Star Of Chicagoland ‘Circus’ Is An American Icon
The National Hot Rod Association is in town this week, bringing its 300 mile per hour, straight-line drag racing circus back to Chicagoland Speedway for the 14th renewal of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals.
This time, though, the primary sanctioning organization for the world’s fastest motor sport is offering up something truly unique; something never before seen in American sport, in fact.
With the Cubbies’ season once again on life support, with the Sox battling simply to stay viable in the American League Central and with the immediate futures of pro football and pro basketball in “lockout limbo,” the NHRA this week will offer Chicago sports’ fans the opportunity to observe a living, breathing World Champion in his natural habitat.
And not just any World Champion, either, but the planet’s only 15-time World Champion in any major sport; wrestling to rodeo, sumo to skateboarding. He also is the world’s only AARP-eligible champion, the only champion ever to have served as a TV pitchman for “Wally Thor’s School of Trucking” and the only champion soon to be featured in his own comic book (“Destination Force”).
Yessir, John Force is one unique individual, winner of a record 132 NHRA tour events and 1089 competitive racing rounds in the sport’s most hotly-contested and woefully misnamed category: Fuel Funny Car.
At age 62, when most of his peers are manipulating nothing more difficult than a TV remote, Force once again is defending his Funny Car World Championship at the wheel of an 8,000 horsepower Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.
Of course, the question that begs an answer is “what’s so funny about a Funny Car? What’s so hilarious about zero-to-315 mile-an-hour acceleration in little more than four seconds? What’s so raucous about drivers battling against five Gs of face-contorting pressure on acceleration and a negative four Gs once the braking parachutes deploy?
No one, it seems, is talking about that; maybe because no one really knows. All that’s certain is that it ain’t funny to crash at 300 mph, as Force did in his hybrid Mustang on Sept. 23, 2007 at Dallas, Texas.
That accident, the worst of his 34-year NHRA career, left the 1996 Driver of the Year with injuries that required six hours of reconstructive surgery, injuries that would have sent a lesser man to the rocking chair. It sent Force to rehab – and later to the gym, where he hangs out a lot these days, eschewing the brewskis he once enjoyed for the treadmill and barbells that helped him regain his strength, movement and, ultimately, his career.
Last year’s championship, secured in dramatic fashion on the final day of the season, was the culmination of his comeback. Now that he’s back on top, he’s signed contract extensions with Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club of Southern California, BrandSource and others that will keep him in the cockpit at least until he’s eligible for Medicare.
Bottom line? If you want a break this week from the mundane, if you have a serious need for speed, if you’d like to see what championship-caliber sport is all about or if you just need a good, ol’ eye-opening dose of nitromethane, it’s best to take a trip down to Route 66.
For Force, it’ll be a trip down memory lane because it was here that he won his 87th tour event (June 4, 2000), making him the biggest winner in the history of the sport. It was also here that the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America pulled off one of the biggest performance coups in motorsports history when he became the first Funny Car driver to cover the quarter mile (the distance at which drag races once were contested) in less than 4.70 seconds (4.697 on Oct. 2, 2004)
That’s the form he’ll be trying to recapture this week in his bid to join teammates Mike Neff and Robert “Top Gun” Hight at the top of the driver standings just six races before the start of the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs.
“Right now, Robert and Mike are on a roll and I’m struggling,” admitted the 15-time Auto Racing All-American selection, “but I’ve got a good hot rod (one that has started from the No. 1 qualifying position four times this year), two good crew chiefs (in Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas) and a team of young guys that I love,” he said. “It’s a long season. When it comes time to fight, we’ll be ready.”
By: john force racing