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Force Living In An NHRA Groundhog Day

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 20 2019
Funny Car driver and team owner John Force is trapped by his own success. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

ENNIS, Texas – Fully-engaged in the endless round-by-round grind that is the essence of an NHRA world championship, Funny Car icon John Force admittedly has become a prisoner of his own success.

At age 70, Force’s 16 world championships _ topped by his most recent title in 2013 _are an NHRA record among the sanctioning body’s four professional classes. He scored the record-extending 150th and 151st national event victories of his career this summer and truly gives no evidence of slowing down. Case in point: Force secured pole position for Sunday’s 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.834-seconds at 337.33 mph.

That elapsed time from Friday night held Saturday through Rounds 3 and 4 of time trials as Force notched his 160th career pole heading into eliminations for Race 4 of the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Like the vision of Elvis that Force claims he once saw through a ball of exploding Funny Car fire at 1,000-feet, he’s caught in a trap.

“I am trapped in this job,” said Force, the founder/owner of John Force Racing. “There was the movie where a guy kept coming back every day, Groundhog Day. I said to my wife, ‘Geez, I get off a plane, I go home and get up 6:30 in the morning and go right into the office _ and it’s a revolving door of problems. And (JFR President) Robert Hight runs half of that or it would have killed me off by now.

John Force is still a fan favorite after all these years – and victories. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

“But it’s what we love to do. I’ve told you that a million times. Maybe I’m stupider than most but there’s so many out here living it, they do it because they love NHRA, they love being a part of something. We’re athletes, whether they want to think we are or not and we get to be a part of something that’s big, and I just don’t want to give it up. I’m thick-headed and I’m going to be around a while.”

Force’s blinding speed Friday night_ a career-best, again, at 70-years-old_ almost was an afterthought during his post-qualifying presser.

“Oh, that’ll make NHRA mad. They want us to slow down,” said Force, who added he actually lost vision for an instant during the pass because of a vibration in his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil/Blue DEF Chevrolet Camaro SS. “That woke me up, upside the wall. I don’t drive for speed records, not at my age. I had a ride out of here in a helicopter (after a massive crash in 2007) and I don’t want to do that anymore.

“Am I excited? You bet. But I don’t want to stand here and brag about it. I’ve done everything you can do _ except die _ and that’s coming any day.”

While any interview with Force is bathed in hyperbole, the comments “Brute” delivered after winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis over Labor Day weekend raised extra eyebrows. Force said he should have retired 20 years ago for a better quality of life before adding, “Now I don’t even know how to walk away. I don’t know how to get off this train _ but I got to. It’s coming. I don’t know when. If you’re waiting for me to tell you I’m quitting, I ain’t going to do that.  But I’m trying to figure this out where I’m going in life because I know Father Time’s against me. It is pathetic. I come out here and I ache and I hurt. It is getting tougher. But I owe this sport for so much.”

John Force continues to pile up the Wallys. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Force later stated he was in “the wrong generation” of Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors. “My window has passed,” Force said. “I don’t belong here anymore against these young guns. I’m not quitting, but it just ain’t making any sense.”

From his corporate office in Yorba Linda, Calif., Force oversees the Funny Car teams fielded for himself and two-time world champion Hight’s AAA Missouri Camaro SS. Hight is 50-years-old.  Brittany Force, Force’s 33-year-old daughter and the 2017 Top Fuel world champion, drives the Advance Auto Parts dragster. Austin Prock, a 24-year-old Top Fuel rookie and son of Jimmy Prock, Hight’s crew chief, wheels the Rocky Mountain Twist dragster.

The JFR juggernaut is home to over 120 employees, including a handful of family/extended family members, who rely on John to keep winning and pontificating to keep retaining/attracting sponsors to keep the shop doors open and the cars and engines rebuilt and re-branded at the team’s racing headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind.

Brittany Force said the prospect of her father retiring from the cockpit is hardly off-limits at JFR; however, the discussion tends to repeat itself, a la Groundhog Day.

