Force didn't have the weekend he wanted in Las Vegas, but it could have been much worse.
This year’s Funny Car championship in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is coming down to two drivers who seem to keep shadowing each other. John Force, the 16-time category champion is battling Matt Hagan again for the title. It’s come down to these two in three of the last four years.
Last year Force claimed his sweet 16th at Las Vegas, where the Toyota Nationals took place last weekend. He accomplished this feat at the age of 64 by beating daughter Courtney in the finals and, truth be told, breaking her heart. Hagan, working without ailing team leader and tuner Dickie Venables had to settle for the runner- up spot. He just couldn’t make it past the legend to claim his second title.
As final eliminations loom in this penultimate race of 24 for the season, Hagan held the lead over Force, who has had a few bumps in the road himself as the long campaign comes to a close. As he did in 2013, John Force has changed everything around in late season, but this time he hasn’t swapped teams, as he did with son-in-law Robert Hight last year. Force heard rumors that tuner Jimmy Prock was looking to leave in 2015, confronted him and dismissed him when Prock honestly told his boss he’d had those thoughts.
Force is now working with overall team technical leader Mike “Zippy” Neff and the ageless John Medlen, who are co-tuning his Ford Mustang in these last two races. They qualified second for the Las Vegas race at 4.022 seconds at 320.66 mph over there 1000-foot dragstrip. Theirs was quite a good run but not good enough to usurp Hagan and Venables, hitting their stride and serving up the sole subfoursecond run on Saturday night, a 3.983-second pass at 322.42 mph.
As such the duo were on opposite sides of the ladder and had to vanquish three other drivers in order to meet in the finals. It's never an easy task for either one as the Funny Car field is vast and deep this year. Each of them has won three times this year but Force’s daughter Courtney has more wins (4) and Hight has five. Hagan and Force have made it to this point through their consistency in both qualifying and eliminations, earning the “little” points for taking one of the top three positions in qualifying.
After a warm Friday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a chilly and windy Saturday, the skies on Sunday were clear and the air was warm.
In the end, Del Worsham spoiled the party with a long-deserved win in the Kalitta DHL Toyota Camry, his first victory since 2009, beating John Force in the finals. But while Worsham took out Force, he also did him a favor -- in the semifinals, he took out points leader Hagan, allowing Force to close up to just 21 points behind Hagan, keeping his hopes alive for another championship. It will be decided at the season-ender in Pomona in two weeks.