John Force knows it’s coming, the next great milestone on a road filled with records; he just wishes win No. 150 would get here, sooner rather than later.
No, it’s not because he can’t wait to bask in the media spotlight again as the first NHRA racer to reach the 150-win milestone –- just as he was the first to reach 100 wins 17 long years ago -– it’s just a distraction to him and his goal of trying to win a (wait for it) unprecedented 17th season championship.
“I hate it,” he said with a good-natured laugh. “More than anything I’d like to do it to get it out of the way. The media and TV are hyping it every week and having to show reruns of me winning. When it happens, it happens.
“I know it’s coming, unless I get hurt, because I’m going to win sooner or later.”
The stats tend to back that up. Force, who hasn’t won since the Denver race last July, nonetheless has won at least one race every season since 2010 and in 30 of the 31 seasons since his breakthrough win in 1987. The pace has slowed –- from 11-win seasons in 1990s and a high of 13 in 1996 –- to just one win in each of the last two seasons, but he’s still a reliable winner.
“I’ve struggled the last couple of years,” he admitted. “I only won one race last year and that’s not John Force’s style. I remember sitting with [former crew chief] Austin Coil years ago when we were winning so much, waiting to go into the winner’s circle and saying, ‘Oh man, we have to do this again?’ I will never say that again. It’s a real lesson in taking something for granted.
“I turned 70 a week ago, but I’m learning every day how to race against these guys. I’m having to reinvent myself, but I know how to do that. At 50, I was supposed to quit and thought about it then. At 60, I thought about it again. And at 70 it didn’t work either.
“But I want to be part of all of these kids and watch them. I lived with the Garlitses, the Shirleys, the Prudhommes and then I went on to the Bazemores and the Hofmanns and lived that and now I’ve got Hagan and Capps and all of them and now young kids like [Austin] Prock and the Vandergriff kid [Jordan], coming up to me and it’s freaking me out; they look like they’re 12 years old. They’re everywhere.”
Force and longtime rival Cruz Pedregon are the only Funny Car drivers racing this year with past Virginia NHRA Nationals Funny Cars wins, and Force remains the winningest driver in event history with four wins and four No. 1 qualifiers. He won the inaugural Virginia Nationals in 1995 but hasn't won it again since 2000 when he was also the No. 1 qualifier. At last year’s event, Force qualified No. 7 and advanced to the final round where he lost to daughter, Courtney Force, in the 50th all-JFR Funny Car final. Dad is now driving that car with that crew combo of Brian Corradi and Daniel Hood, which he hopes portends for good things –- and maybe even win No. 150 -- this weekend, where he has qualified No. 1 for the 157th time which is -- you guessed it -- an NHRA record.