EPPING, N.H. — When 15-time NHRA world champ John Force lined up for his semifinal round last weekend at Bristol Dragway, the opponent in the other lane reminded him of a young, hungry John Force from decades ago.
Force says when he looks at second-year Funny Car driver Blake Alexander, he can see that burning desire that produces world champions.
Force won the semi match en route to an NHRA-record 135th NHRA Funny Car victory, but he says the kid earned his respect in the close, side-by-side race. Alexander, from Wirtz, Va., drives the Auto Service Plus Dodge Charger and before falling to Force in the semis, the rising star defeated defending world champ Jack Beckman in the first round of eliminations and held off Bob Tasca III in the second round.
“You look over in that other lane and you see that young kid over there,” said Force, who drives the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “He is doing what he loves to do. I am still loving it and I hope he loves it as much as I do now.”
Force says he sees great things ahead in the sport for the 24-year-old driver.
“Alexander is me thirty years ago, maybe forty years ago, except he is way cuter,” Force said with a grin. “This is a great sport and I really love it. The kid out there he got out of the car and I know how bad he wants to win. I was a bridesmaid a hundred times it seemed. He has forty years ahead of him. He will be there, trust me. That is what our sport is all about. That kid has a big future. He is young and is loving it.”
Force and Alexander may get to go head-to-head once again when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series arrives at New England Dragway for the inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals, June 20-23.
The event, which has already drawn a huge fan response, is the 11th event of the 24-race season and will feature competition in all four professional categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. The race will be televised on ESPN2HD.
Alexander, who earned his first final round appearance and runner-up finish earlier this season during the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., has shown that he has what it takes to grab a win. He was part of last season’s talented rookie class that included Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria and Khalid alBalooshi.
John Force, who raced for many years and advanced to nine final rounds before getting his first win, expects the very mature and focused Alexander to score a victory sooner, rather than later.
“He is very respectful and at the top end he said, ‘good job,’ and that is the guy that will beat you,” Force said. “He isn’t crying about something that went wrong or that he got cheated or his lane was bad. All he said was good job because he was already thinking about how he was going to win the next one. That is what makes champions. It was Austin Coil that helped build that character in me. That is what I am trying to teach my kids. The losing is the part that guts you inside. It makes you want it.”
However, Force says don’t count out the old guys just yet. The NHRA icon is ready to expand on his Bristol win, which ended a 31-race drought from winner’s circle.
If he’s going to win at the Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals he will need to outlast a tough contingent of challengers, including Bristol runner-up and two-time season winner Cruz Pedregon, series points leader Matt Hagan, red-hot Johnny Gray, Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson, his daughter Courtney and Del Worsham, among others.
“I am going after (NASCAR driver Richard) Petty’s 200 (wins) if I don’t fall over before then,” Force said. “It is all about the race car that they give you. We have been struggling with chassis changes. I never cry about it. I want to wait until it performs. We have been working on our motor program.”
And as the oldest driver to win an NHRA Funny Car title, the 64-year-old says he’s working extra-hard to keep up with the 20-somethings like Alexander.
“I have a good hot rod that is making me look good,” Force said. “I am trying to steal everything I can off that tree and beat these young kids.”
The legendary New England Dragway first opened in 1966 and is certainly no stranger to high-performance drag racing, but all of the NHRA stars are eager to make their own history at the legendary New England Dragway. A new playing field will pose plenty of exciting challenges, and every NHRA star will be looking to leave their own last impression with New England fans. That includes Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher, the seven-time NHRA world champion, three-time season winner Shawn Langdon, who trails Schumacher by one point in the standings, and defending world champion Antron Brown.
In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards hopes his dominance extends to New England Dragway, as he enters the race as the points leader and three-time event winner in 2013. The likes of defending world champ Allen Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Erica Enders-Stevens, Vincent Nobile and more will provide plenty of competition to try to keep that lead from growing, giving fans plenty of thrilling side-by-side racing in the process.
Hector Arana Jr. takes the Pro Stock Motorcycle lead into Epping, but he will have plenty of challenges from top PSM riders like Eddie Krawiec, Scott Pollacheck, Hector Arana, Michael Ray Jr. and many more.
An NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event is a celebration of automotive performance and one of the most fan-friendly, driver-accessible events in all sports. When the series stops at New England Dragway, families can take advantage of a special ticket promotion: Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult.
Along with new improvement seen throughout historic New England Dragway, nitro fans will receive a heartwarming welcome the moment they step foot inside the facility as well. Only at NHRA events are fans given the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers and experience the interactive NHRA Nitro Alley since every ticket is a pit pass.
Auto Plus NHRA New England Nationals qualifying will begin on Friday, June 21, with sessions at 4:45 and 6:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 22, at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 23.