Force, at 73, Is Still With The NHRA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2022

Funny Car’s 16-time champion John Force still occupies his favorite seat. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

ENNIS, Texas _ Drag racing icon John Force says his “happy place” _ at age 73 _ is strapped into the cockpit of his nitromethane-burning Funny Car.

“But I ain’t going to last forever,” Force said Friday afternoon at Texas Motorplex, “and I’m going to need a replacement.”

The leader in the clubhouse at John Force Racing apparently is Austin Prock, currently driving one of the team’s two Top Fuel dragsters. Prock posted his first career No. 1 qualifier Saturday at Texas Motorplex, site of Sunday’s 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals.

Prock’s stout 1,000-foot pass in 3.682-seconds at 334.57 mph from Friday held through final qualifying under summer-like temperatures on Saturday, giving the 2019 NHRA Rookie of the Year the first pole of his abbreviated professional career.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the 20th event on the 2022 NHRA Drag Racing Series schedule and fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Saturday’s time trials concluded Day 9 of the Motorplex’s second annual Stampede of Speed.

Prock opened the postseason by scoring an upset victory at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. The 26-year-old son of JFR tuner Jimmy Prock, Austin will open eliminations Sunday beginning at 11 am. (CDT) against Texan Alex Laughlin. The start time has been moved up one hour in anticipation of weather-related issues forecast for later in the day.

“I wasn’t for sure we were going to keep the top spot,” driver Prock said. “I know what Brittany (Force) and (tuner) David Grubnic are capable of and they came swinging for us in that last session. 

“I’m glad to keep the No. 1 spot, hopefully it translates to a good day on Sunday. We could use a good day, go some rounds. We’re off to a good start. We went down the track all four runs, the last time we did that was in Reading when we won. 

“This team never quits. Everybody kept their head down and kept working for the same common goal of competing for wins. All the parts and pieces are here and when we make the right decisions, we’re right there. We have to keep making those smart decisions and if I drive well, we’re going to turn on some win lights.”

Clay Millican qualified second at 3.685 at 332.08 while JFR’s Brit Force, the 2017 world champion, put down a best lap of 3.689 at 335.75 to earn the third spot.

Prock’s can-do personality and smooth public relations persona are among the traits “Brute” Force appreciates as he dabbles with retirement.

“You know, I spent my whole career…I mean, I’m going close to 50 years,” said Force, a 16-time NHRA world champion. “And when you add the other stuff I did in AHRA and IHRA _ a lot of wins along the road. But now I look at it, I really like driving the car. That’s my happy place, so to speak. I get in it and it’s like, OK, these young guys will put a light on ya or they might outrun ya so you’re always thinking.

“I wear glasses in the car. I’m training a lot, I’m living in the gym. But in the middle of it, I go up there with an attitude that I just love being here. I’ve heard people say that _ ‘Don’t care about wins, just want to get to race.’ And I’d say, ‘Ah, that’s because you don’t win.’ I was used to winning but now I really like to drive. I don’t want to give up the seat.”

Asked what factors would convince him to exit his Chevrolet Camaro SS, Force said, “Well, I’ve got to have a sponsor and I just signed with PEAK for another three years starting next year. So I’m going to be back. When I can’t do the job _ when I can’t win races, when I can’t run for the title it’s time to get out. I’m not there yet. I’m lucky at 73-years-old…and I’ll be 76 out here. I mean, how far do you go until it doesn’t make any sense?

“It’s one thing to grow old and live your life out. But it’s another thing if you want to compete with these guys. They’re hungry. And so am I. Look, I was old when I met you 20 years ago. What do you want me to say? I do it because I have a love for it and I believe God needs me in the sport to try to help the sport get back from the pandemic.”  

In Funny Car, Matt Hagan collected his sixth No. 1 qualifier of 2022 on the strength of Friday’s 1,000-foot run of 3.825-seconds at 334.85 mph his Charger SRT Hellcat. That lap set the track record, and the three-time world champion followed with two outstanding runs on Saturday. Entering eliminations 98 points behind fellow-three-time world champ Robert Hight, Hagan will race Terry Haddock in Round 1 in a bid for his fourth victory of the season.

“We’ve had four really good runs out there and, you know, it’s hard to do when you’re in a Funny Car,” said Hagan, who drives for first-year Tony Stewart Racing. “I mean, you put nitro in the tank and you never know what’s going to happen. But honestly, just the way (crew chief) Dickie (Venables) has got this car dialed-in this weekend, and the way the car’s reacting and driving and just handling, it’s just been great.

“It’s such a cool feeling, you know, to be able to do that and to go out there with that expectation of doing that, then it comes together. So just shows you what Dickie and the crew and the guys are capable of when the conditions and the track’s there.”

Hight, of John Force Racing, qualified second at 3.854-seconds and 333.43 mph in his Chevy Camaro SS. Ron Capps, the two-time/reigning world champ and winner of this event last October, qualified third at 3.865 and 335.40 in his Toyota Supra.

