Mello Yello's Al Rondon, left, and NHRA's Tom Compton congratulated John Force after he clinched his 16th NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car championship.
John Force’s victory at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas was doubly rewarding because not only did it give him his fourth win of the year and 138th of his career, it also allowed him to secure his 16th NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship. Force defeated daughter Courtney in a great 4.06 to 4.08 final-round bout to take the Wally and season crown.
“Man, we’re having fun; everything but the sweet 16,” said Force. “I felt 16 after I won, but I don’t want to end my career at 16. I want to end it at 17 at least, so I’m going to be around for a while. You’re stuck with me because I truly do love it. The truth is if I ever had to win, this is a pretty good time to win because [sponsorship] deals need to be made next year, and I’ll be the champ while we’re making those deals. I love the job. I live in the gym. There ain’t nothing wrong with me. Nobody said you’ve got to quit racing. I’m going to keep doing it because it’s what I like to do. Doctor gave me a clean bill of health a few weeks ago.
“I wanted to prove I could still race. My wife said to me, ‘If you’d quit sitting on the end of the bed whining about [how you] can’t believe all this stuff is going and just get out there and win, winning fixes everything.’ It got my head right to go win; that’s what you’re paid to do. I’m good. I’m young enough to race, and nobody loves it more than me, and I’m the 16-time champ.”
Though he was able to record a semifinal finish in Phoenix, for the most part, Force’s season got off to a pretty slow start. He was on the trailer after the first round in Pomona, Gainesville, Las Vegas, and Charlotte. That had him sitting outside the top 10 in points, where he remained until Topeka. After a series of second-round exits, Force broke through for his first win in Bristol. That was the start of an incredible four-race run that included runner-up finishes at the next two races, in Epping and Chicago, and two No. 1 starts.
Prior to the Western Swing, Force elected to swap crews with teammate Robert Hight, who was struggling to stay in the top 10, sending Mike Neff over to Hight and bringing Jimmy Prock over to Force. On their first outing together, Force and Prock were sidelined in round one, but one race later, in Sonoma, Force was runner-up. Force finished the regular season with just a couple more round-wins, and he entered the playoffs fourth in the points.
Force’s start to the playoffs was a little quiet with him exiting in round two in Charlotte, but he has had the hot hand ever since, advancing to the final in all four of the next events. He was the runner-up in Dallas, then recorded three straight wins, in St. Louis, Reading, and Las Vegas.