NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


A method to the madness: looking back at John Force’s 2022 season

John Force enjoyed another successful season in 2022 with a win in Charlotte and runner-up finishes in Sonoma and Topeka on his way to a No. 5 finish. Courtesy of Brian Lohnes, here's a closer look at how he did it.
22 Dec 2022
Brian Lohnes, NHRA on FOX announcer
John Force

One of the most fascinating things about the sport of drag racing is that the cars are so powerful, the acceleration so off the charts, that wily racers with experience can sometimes kind of make the numbers lie in their favor. John Force had a pretty solid season in 2022. For a man in his 70s, he was able to compete, win, and generally pester the championship hopefuls right down to the end of the year, garnering a hard-fought No. 5 finish.

Like a pitcher who entered the majors as a fire-balling youth and aged into a crafty thrower of off-speed sinkers, Force has had to transition his driving style to keep his competitive edge as he has aged. Not only is there nothing wrong with this, it’s actually an ever-growing monument to the guy’s innate ability to drive a funny car. Viewing his 2022 season in this context will help to make you understand just how strong the competitive fire still burns inside of a man who has done it all and seen it all, twice, in drag racing.

Before we get to the numbers, let’s address the one elephant in the room. Most racers hate to race John Force on Sundays, no matter how old he is. In fact, they may hate to race him worse now than they ever did. He’s the Funny Car equivalent of a random number generator with regard to staging. Unlike many drivers who maintain the same rigid routine, almost like the old gentleman duels of the 1700s, Force is liable to take two steps and shoot with the agreement was four or any other matter of disruptive behavior. Within the bounds of drag racing, as long as your car is in the staging beams when the Tree fires off, you are good to go, no matter how you got there. John often downplays this strategy, or lack thereof, but the reality is that it is a brilliant strategy, and it keeps him in the discussion week after week, sometimes to the consternation to younger and perhaps more systematically staging racers.

The Starting Line Signature

So now that we know most of the finer points, do the numbers bear any benefit to this stuff? Well yes, they actually do.

For starters, John recorded the most holeshot wins in the Funny Car class with four over the course of 2022. As I can now hear every Funny Car driver who had not previously removed me from the holiday card list, scratching my name out now, I’ll continue. The major consternation from the Funny Car driving contingent is that these are not “real” holeshots as John has staged his car to a depth that the elapsed time would have been measurably better than the scoreboard showed had he been staged shallow. John’s reaction time would have suffered but the car would have run quicker with less of a “bite” at the starting line.

Let’s look a bit closer as John’s four holeshot wins came in this fashion:

Phoenix (quarterfinals):       
John Force: (.052) 3.902
Ron Capps: (.121) 3.869

Las Vegas 1 (round one):
John Force: (.092) 3.978
Alexis DeJoria: (.177) 3.932

St. Louis (quarterfinals):
John Force : (.076) 3.968
J.R. Todd: (.082) 3.967

Dallas (round one):
John Force: (.050) 3.925
Cruz Pedregon: (.086) 3.902

Highlighting the St Louis example between Force and J.R. Todd as a prime example here, we can see that the cars ran within .001 of each other in raw elapsed time as measured by the clocks. Todd was staged typically shallow as he nearly always is and John was staged much more deeply. The reality is that both cars staged in the same spot would have likely yielded John an elapsed time around 3.94 or 3.95 but that’s the problem. In the event he staged shallow and was around .100, he’d have been on the wrong end of this one and Todd would perhaps be the one notching a holeshot win.  It’s a fascinating thing and a subject that immediately makes Funny Car drivers’ blood pressure rise. Sorry ladies and gents!

Speaking of being on the wrong side of a holeshot, that only happened to John once this season and it happened in Denver versus teammate Robert Hight in the semi-final round. Looking at the numbers, it seems that John staged with a lighter touch, perhaps in an effort to have low ET for lane choice in the finals, but it was not to be. Here’s what the numbers looked like:

Robert Hight:   (.056) 4.041
John Force:  (.112)  4.033

The starting line margin was just too much for Force and company to overcome and their teammate went to the final that day, ultimately winning the event.

John was ranked fifth in the class when it comes to leaving the starting line first. Out of his 55 competition rounds in 2022, John was out of the gate first 29 times, recording a percentage of just under 53%. John had the most reaction times in the class below .050 and he had nine lights over .100. His average reaction time of .073 placed him fifth overall in the class. Eight times he had the quickest reaction time of the race in the Funny Car category.

How about some other numbers?

Looking at all of John’s competition runs as well as his 22 qualifying runs of record (the one that counted for final position), the Peak Chevrolet Camaro finished the season sixth on our list of the “Speed Index” which is a measure of full throttle runs. 54 out of his 77 runs considered for this statistic were made with the throttle blades open to the end of the course or darned close to it. That’s 70.13%. To make a direct comparison, Bob Tasca III, who also had 77 runs considered, lead the category with a Speed Index of 81.82%. Robert Hight, who made an incredible 94 runs in the framework of this stat landed at 78.72%.

John Force had more semi-final round losses than anyone in 2022, losing eight times just before the final. While this is a seemingly frustrating stat, it can be easily balanced out by telling you that he only lost three times in the first round all year long. As a sport of speed and fury, we’re obvious. It is that raw consistency that many people miss when it comes to championship finishes.

John had one victory in three final round appearances, winning the Charlotte 4-wide race at zMax Dragway in the spring and coming up short in Sonoma and Topeka. Bob Tasca III got him both times in those later season finals.

The bottom line is this. John Force will be in a Funny Car for at least three more seasons and as such, he’ll be as crafty and dangerous as an opponent as he is now and maybe even more so going ahead. It is wildly entertaining to watch, and it always brings the fans to their feet. It may bring the other drivers to the Maalox bottle every now and again, but that’s what keeps this traveling acceleration show interesting.

Now, maybe next year we’ll work on an average 60-foot time stat and I can get some holiday cards in my mailbox again.