16 NHRA titles later, John Force is still loving life.
If you count out John Force at any drag race, you do so at your own peril. While he may be eligible for Medicare and have more silver than light brown hairs atop his head (at least he’s got hair, right?), the 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion is a threat anytime he’s in a car at a race track.
Most significantly, Force is the reigning champion of the 2015 season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona drag strip. He’s won this race seven times and 16 times overall on this legendary racetrack.
Many changes over at JFR
Force has faced tough odds during the off-season leading up to this weekend’s first race in a 24-contest campaign. He lost sponsor Castrol; he lost automotive partner Ford after the season-closer. He lost most of his crew, as well, after the departure of tuner Jimmy Prock before the penultimate, Las Vegas round in 2014 and replacement tuner John Medlen once the season was done and Force had to cede the Funny Car title to Matt Hagan of Don Schumacher Racing.
A lesser man might have been crying in his 141 Wally trophies but Force is no ordinary man. These kinds of challenges propel Funny Car’s most successful driver/team owner to even greater heights. Before the 2014 season was done, Force announced backing from both Peak and Lucas Oil. Shortly after the first of the year, he let the world know he’s racing Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Cars for himself, son-in-law and company president Robert Hight and daughter Courtney Force.
Responding to the setbacks
Force also has looked within his large corps of talent at John Force Racing and brought Jon Schaffer up to tune his car. “We used to call him Little Jon and now I call him Big Jon. He’s not just a young, new crew chief. He is a kid that started out at 18 years old in the pro ranks working on Top Fuel dragsters. He has lived this. He doesn’t just put in 40 hours a week; he does whatever needs to be done to get the job done,” Force explained.
“He built other cars for us that I have driven, from the ground up working with all the teams. You have to drag him out of the shop. He had a great teacher in Mike Neff, who leads all my teams from the Top Fueler (for daughter Brittany) to the [three] Funny Cars. All our teams are really gelling well. We just want to be competitive,” Force contended.
Nothing to prove to anyone but himself
Force, of course, has nothing to prove - to anyone but himself. He’s looking forward to continuing his battle with Hagan, as it seems to bring out the best in both of them. But like his adversary, each needs to keep a willful eye on the balance of the field. “If he focused on me and I’m focused on him, well, then, Cruz Pedregon or Robert Hight or Courtney or Ron Capps is going to go around us,” Force said. “So what do we do? We take them a day at a time.”
After a good test outing in Phoenix Force is geared up and ready to get on the track. “I’m ready to rock and roll. We’re a little overworked but it’s starting to come together with a lot of good friends helping. Mike Neff runs everything but Jon Schaffer proved he could get the job done (at Phoenix). It’s a young time - I’m kind of an old guy over here - but it’s a balance and we work great together.”
'It's what I do'
The motivation comes from within Force, whose stamina both on and off the track is legendary. “Driving is what I really do. When I got to testing, everybody said my personality changed, because you get back into what you really love and that’s driving a race car on the NHRA circuit. I can’t wait to get to the Winternationals. I’m excited because driving that car is what I’m good at. Retiring is not an option to me. I love what I do. The car is what I do and I’m ready to drag race.”
There are two qualifying attempts for the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock combatants on Friday and Saturday, starting at 12:30PM each day. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11AM PST. With John Force raring to go racing, by the time final eliminations roll around at sunset Sunday afternoon, he’d be a good bet to be part of the action.