Written by Drag Racer Magazine
John Force has at least a dozen reasons to hang up his fire suit and start enjoying a well-deserved retirement as the most successful driver in NHRA history.
The problem is Force still enjoys the cut and thrust of Funny Car competition. Even at 64 years of age he remains competitive and his new partnership with crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Danny DeGennaro has already propelled him to the forefront in 2014, winning the NHRA’s opening round at Pomona, the Winternationals. He also dominated qualifying at Phoenix, recording 3.99sec ET at 317.79mph—the first Funny Car to travel 1,000ft in the three second zone.
“I am OK. I am excited. I love this sport. I came to Phoenix in 1985 to compete in the first national event here. I was learning how to drive and our NHRA announcer Alan Reinhardt was learning how to announce. I had match-raced here almost ten years before that,” said Force in Phoenix. “Though I got a little cocky in Pomona, during the Winternationals, I’m happy to let Prock’s tune-up do the talking for me. I did get a little crazy when talking about putting on my fire suit and feeling like a 24-year-old not 64. But I can do the job and I’ll get it done. I will give these fans a great show.”
Force has been a showman from the first time he pulled on a helmet. Though he has survived imminent tragedies in the form of fires, running off the end of the track at high speed, and other adversities, he still wants to give the fans a show and share the moment with his teammates. Some of Force’s crewmen weren’t even alive when he started winning championships. He’s also inspired by the youth of his competitors.
“I can build off the energy of my teammates. Without them the motivation is not quite as high. When you fear you might get beaten it zaps your energy. We all know the 2011 Funny Car champ Matt Hagan is turning into a body builder. So I work-out hard but I am not close to him. He is really good on that tree. He is like Robert Hight. I think Hagan and Robert are the best out there. I’m not there yet, so I have to cheat on the light and roll it in there,” said Force after clinching his unprecedented 139th win at the Winternationals.
At the end of last season in the press room after the win that clinched his 16th championship Force issued a line to the media that has carried over into this season:
“I took off my fire suit in the trailer and it scared me. When you are 64 and they put you in a fire suit you are 24. This is a fact. Something just happens. I always believed in Santa Claus and I still do. I believe in Superman and all that stuff,” said Force with a Cheshire cat grin. “I’m not flexing my muscles but Jimmy Prock just flexed his and I’m telling you this because I am looking for a sponsor. My old hot rod is fast and my team’s motivation has never been keener.”
While Force might be pulled in different directions as he chases Corporate America, he continues to teach the ropes to daughters Courtney and Brittany and to chase win lights with the hunger of a rookie driver. Though his mouth can be running a mile-a-minute, his unbelievable ability to focus engages immediately the body of his Funny car is lowered. When the pre-stage bulb is lit, a switch is flipped and nothing interferes with his laser-like attention.
“My focus has never been better. Though I’m guilty of running around like a wild man, I am turning more stuff over to Robert. I have enough on my plate. I need to focus on this car. This is a critical year— probably the most critical since my accident. That was about me not being able to drive. This is about somebody putting a value on me. They need to have the confidence that I know where I’m going. This old race car will do the running and all I have to do is stay in the gym,” said Force.
After reaching six consecutive finals and leading the Funny Car championship as he approached the second race of the season, he revealed his thoughts for 2014:
“I was told I didn’t have a future when I was losing sponsors. Castrol and Ford have been nothing but good to me. Without sponsors you are done, but the insecurity puts the fight back in me. I don’t like seeing those sweet 16 signs the fans are showing me now (after his record 16th title). I have to go for seventeen,” said Force. “My wife Laurie has been the best thing for me. She told me, ‘if you would quit sitting on the end of the bed whining about what is going on and get out there and just win, then winning fixes everything.’ That just got my head right. Go win. That is what you are paid to do. I am good enough. I am tough enough. I am young enough to race and nobody loves it more than me.”