the event only once.

“This race track is fast and we have won a lot of races here,” said the 148-time national event winner. “I have to thank PEAK for sticking with me plus Auto Club, Monster Energy, Advance Auto Parts and Chevrolet. This is also a big weekend for me and WELD Racing. We have been together for over 30 years and we’ll have something special on my race car for them all weekend.”

Force’s Chevrolet Camaro will be emblazoned with a large WELD Racing logo on the rear wing to commemorate their 30-year partnership. All of Force’s 148-event victories and 16 championships have been on Weld Wheels

Qualifying at the Menards NHRA Heartland Park Nationals begins Friday with sessions at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and continues Saturday with an additional two sessions at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Eliminations will begin Sunday at 11 a.m. and you’ll be able to catch the action live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) beginning at 2 p.m. ET.