Force named AARWBA 'Newsmaker' finalist

Force Among Finalists For AARWBA 'Newsmaker of the Half-Century' Award POMONA, Calif. -- John Force, 13 times the NHRA Funny Car Champion, was one of three drag racing giants among the12 nominees for the American Auto Racing Writers and ...

Force Among Finalists For AARWBA 'Newsmaker of the Half-Century' Award

POMONA, Calif. -- John Force, 13 times the NHRA Funny Car Champion, was one of three drag racing giants among the12 nominees for the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's "Newsmaker of the Half-Century Award," the cornerstone of the organization's 50th Anniversary Celebration.

The 12 nominees for the award were introduced during the AARWBA's 35th annual All-America Team dinner Saturday (Jan. 15) at the Sheraton Fairplex hotel by AARWBA president Dusty Brandel and 50th Anniversary Celebration chairman Michael Knight. The AARWBA is the oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals.

In addition to Force, winner of a record 114 NHRA national events and an amazing 10 consecutive championships (1993-2002), other "Newsmaker" finalists included Kenny Bernstein, a seven-time NHRA series champion and owner of cars that won on the CART and NASCAR circuits, and NHRA founder Wally Parks.

The nominees were selected by AARWBA's Board of Directors from an original list of 50 newsmakers. The full AARWBA membership will vote for one of the 12 as Newsmaker of the Half-Century and the winner will be announced at a public ceremony in the days leading up to the 89th Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway..

The other nominees for the honor, in alphabetical order, are Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt Sr., A.J. Foyt, the France family, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, the Hulman-George family, Roger Penske and Richard Petty.

Force, the reigning NHRA POWERade champion and NHRA national record-holder for quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour) at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang, was one of the 14 members of the 2004 AARWBA All-America team feted at the dinner where Bernstein received the group's Pioneer Award for his career contributions to motor racing.

Force was a first team All-America selection for the 12th time in his career. He has won the prestigious Jerry Titus Award, presented to the drive polling the most All-America votes, a record four times. Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IRL Champion, was this year's Titus winner.

In addition to Force and Kanaan, other All-America selections in attendance at the dinner were Ron Fellows, Max Papis, Bobby East, Bill Auberlen and Thiago Medeiros. Tony Schumacher, the 2004 POWERade Top Fuel Champion and the other drag racing member of the elite group, was represented by Team Manager Mike Lewis.

The AARWBA is the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals. It annually names an Auto Racing All-America team composed of two members from each of six disciplines plus two at-large honorees. For its Newsmaker of the Half Century, the organization has commissioned a painting. The group also will make a cash donation to a charity of the recipient's choice.

"Just to be a part of this group is special," Force said. "To be nominated with Kenny and Wally and to be able to represent drag racing with all the others -- Indy Car, NASCAR and formula -- is a tremendous honor."

"I think it is significant that fully one fourth of the nominees for this most prestigious honor are drag racers," Bernstein said.

Force, who didn't win his first major race until 1987, has dominated in the years since, winning 13 of the last 15 championships. Over the last 18 seasons, he has won 38.1 per cent of ALL the events in the NHRA series (114 of 299), each won in a Castrol GTX Funny Car.

Over the last nine seasons, he also has established himself as a skilled car owner. He now operates a three-car team in NHRA's Funny Car division. Over the last four seasons, each of his race cars has won at least one tour event and, in 2003, Tony Pedregon delivered the first championship to car owner John Force when he drove the Castrol SYNTEC Ford to the championship.

In addition to the Funny Cars -- the Castrol GTX Start Up Mustang he himself drives, the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang driven by last year's top Funny Car rookie, Eric Medlen, and the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang driven to last year's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals championship by veteran Gary Densham -- Force also is actively involved in daughter Ashley's development as a driver.

Ms. Force, 23, won three NHRA national events and the Division 4 points championship last season at the wheel of the Mattel Toy Store dragster owned by Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows. A 2003 graduate of California State University-Fullerton, Ms. Force finished fourth last season in Lucas Oil Series points in her rookie season in the Top Alcohol Dragster division.

The other finalists for the Newsmaker of the Year award also are racing icons.

Parks was the driving force behind the creation of the NHRA in 1951 although he started racing in the late 1930s with the Southern California Timing Association. The first editor of Hot Rod magazine, he later was editorial director for all the Petersen auto magazines. Although he stepped-down as president in 1994, Parks still is a member of the NHRA Board of Directors and is chairman of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum here.

Bernstein, who now owns the Top Fuel dragster driven by son Brandon, was the first racer to break the 300 mile per hour barrier. He remains the only driver to have won NHRA series championships in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions. Credited with introducing drag racing to a new generation of corporate sponsors, he has been affiliated with Budweiser for 26 consecutive seasons.

Andretti, regarded by many as one of the country's most versatile drivers with victories in the Indy 500, NASCAR's Daytona 500 and Sebring 12 hours, won the 1978 Formula One championship and retired in 1994 with four Indy Car championships and 52 race wins.

Earnhardt was a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion. He won 76 Cup races, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 and earned over $41 million in Cup prize money alone.

Even before 1977, when he became the first four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Foyt was viewed as an American racing legend for his success on both dirt and paved tracks. He earned a record seven Indy Car championships, five titles in other series along with victories in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans and 1972 Daytona 500.

The France family has led NASCAR to a position as the No. 2 sport in America, behind only the NFL. William H.G. ("Big Bill") France, William C. ("Bill") France and now Bill's son, Brian France, have transformed NASCAR from a small series of regional events into a phenomenon.

Gordon raced his way from short tracks as USAC midget and Silver Crown champion to the top of NASCAR's Cup series in the 1990s where he won four Cup titles for car owner Rick Hendrick.

Gurney is considered by many to have been America's greatest international road racer. He competed for the Formula One championship for many years and scored a satisfying victory in the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix in an All-American Racers Eagle of his own design and construction. He forever influenced Indy racing by helping to convince Lotus Formula One team owner Colin Chapman to build a lightweight, Ford-powered rear-engine car for the Indy 500 in 1963.

The Hulman-George family is responsible for making the Indianapolis 500 "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and the world's largest single-day sporting event. Anton ("Tony") Hulman purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1945, and quickly began to upgrade the facility, which was in disrepair after World War II. He also was involved in the founding of the U.S. Auto Club. His daughter, Mari Hulman George, was named chairman of IMS in 1988 and his grandson, Anton ("Tony") H. George, assumed that title in 1989. George's tenure has seen the track host both NASCAR and Formula One events.

Penske is the most successful car owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 13 victories. His team also has been the most successful ever in U.S. open-wheel competition with 11 championships and more than 120 wins. Penske's team has won in every type of racing entered including NASCAR, Formula One and various sports car series and it has employed some of history's greatest drivers including Mark Donohue, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace.

Petty set the standard for success in NASCAR with a record 200 Cup victories and seven championships before his retirement after the 1992 season. He is the only driver in a major series with more victories than Force. He also holds the record for Cup wins in a season with 27 in 1967.

"It is difficult to imagine a more impressive and prestigious list of names," Brandel said. "It was very difficult to choose just 12 from the original roster of 50 top newsmakers and it will be even more difficult for AARWBA members to select one as THE Newsmaker. However, our members have written about, broadcast and photographed the most memorable racing people and events since 1955 and are the best qualified to make such a judgment."

-jfr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Al Unser Jr. , Max Papis , Ron Fellows , Gary Densham , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Bobby Unser , Danny Sullivan , Richard Petty , Bobby East , Bobby Allison , Eric Medlen , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Mark Donohue , Al Unser , Thiago Medeiros , Colin Chapman