It's Sunday night and I'm parked by the computer, cell phone inches from my hand, trying to stay on top of The John Force Situation. I've done all I can do for now. The Web site is updated with the latest information we have, at least two John Force representatives have promised to keep me updated, and I have a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke for "inspiration" throughout the night. I'm going to wait up until I hear from the team, or fall asleep in my chair and wake up with "keyboard face" if they don't get the chance. I owe it to John for all he's done for us and for all of the friendship and trust he's shown me over the years.
My thoughts are a thousand or so miles away, in a waiting room with the family, and with all of the John Force Racing folks with whom my job and life intersects on a regular basis. My heart goes out to Laurie and John's four girls, to "Dens" and Kelly and Chad, to Austin and Bernie, Robert and John, Jimmy and "Guido," and to every member of their teams as pain is revisited upon them. It's been such a tough and emotional season already, and now to see the Bossman laid up, well, it has to be harder than hard.
Let's face it, everyone: John Force is Superman. He's tougher than bullets, usually faster than a speeding locomotive, and able to walk away from just about everything. I've seen him catch fire more times than my grilled hamburgers and roll out, coughing and wheezing and flashing that trademark grin, ready to roll through another unforgettable interview. We've seen him backward and on fire in Memphis, sliding on his roof at Pomona, and nosediving into the Parker Avenue sandtrap. I watched with a dropped jaw as he rammed the guardwall three times trying to beat Cruz Pedregon at the Motorplex in 1992. We watched him roll out of his burning ride in Richmond last year, hit the ground with a thump, and lay there collecting his senses. But John Force always walked away.
He's John McClane in Die Hard, John Wayne in every Western you ever saw, and John Paul Jones uttering "I have not yet begun to fight." He's our John.
And right now, he's probably really, really pissed. Not that something happened to his race car –- no one knows what yet and anyone outside the team who openly says they do needs some serious help –- but that he's going to be on the sidelines for a bit. After all he's been through this season –- stressing as Ashley got her feet wet and, yes, struggled at times, losing Eric, having a less-than-competitive race car, and twice battling his way back into Countdown fields -– this is no way for it to end. And it won't. You can bend him, but you can't break him.
John Force is drag racing and everything that's good about it. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely competitive. Fiercely compassionate. He's not supposed to get hurt; Superman never did, but then again I don't know that the Man of Steel ever had to face kryptonite at 320 mph.
Still, I have no doubts that John Force will be back. He doesn't have to; we all know that. He's proven to us everything anyone should or could ever. He's shown us how a little guy can become king. How a kid who grew up in a trailer park can end up with the big house and the fancy cars, how a kid can stare down polio and earn the right to walk among the giants. How a hapless quarterback can rise to lead a team of champion drag racers. How a kid who only wanted for Christmas a little logging truck now owns more 18-wheelers than most small trucking companies. How a racer who broke his hot rod so often he was asked never to come back to certain tracks can now command huge sums to grace tracks with his presence. How a dream and a line of talk can turn into mega-million-dollar corporate deals. How he can take inexperienced crewmembers and turn them into championship-caliber drivers. How "an old trucker" can rise to be the most famous and successful drag racer in history and yet still remain a man of the people.
But most of all he showed us that you can dream big, and that with enough fire in your belly and enough heart in your chest, you can make those dreams come true.
If I do fall asleep before the update comes, I know what I'll be dreaming of: John Force at the Winternationals, foot on the gas, and fire in his eyes.
Get well fast, my friend.