Minter: NHRA Senior Moments Last For 6 Seconds
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Commerce, Ga. – There are a lot of race fans, myself included, maybe even a majority, who are uncomfortable with change.
We prefer Darlington and Martinsville over the newer tracks on the NASCAR circuit. We keep hoping that Mark Martin has lots of wins left in him, and that Bill Elliott might someday win again. We’d even like to see Morgan Shepherd back at the front in the Nationwide Series or Jack Ingram running a race anywhere.
But in NASCAR it’s rare for the greybeards to rise to the top on a regular basis.
However, in the NHRA, it’s becoming commonplace. John Force, at 61, is back on top in Funny Car, and 66-year-old Pro Stock racer Warren Johnson rolls into his home track, Atlanta Dragway, fresh off his 97th career victory, one that ended a four-year drought.
Force, whose driving career appeared to be waning after a serious crash in September, 2007, already has won three times this season and has been the only points leader so far.
Johnson, from nearby Buford, Ga., always seem to get more enjoyment out of the mechanical side of the sport, but he’s also been able to handle the behind-the-wheel part.
But he’ll be the first to admit that it’s harder now for him to gain an advantage once he rolls to the starting line.
“It’s like any athletic endeavor: You’re never as good as you used to be,” he said on this week’s NHRA teleconference. “It’s a case that this isn’t quite the same as oval‑track racing or some of the more endurance sports. You can compete for quite a few more years [in drag racing] than in some of the other forms of motorsports. At the same time you still have to be on top of your game.”
Johnson acknowledged that what’s really keeping him from winning races and rounds is that his cars simply aren’t as fast as the ones he’s racing against.
“I can still race effectively,” he said “We just have to get the performance of the vehicles up to our standards.”
Force, on the other hand, has his cars up to speed. And now he’s got himself in good shape, thanks to an aggressive workout program.
“The last couple years I’ve been kind of faking it,” he said. “The truth is I am back in good shape. I’m living in the gym. It’s starting to show on the race track.”
Force, who rarely leaves anything unsaid, admitted that there were times when he thought he was headed for a rocking chair instead of the driver’s seat of a Funny Car.
“There were days I thought, ‘It’s over, I’m not going to make it.’ But I have gotten back, and I’ve just got to keep doing it,” he said.
“I hope that I can. I pray that I can continue to just do the job so the sponsors will let me race.”
Johnson also said his future plans are tied more to the business side of the sport than to his personal desire to continue.
“I’m still enjoying it,” he said. “I always said it’s better than a job.
“If you do something that you enjoy, you don’t really look at it from a standpoint ‘I want to retire from it’ if you’re enjoying it.
“As long as we can remain competitive, and we get enough sponsor support to make this program a financial success, we’ll still continue it.”
In a time when all sports seem to be better appreciating their heritages, and when NASCAR is touting its roots with a $200 million Hall of Fame, it would seem that sponsors would be hard pressed to find better representatives than Force and Johnson, gray hair and all.
– Rick Minter can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment