The award has never been won by a drag racer, despite Force being nominated on six different occasions.
In just a few days the voting will close for the ESPN ESPYs, the ultimate sports/entertainment awards. There are many categories in the voting, including one for best driver. This shows that even ESPN disagrees with a certain former football player that, yes, racers are athletes. The driver award has been in play since 1993 and this year the nominees include last year’s winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon of INDYCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson from NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series and John Force, the 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car title-holder.
In the 21 years that these awards have been given, they’ve gone to stock car and open wheel drivers only and twice Michael Schumacher, the seven-time Formula One champion has taken the prize, the only non-USA driver to earn it. Not once has a drag racing athlete won this prize but if the public voters who have until July 16th to state their case are smart, this year there will be a sea of change in this prize for best driver.
Sure, RHR and Dixie both are having great years, Dixon having won the Verizon IndyCar Series title last year and HunterReay capturing the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Johnson earned the “six-pack” in 2013 with his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and Earnhardt Jr is enjoying his best year ever, having won his second Daytona 500.
Let’s make a case for John Force, based on his ontrack accomplishments and his 24/7/365 promotion for the sport of drag racing. John Force nearly died in 2007 in a horrid crash (his accident occurred the same week the sport lost its legendary leader Wally Parks), and changed his outlook on life and racing as he worked to regain his health and his stature in the sport. Force’s 15th title and last with Austin Coil/Bernie Fedderly doing the tuning came in 2010, capping the comeback and showing the world that this 61 year-old could still kick the kids’ butts.
Last year, Force changed his quartet of teams midway through the season, putting tuner Mike Neff and his squad on soninlaw (and company president) Robert Hight’s Ford Mustang and taking Jimmy Prock and his crew to tune Force’s Castrol Ford Mustang Funny Car. The result was a title bout that ended with the penultimate race of the year at Las Vegas with Force as champion, when he beat daughter Courtney in the race’s final round.
Force started the 2014 season with a win at Pomona, the sport’s ancestral home; he won his first race at Norwalk in early July for a 140th event win. Even at the age of 65, when many are considering taking Social Security and slowing down, John Force goes faster, faster and faster yet. Richard Petty’s 200 NASCAR wins? Man, they’re in jeopardy as long as John Force continues his regimen of workouts with the weights and with his mouth.
Yes, let’s mention Force’s mouth. A sound bite a minute is what he provides, sometimes useful, sometimes funny, often irritating, but never boring. Even his wife Laurie, daughters Adria, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney must turn their ears off much of the time when the mouth roars. But there’s no mistaking that Force is the best salesman that NHRA has.
And Ford. And Castrol. And Auto Club, Traxxas, Brand Source and the rest of the companies supporting John Force Racing. Two of those companies, Ford and Castrol, are ending their long runs with JFR after this season; bet they’ll miss the marketing chores their driver performs when he’s both on and off the racetrack.
Six times John Force has been nominated for an ESPY. This year should be the time he climbs the stage to accept the award as the best driver of this year. The ESPYs would never be the same after John Force wins. But it’s an easy bet that everyone in the room will be smiling with him. And that’s quite all right.
So vote, already. John Force IS the ESPY 'Driver of the Year.'