Force win among sports best

Sunday at Houston Raceway Park, NHRA drag racer John Force became just the third driver in a major motorsports series to win 100 races following Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105 wins), both of whom did it in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
   It also puts Force in the company of some other great athletes to score 100 wins over the course of their careers, most notably women's tennis greats Martina Navratilova with 167 singles titles and Chris Evert with 154 singles titles.
   Comparing the driver of the Castrol Ford Funny Car to some other racing greats, A.J. Foyt scored 77 major career wins, Dale Earnhardt had 76 Winston Cup wins, Mario Andretti had 65 wins and Jeff Gordon currently sets at 58 Winston Cup wins.
   In his genre of drag racing, Force has 13 more victories than second place Warren Johnson, who owns 87 wins. Force also has 20 more final round appearances than Johnson, who races in the NHRA's Pro Stock division. Another Pro Stock driver Bob Glidden previously held the NHRA's all-time win record with 85, until Force bested that mark in 2000. Force also boasts a career round record of 768 wins and 255 losses.
   The run to the milestone event win at Houston saw Force qualify fourth fastest on Friday. He disposed of Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals. Del Worsham was the next to fall in the quarterfinals before Force beat No. 1 qualifier Whit Bazemore in the semifinals. Tommy Johnson, Jr. was the final round victim of Force.
   Prior to Houston, Force had begun to show some frustration. He opened the season with a victory in the Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. and was runner-up the next race at Phoenix.
   The Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. saw Force unceremonious dumped out of the first round. At Las Vegas, Force recorded the event's low elapsed time of 4.831 seconds, but was beaten in the semifinals by Worsham.
   Now with No. 100 win behind him, Force can focus on a 12th Funny Car points title. He is in the top spot heading into next weekend's MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, holding an 83-point margin over Worsham.
   Two-time NASCAR champion Buck Baker passed away at the age of 83 on Sunday, as stock car racing lost one of its first superstars. To modern fans, he may be best known for the Buck Baker Racing School held at the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
   The school was the forerunner of several others to follow including the Richard Petty Driving Experiences. The most famous graduate of the Baker school is Jeff Gordon, who decided to change the direction of his career from open wheel competition to NASCAR after attending the school.
   Baker as an active driver won 46 Grand National (now Winston Cup) races and 44 pole positions. He was a back-to-back series champion in 1956 and 1957 driving for owner Carl Kiekhaefer. The 1956 title was marred in controversy.
   Trailing Herb Thomas late in the season, Baker's teammate Speedy Thompson intentionally wrecked Thomas at the old Shelby (N.C.) Speedway. Thomas was critically injured in the accident and Baker won the race and went on to claim the title three races later.
   Thomas did recover from the wreck, but was never the same driver as before. For Baker, 1957 was far less controversial as he dominated the season, winning by a substantial margin over runner-up Marvin Panch.
   Baker won the final race of that season, his 10th of the year, at the Central Carolina Fairgrounds in Greensboro. Baker also won the Southern 500, then the premier race on the NASCAR schedule, three times.
   Born on March 4, 1919, Baker raced until 1976 when he retired at the age of 57. He was competitive for most of his career. He is noted for being the father of Buddy Baker, a 19-time winner on the Winston Cup tour and future TV broadcaster. Another son Randy competed sporadically in Winston Cup for several years.
   Silly season is traditionally months away in NASCAR, but two teams already have shook up things. Steve Grissom was named to replace Buckshot Jones as driver of the No. 44 Georgia Pacific Dodge on Wednesday and Ken Howes will step in for Tony Furr as crew chief on the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolets.
   Jones was let go after a horrendous season in 2001, where he missed seven races, had to take eight provisional starts and scored no top tens. This season, he is currently 35th in the Winston Cup standings.
   Grissom, a 38-year old from Gadsen, Ala., is a former Busch Series champion and has a history with Petty Enterprises as their former driver in the Craftsman Truck Series.
   Over his career, Grissom has posted five top-five finishes in NASCAR's premier division. He placed second to Jeff Burton in the 1994 Rookie of the Year standings, finishing ahead of future race winners Ward Burton and Joe Nemechek.
   Howes will be returning to a familiar position with the No. 25 as he was crew chief for this Hendrick Motorsports team back in the early 90's when Ken Schrader was the driver and Kodiak tobacco was the sponsor.
   Furr leaves the team after five years in the role. Drivers he has worked with include Ricky Craven, Wally Dallenbach, Randy Lajoie and Nadeau. He helped Nadeau achieve his first career win at Atlanta in the fall of 2000. Prior to coming to the Hendrick organization, Furr was crew chief for Cale Yarborough Motorsports, where John Andretti also got his first win at Daytona in 1997.
   The reason for this breakup is due to this season's slow start as the team has recorded only one top ten finish in the year's first eight races.