John Force was the first driver to earn a spot in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout in Funny Car, and he was the final driver standing in the specialty event, taking home the $100,000 payday Saturday at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex. The Shootout took an extra few weeks to complete, but that wait was well worth it for Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage crew, who outlasted points leader and No. 1 seed Ron Capps and his NAPA team.
(Above) John Force, near lane, defeated Ron Capps in the final round of the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout to claim the $100,000 first prize, presented to him (below) by Traxxas' Mike Jenkins, second from left.
It’s a great day, and we won," said Force. "The 100 grand goes to my employees. I don’t take any money. It’s not about that for me. It’s about winning for them and the fans and the sponsors. Traxxas putting up that 100 grand, it’s good for our sport. It’s good to have money out here that can subsidize teams, that can help teams, and anybody can win it, and I won it."
The shootout for Funny Car was originally scheduled to be contested at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus alongside the Top Fuel one, which was completed in Indy and won by Spencer Massey, but Mother Nature had other plans. Rain the original event weekend postponed the shootout one weekend, then on the makeup outing, rain the day before delayed activities enough that officials decided to postpone the event until this weekend in Dallas, the home track of sponsor Traxxas.
The bonus Nitro Shootout events were announced this season to give drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car the opportunity to earn $100,000 in the special race within a race. The first seven drivers to win an event (or first six drivers and the points leader if the leader had not won an event) were guaranteed a spot in the field. The eighth spot went to a driver picked in a special lottery drawing that was weighted based on fan votes. Force was the first driver to secure a spot in the shootout, followed by Robert Hight, Mike Neff, Capps, Jack Beckman, Johnny Gray, and Jeff Arend. Force’s daughter Courtney earned the lottery spot after dominating the fan vote and getting the most balls in the draw that was held as part of a Fan Fest in Indy prior to the U.S. Nationals.
Though his team entered the shootout with four of the eight entries, when the first round was complete, Force, whose car has been hit or miss since his victory at the season-opening O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries, was the only one still in competition. Daughter Courtney lost a thrilling 4.13 to 4.19 contest with Capps, and Neff and Hight smoked the tires against Gray and Arend, respectively. Force slid by Beckman in the opener, running a slightly off-pace 4.29 to Beckman’s tire-smoking 4.48.
"We are one team," Force emphasized. "When they go out, something happens to me. It don’t mean you win all the time, but I’m so much into my team winning, and I want to see them do good. When my people go down, especially Courtney, that’s when the fight comes out. There’s another person in here. I don’t get mad at Ron Capps; I don’t get mad at Beckman. I don’t play the game that way; they’re my friends. I just get inside like, ‘This day ain’t going right, and you can’t hurt my team like that,’ and then the fight comes.
Capps continued to pace the show in the semifinals, running a 4.20 that handily got the win against teammate Gray, who saw his hopes fade in a haze of tire smoke. However, Force was steadily sneaking up on Capps in performance, improving to a 4.23 to stop Arend’s 4.25.
In the final, Force got off the starting line first, .071 to .090, and though Capps was briefly able to move around him, Force drove back around and won on a 4.21 to 4.22 count.
"I was on my Tree all day, and I jumped all over it because Capps is outrunning me," explained Force. "We both probably went in a little deep. In fact, looking at the numbers, my car was probably faster. My car probably ran maybe .18 or .19, and Capps was in, they said, a little, too. It’s one of those days. When I was his age, I just started to win. I was 38. I don’t know how old he is, but he sure is cute. I love the kid. I have to be careful because my team is always like, ‘Fight. Fight. Force, you’re always saying how much you like him. You gonna race him?’ I’m gonna race him, but I really like him. He’s due for a championship. Maybe it won’t be this year, maybe he will, but he’s going to get it. He’s just too good of a driver, been there too many times, and I believe you have to earn it to win, but he’s been there so many times. Things go wrong, and it ain’t him. Sometimes, it just happens. Him and [Rahn] Tobler will be OK, but so will John Force Racing."