“It depends on what day it is, depending on what kind of mood he’s in. It’s always changing,” said Brittany, who retained the No. 1 position in Top Fuel via her 1,000-foot lap of 3.651-seconds and 331.28 mph from Friday night. “Tomorrow will be something different. It more depends on how his race car is running. If they’re running great he’s ‘going to be out here forever.’ If it’s the other way, it’s the other direction, and I feel that way as a driver, too. All the time the one question he asks me is, ‘Do you still love it? Do you still love it? Because if you don’t love this sport you shouldn’t put yourself in that seat.’

Top Fuel driver Brittany Force says she has no idea when her dad will retire.(File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

“And I tell him, ‘Yeah, of course I love it _ when we’re winning.’ But the days you lose, those are a little bit tougher. I always try to find the positive in every situation, even in the rough days and you bounce back from it.”

John Force likened the sharing of No. 1 qualifying spots here across NHRA’s nitromethane-powered classes as another bonding moment with Brit. “Anytime you can do something with your kids and know how proud she is…my wife (Laurie) loves it and it’ll make for a good evening.”

The retirement of Courtney Force, following the retirement of Ashley Force from the Funny Car ranks to start a family, has drawn John closer to Brittany this season.

“I know when I lost my mom and dad that I thought I had all the time in the world with them, and I never took it,” Force said. “And it was the one thing I probably regret the most in my life. And I wasn’t with my kids growing up because I was out here. I always joke NHRA gave them back to me. But when I can be with my children…it’s like it’s Christmas Day because we’re all here and that’s the way I feel about it. You know one day it could just stop and I want to be a part of them as much as I can.

“So Brittany comes over and says, ‘Well, it looks like it’s you and me.’ I said, ‘OK. We’re riding (together) every day, we’re flying to everywhere…you go to my shows, I’ll go to yours’…and she really has done it. She really wants to spend the time with me. Don’t think we don’t have some fights.  But we know the time is valuable and I also know the other side _ something could happen out here. So I’m going to take every opportunity. I’m a little corn ball, I’ve always been that way.”

The elder Force, who began the weekend third in the standings and 79 points behind Hight, truly has been rejuvenated working with crew chief Brian Corradi, son-in-law Daniel Hood and Tim Fabrisi. “I call them Corradi’s Kids, they’re really good and they’ve been stranded with me,” Force said of a crew that previously worked with Courtney, a championship contender who abruptly retired from Funny Car during the offseason. ”They make it happen and I hang on and they’ve got to put up with me.

“I’m not trying to kid nobody. I’ve lied for 40 years.  I don’t want to lie any more. I never lied, I embellished. They all know and I love racing them (younger opponents) and if they beat me then they like me. It’s aggravating sometimes the way I drive because they don’t know what I’m thinking. But I tell ‘em I don’t know what I’m thinking either. I go up there and my mood just completely changes.

“I’ve done it all. I’m just having a ball at 70, know what I mean, with all these young kids and seeing them and all the nights I lived 100 years ago. The fun days are now.  We’re all having fun, we’re all a big family. Whatever they’re doing, we’re hanging out together and we’re just having fun.

“It’ll end some day. Can’t hear, can’t see. Still can talk though. It’s going to be embarrassing going out but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

During Friday’s discourse here, Force noted that he was interviewed last weekend at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., by Forbes magazine contributing writer Jim Clash. Force definitely was pleased to draw interest and coverage from such a highly-respected non-racing periodical. “He (Clash) said, ‘Tell us something nobody knows’ (about himself),” Force said. “I couldn’t believe he asked that. And I said, ‘Man, I’m searching.’ And then I said, ‘But I don’t want to die in my race car.’^”

Force said Clash countered by saying that was a contradiction, that he had read John Force wants to crash, that he doesn’t want to end up in a rocking chair on his porch in Yorba Linda. 

“You don’t get around that. You can’t beat that,“ Force said, another reference to his age. “But I sure don’t want to die in a race car. And I said, ‘That’s my theatrics, my movie theater.’ No, I don’t mean that. I want to go home with my wife and my children and my grandkids and a few friends. That’s where I want to be. You know, anybody does. But right now in the heat of battle I throw the bullshit out and they can take them stories in Forbes.”

Force added that Clash, who writes about culture and adventure sports, remained with Force for an extended period for the interview.  “He said, ‘I’m waiting here because you said you’re going to have a heart attack any day, and if I could get that right here, this would really be exciting,’^” Force recounted. “I told him, ‘No mouth-to-mouth.’^”

In addition to the Forces, the No. 1 qualifiers in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle also held serve during Saturday’s hotter conditions. Five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. is P1 in the “Factory Hot Rod” class after a best quarter-mile lap of 6.509-seconds at 210.41 mph in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Camaro.