Native Texan Erica Enders capped a flawless performance over four Pro Stock qualifying sessions by earning P1 on the strength of her quarter-mile pass in 6.524-seconds at 210.53 mph from Friday.

That lap gave the point-leader her fifth pole in 2022, as Erica also recorded the quickest run during all four qualifying sessions. It’s the second time in the Countdown that Enders, a four-time world champ, has been the quickest in every qualifying session. She will open eliminations against Elite Motorsports teammate Fernando Cuadra Jr. aiming for her ninth victory this season. That would equal a career-best set during her second championship season in 2015.

Enders picked up five bonus point over the last two days, raising her total to 125, a little over six rounds of racing with 12 elimination rounds remaining over three playoff events.

“This car is awesome and my crew chief’s confidence gives me even more confidence,” said Enders, a native of Houston and driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. “Today’s weather was significantly different than yesterday. It was obviously hotter and that’s something that our cars don’t necessarily appreciate.

“So, to be able to go out there on a tricky racetrack and to go low each session, that was pretty cool. (Sunday) is going to be a new day (with cooler conditions forecast) but we’re going to motor through it and see if we can finish it out.”

Aaron Stanfield, one of seven Elite drivers involved in the Countdown, stayed second at 6.529-seconds at 209.52. Cristian Cuadra’s 6.533 at 209.30 placed him third.

Angelle Sampey secured her fifth pole of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season, as no rider could best her quarter-mile pass of 6.728-seconds at 202.05 mph from Friday aboard her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It also was the 58th career pole for the three-time world champion, who sent the field a message with an impressive run of 6.759-seconds to close out qualifying.

Needing a win to stay alive in the championship, Sampey _ who has one victory this season _ will open eliminations against Ryan Oehler.

“That (6.75) was a really good run for us,” Sampey said. “I’m pretty sure it was as solid as the (6.72), considering the weather conditions were worse. We have the motorcycle to win the race, as we always do every weekend, I just hope and pray that my team has the rider to win the race.

“The competition makes it pretty tough. It’s fierce out here these days. Just getting past first round is always a task, but I know my team is ready for a win. But everybody else is trying to stop us. I’m just going to try to keep my head straight, have a good time, enjoy the day and look forward to putting that (symbolic winner) cowboy hat on my head at the end of the day for the first time.

“I want to keep thinking in a positive way. I’m very hard on myself, I’m very emotional. I have to try to be perfect _ that’s what it takes these days.”

Defending event winner and point-leader Matt Smith _ the five-time/reigning world champ _ sits second at 6.734 and 203.58 after improving on his time from Friday. Matt’s wife, Angie, is third after a lap at 6.793 and 200.96.

Longtime drag racing publicist David Densmore was recognized as a Texas Motorplex Legend during a break in Saturday’s second qualifying session. Motorplex founder Billy Meyer and track co-owner Christie Meyer Johnson presented Densmore with a trophy during a brief ceremony in the staging lanes.

Densmore widely is recognized as one of the most respected and influential drag racing publicists through four decades of work with the NHRA, the Motorplex as well as some of the biggest names in the sport.

Densmore’s career in motorsports began as a writer for the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News, where he covered the NHRA Finals during the 1970s. He moved from the newspaper side to the public relations side when he joined NHRA’s Publicity Department in Southern California and then formed Denswood Sports Marketing in 1982 with good friend Steve Earwood.

“Densy’s” clients have included many of the sport’s marquee performers, including Raymond Beadle, Gary Beck, Kenny Bernstein, Candies & Hughes, John Force Racing, Billy Meyer and Reher & Morrison Racing Engines. His current client is four-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence of Kilgore, Texas, and father Billy.

Densmore received the prestigious Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports Public Relations in 2007.

For over 25 years Densmore was primary spokesperson for drag racing legend John Force, working beside Force as he captured 16 Funny Car world championships _ including a remarkable 10 in a row. Densmore oversaw the publicity efforts for multiple FallNationals wins by Force and other drivers, most recently “Capco Racing Boys” Steve and Billy Torrence. Densmore also has continued as publicity and public relations consultant for The Plex and the Meyer family.

“I really don’t think I deserve to be a ‘Legend.’ I’ve been fortunate to work with some great teams and drivers, but I liked being in the background,” said Densmore, 77, formerly of Rhome, Texas, north of Fort Worth, and now living in Elgin, outside Austin. “I remember when Billy opened the Texas Motorplex and it changed the sport. I’ve been fortunate to see so many great races and celebrate great wins in Ennis. This is a huge honor and I have to thank Billy and Christie for thinking of me.”

Five-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson also is scheduled for the honor. Densmore and Anderson will join this list of Texas Motorplex Legends: Cory McClenathan (2019); Tony Schumacher (2020); Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Richard Shute (2021).

With a first-round victory on Saturday Kris Thorne clinched the world championship in the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon.

