At an age when most baby boomers are finalizing retirement plans, John Force is working on a different pension strategy. The NHRA’s most prolific winner and holder of countless performance records is creating a master plan to continue his Funny Car team’s dominating ways on dragstrips across the country well into the future.
As has been his mantra for most of his career, he prefers to make most of his statements at more than 300 mph on the racetrack.
His most recent performance, an awe-inspiring victory parade at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California Feb. 9, opened the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and formally let his fellow competitors know that he’s still got it.
He took the No. 1 qualifying position and set both the national e.t. record (3.965 seconds) and the national speed record (324.12 mph) at the controls of his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. Along the way, he also defeated his latest archrival, 2011 world champ Matt Hagan, in a dramatic final-round battle.
Force vaulted to a 50-point lead in the standings over second-place Hagan and appears more energized and determined than ever as he focuses on obtaining another record: a 17th Funny Car world championship title.
“You take a 64-year-old man and put him in a firesuit, you are Superman, but I am back in the game, and we are excited,” Force said. “My ol’ hot rod, she’s fast, and I love it, and it’s going to help me keep my job because that’s all I’m trying to do, whatever it takes.”
Force will be bringing that up-tempo flair to the new-look Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park Feb. 21-23 as he tries to win the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals for a ninth time. He is the winningest NHRA driver in any of the Pro categories at the multipurpose motorsports facility in the Valley of the Sun.
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised nationally on ESPN2HD.
Force, who hasn’t won at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park since 2005 but set the track speed record there last season at 316.82 mph, has found the right chemistry with crew chief Jimmy Prock since switching tuners with teammate Robert Hight in the middle of last season. Force went on to win the world championship title last year in an amazing playoff run during the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, when he streaked to five consecutive final-round appearances at the last five events, winning three of those.
His streak stands at six finals in a row, and he’ll be looking to increase that total to seven in Phoenix.
“It's amazing,” Force said. “We're trying to build our sport and run good for all of the fans, and it's hard sometimes. Jimmy Prock and that whole brain trust have done a great job. Everything's just going right. I don't get it. I ain't that good of a guy. I'm just excited. There’s a lot going on [with sponsors], and man, what a good time to flex your muscles.”
Force became refocused last season after working through some adversity, most notably the announcement by two of his longtime sponsors that they would end their association with the drag racing icon at the end of the 2014 season. Force immediately launched a massive campaign to bring in new marketing partners for his team, and he says winning races and championships is always a key part of the formula to generate interest from Corporate America.
“I need to focus on this car,” Force said. “This is a critical year. This is about somebody putting a value on me. No matter how much they love you or what you have done, none of that counts. It is about where it’s going. This ol’ race car will do the running, and all I have to do is stay in that gym and stay healthy.”
Others to watch in Funny Car include defending event winner Capps, who made national highlight reels at the Winternationals following a spectacular engine explosion during Friday qualifying, past Phoenix winners Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Del Worsham, Hight, and Cruz Pedregon, and Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney, whose Traxxas Mustang has been one of the most consistently quick cars in the category for two seasons.
In Top Fuel, Schumacher leads the category with four wins at the facility and is among the pre-race favorites in the class. Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi, Pomona runner-up and top qualifier Doug Kalitta, defending world champ Shawn Langdon, two-time Phoenix winner Antron Brown, Spencer Massey, Steve Torrence, and Clay Millican are all hoping to produce a great finish to get an early jump in the points standings.
In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin Jr. is determined to win his sixth Pro Stock crown, but to do so, he will have to outlast a tough field of racers in the factory hot rod category, including teammate Allen Johnson, Jason Line, Shane Gray, V. Gaines, defending winner Enders-Stevens, and Vincent Nobile, among others.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, Feb. 21, with the first session at 1:30 p.m. and a second session at 4 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Feb. 22, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 23.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series will be showcased during the event, featuring exciting side-by-side racing action.
NHRA and Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park are offering free general admission to children 12 and younger with a paying adult. For tickets for the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, call 800-884-NHRA (6472) or log on to NHRATix.com.