Three-time/reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith will start P1 and enjoy a first-round bye in the 15-bike field via his quarter-mile pass Friday night of 6.776-seconds at 200.26 mph. Smith became the first PSM rider to break the 200 mph barrier down Billy Meyer’s all-concrete quarter-mile aboard his Denso Spark Plugs/Stockseth/MSR EBR.

Former Pro Stock regular Drew Skillman clinched the 2019 SAM Tech.edu Factory Stock Showdown championship Saturday, locking up his first world title at the conclusion of qualifying. Skillman had a banner 2019 campaign, winning three races en route to the championship.

Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, with FOX Sports 2 (FS2) to begin its live coverage at 1 p.m. That is a change from the originally announced schedule on FS1.

To purchase tickets, call 800-668-6775. Military and first responders can save 20 percent on adult single day tickets at NHRA.com/govx. Tickets also are available online at www.texasmotorplex.com. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.

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First-round pairings for Sunday’s eliminations at the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA
FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and fourth of six in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Brittany Force, 3.651-seconds, 331.28 mph  vs. 16. Cameron Ferre, 3.954, 301.81; 2.
Leah Pritchett, 3.681, 332.10  vs. 15. Kebin Kinsley, 3.813, 273.22; 3. Mike Salinas, 3.681, 331.12
vs. 14. Lee Callaway, 3.808, 312.28; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.689, 329.18  vs. 13. Shawn Reed, 3.762,
323.12; 5. Billy Torrence, 3.712, 330.47  vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.748, 326.71; 6. Jordan
Vandergriff, 3.713, 324.59  vs. 11. Clay Millican, 3.725, 328.30; 7. Austin Prock, 3.714, 328.38
vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.724, 330.63; 8. Antron Brown, 3.717, 327.82  vs. 9. Richie Crampton, 3.720,
325.69. 

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Cory McClenathan, 4.223, 277.94. 

Funny Car _ 1. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.834, 337.33  vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Ford Mustang, 4.112,
297.94; 2. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.851, 335.07  vs. 15. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.079, 313.58;
3. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.866, 334.40  vs. 14. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.000, 323.74; 4. Bob
Tasca III, Mustang, 3.880, 329.02  vs. 13. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.961, 322.88; 5. Ron Capps,
Charger, 3.881, 332.43  vs. 12. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.937, 327.11; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger,
3.890, 310.77  vs. 11. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.925, 327.11; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.895,
315.05  vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.921, 326.08; 8. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.912, 316.08  vs. 9.
Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.920, 324.44.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Terry Haddock, 4.167, 291.51; 18. Todd Simpson, 4.298, 250.60.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Chevy Camaro, 6.509, 210.41  vs. 16. Richie Stevens, Dodge Dart,
6.648, 209.14; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.510, 211.53  vs. 15. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.616,
209.23; 3. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.533, 210.28  vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.611, 208.81; 4. Bo
Butner, Camaro, 6.535, 210.57  vs. 13. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.609, 209.39; 5. Matt Hartford,
Camaro, 6.548, 210.64  vs. 12. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.591, 209.07; 6. Fernando Cuadra,
Camaro, 6.553, 210.37  vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.577, 210.57; 7. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.556,
210.97  vs. 10. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.568, 209.10; 8. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.556, 210.14
vs. 9. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.560, 209.49.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Cristian Cuadra, 6.652, 208.55. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.776, 200.26  vs. Bye; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.790,
196.13  vs. 15. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.006, 188.36; 3. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.830, 194.44  vs.
14. Michael Ray, Victory, 6.974, 190.38; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.847, 197.65  vs. 13. Kelly
Clontz, Suzuki, 6.936, 194.18; 5. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.847, 194.74  vs. 12. Hector
Arana, EBR, 6.884, 195.34; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.851, 196.96  vs. 11. Hector Arana
Jr., EBR, 6.875, 195.56; 7. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.853, 195.17  vs. 10. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.871,
196.13; 8. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.857, 194.44  vs. 9. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.866, 195.34.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 20 2019
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