Thorne put down a lap in 5.857-seconds at 244.00 mph in his ProCharger-powered Chevrolet Camaro to roll past Rickey Fischer. With a sizeable point lead entering the weekend, the victory clinched Thorne’s first career NHRA world championship. Thorne earned three victories through the first nine races this season.

“This has been a dream of mine all my life,” Thorne said. “We moved our way up, we’re really feeling blessed and now we’re the champs. I really have to give a special thanks to my family and everyone who has helped us out. I’ve been a little disappointed in the way I’ve driven this year, but I’ve got the best crew and they’ve backed me up every run. Without them, I would have never made it happen.”

The race at Texas Motorplex, which was powered by JBS Equipment, was the last of 10 events during the 2022 season.

Thorne grabbed the point lead at the first race of the season and never looked back, putting together an impressive performance in Gainesville, Fla., en route to the win. That started his wire-to-wire championship run. Thorne also picked up victories in Concord, N.C., in the spring and Norwalk, Ohio, advancing to four final rounds.

Thorne also earned three No. 1 qualifiers, showcasing consistency and performance throughout the year against a loaded field. “So many people have backed me all year and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Thorne said. “I’ve got one of the best hot rods anyone could ask for. This hasn’t set in yet, but one day it will, and this means everything.”

Stevie “Fast” Jackson qualified No. 1 at this weekend’s race and also picked up a victory in the opening round. Eliminations in the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon are scheduled to continue on Sunday, weather permitting.

First-round elimination pairings Sunday for the 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, the 20th of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and fourth of six events in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Austin Prock, 3.682-seconds, 334.57 mph vs. 16. Alex Laughlin, 3.870, 318.38; 2. Clay Millican, 3.685, 332.08 vs. 15. Kebin Kinsley, 3.855, 315.21; 3. Brittany Force, 3.689, 335.75 vs. 14. Buddy Hull, 3.840, 323.65; 4. Antron Brown, 3.693, 331.93 vs. 13. Tony Schumacher, 3.801, 326.58; 5. Mike Salinas, 3.699, 331.15 vs. 12. Spencer Massey, 3.789, 324.93; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.700, 330.01 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, 3.788, 312.57; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.712, 327.75 vs. 10. Justin Ashley, 3.766, 330.86; 8. Leah Pruett, 3.731, 304.18 vs. 9. Josh Hart, 3.750, 328.25.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Krista Baldwin, 3.884, 320.65; 18. Keith Murt, 3.952, 293.89; 19. Joe Morrison, 4.081, 277.37; 20. Mitch King, 4.310, 234.16.

Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.825, 334.85 vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 5.027, 156.96; 2. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.854, 333.43 vs. 15. Jack Wyatt, Charger, 4.127, 284.47; 3. Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 3.865, 335.40 vs. 14. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.063, 274.42; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.879, 328.66 vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.042, 316.34; 5. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.905, 319.24 vs. 12. Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.976, 295.62; 6. John Force, Camaro, 3.907, 331.93 vs. 11. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.965, 324.84; 7. J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.908, 327.01 vs. 10. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.947, 327.15; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.920, 329.09 vs. 9. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.940, 320.26.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.524, 210.53 vs. 16. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.609, 208.96; 2. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.529, 209.52 vs. 15. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.602, 209.93; 3. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.533, 209.30 vs. 14. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.601, 210.11; 4. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.545, 210.51 vs. 13. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.589, 208.88; 5. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.552, 210.28 vs. 12. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, 6.587, 207.90; 6. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.553, 209.79 vs. 11. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.585, 210.93; 7. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.555, 209.62 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.570, 209.60; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.566, 209.46 vs. 9. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.570, 210.09.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Dallas Glenn, 6.618, 209.34; 18. Larry Morgan, 6.652, 208.62; 19. Kenny Delco, 6.667, 207.42.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.728, 202.05 vs. 16. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.930, 197.46; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.734, 203.58 vs. 15. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.919, 193.64; 3. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.793, 200.96 vs. 14. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.914, 193.77; 4. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.793, 200.00 vs. 13. Richard Gadson, 6.904, 195.65; 5. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.793, 199.80 vs. 12. Jianna Evaristo, Suzuki, 6.877, 198.65; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.808, 199.73 vs. 11. Chip Ellis, EBR, 6.871, 196.63; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.815, 199.29 vs. 10. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.863, 199.12; 8. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.826, 197.66 vs. 9. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.832, 198.83.

Did Not Qualify _17. Malcolm Phillips Jr., 6.950, 194.25; 18. LE Tonglet, 6.959, 194.50; 19. Kelly Clontz, 6.964, 197.99; 20. David Barron, 11.239, 73.72. 


Sept. 15-18 _ Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa: Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 23-25 _ Charlotte NHRA Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock).

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 13-16 _ Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis.

Oct. 27-30 _ NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nov. 10-13 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2022
No Comment