Force Wins 16th Title Amid A Year Of Distractions
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
John Force’s 16th NHRA Funny Car world championship has redefined the term “unprecedented” as it relates to drag racing drivers, and reinforced the undeniable fact that the manic character known as “Brut” truly is one astute businessman.
Force outran daughter Courtney in Sunday’s final of the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, fifth of sixth races in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. His record 138th national event victory, and third in a row, capped a massive weekend that saw Force qualify No. 1, break the track’s 1,000-foot elapsed time record at 4.011-seconds and defeat Courtney in their first final-round matchup.
Meanwhile, Matt Smith claimed his second Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship on a day that also saw Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) earn class victories. But Sunday clearly belonged to drag racing’s greatest showman, who exited Vegas with an insurmountable 152-point lead (2,581-2,429) over 2011 world champion Matt Hagan of Don Schumacher Racing.
“I read an article this morning about being humble, but after a day like today I would like to say it was me,” Force joked during his post-race news conference. “(Tuner) Jimmy Prock is unbelievable. The team he has around him is awesome.”
Force and his Prock-tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang blasted to an elapsed time of 4.062-seconds and 310.63 mph to defeat Courtney’s 4.085-second pass at 319.22 mph aboard her Traxxas Ford.
“If there is anything I have done right (it) is putting together this team effort,” said Force, who orchestrated the in-house crew chief swap that paired him with Prock prior to the three-race Western
Swing in early July. Prock joined Force from the Auto Club Ford driven by son-in-law and 2009 world champion Robert Hight, who was paired with Mike Neff.
That was hardly the end of the off-track distractions. In late July, Ford Racing announced it would end its corporate sponsorship of the Funny Car teams fielded by John Force Racing, Tasca Racing and Tim Wilkerson at the end of the 2014 season to concentrate on NHRA’s Sportsman classes. And in a second stunner delivered in late August, Castrol announced it also would be leaving JFR at the end of the 2014 season, terminating a near-30-year relationship.
“We pulled together when it looked like we were falling apart,” said Force, 64, who since has launched a major agency-oriented sponsorship search. “I have great companies with me and they allow me do this. We won them a championship. We got a Mello Yello championship but next year I’m going to try and win again.
“We’re strong with Auto Club with Robert and Traxxas with Courtney. My luck just turned around in a year when I needed it to sell corporate America. I remember (seven-time NASCAR champion) Dale Earnhardt used to say, ‘I’ll do the winning and you marketing guys sell me.’ I never had the nerve to say that but that guy was a winner so he could do it. I have had luck on my side the last three races.”
The last time Force won three races in row was 2005; Sunday marked the 15th time he has achieved that feat. Force outran former teammate Gary Densham, former Top Fuel world champion Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria before meeting Courtney in the final.
“We couldn’t get the job done in the final,” said Courtney, 25, who set a track speed record at 319.98 mph. “It was definitely a tough race up against my dad. I was a little bummed at the top end. I really thought we
had the win, but he just outran me. We had lane-choice and I thought that would help us, but he had the better car and that’s all there is to it.
“I’m happy for my dad and his Castrol GTX team. It’s huge for John Force Racing for him to get that win and clinch his 16th championship.”
Courtney and her father now are tied 4-4 in eliminations since the start of her Funny Car career in 2012. Courtney eliminated former world champion Tony Pedregon, brother-in-law Hight and 2012 world champion Jack Beckman before going up against her father. After the race, rival team-owner Don Schumacher announced that Todd Smith had been relieved of his duties as crew chief on Beckman’s Valvoline MaxLife/MTS Dodge Charger R/T effective immediately.
Prock and Danny DeGennaro teamed to guide Force to this title. Prock became the third Funny Car crew chief to win NHRA world championships with two different drivers – Hight and Force. Prock also joined Austin Coil (Frank Hawley and Force) and Neff (Gary Scelzi and Force) as a multiple winner.
“It felt great to see that win light come on and know we had clinched the championship,” Prock said. “It was an awesome feeling to be able to get John another championship. He is the greatest drag racer ever. We were down for a while but we worked hard and we stuck together. We got rewarded for it.
“Most of these guys that are working on this Funny Car have been here since 2005. We’ve been through the ups-and-downs. Everybody hung in there and we worked together. This is a tough gig working on one of these race cars. Your heart and soul goes into them to be good at it. When you can win it’s a great feeling.”
Force, of Yorba Linda, Calif., entered the Countdown seeded fourth in points and exited in Round 2 of the opening event in Concord, N.C. But he since has advanced to four consecutive finals. After a runnerup finish at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Force posted wins in Madison, Ill., Reading, Pa., and Vegas.
“We’ve been having a lot of fun and I’m going to be around a while because I truly love it,” Force said. “I wanted to prove I could still race. (Wife) Laurie has been the best thing for me. She said, ‘Quit sitting on the end of the bed whining about what’s going on. If you get out there and just win then winning fixes everything.’ That just got my head right. Go win _ that’s what you’re paid to do. I’m good. I‘m tough enough. I’m young enough to race and nobody loves it more than me. I am the 16-time champ.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments