POMONA, Calif. – One of the most miserable off-seasons John Force ever endured came at the end of his first NHRA championship year. From it, the 2012 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame learned a lesson that served him well in a career in which he has become the most prolific winner in drag racing history.
He admits that the three months between the end of that campaign and the start of the next were among the most miserable of his career. The experience was so distasteful, in fact, that Force resolved never again to lose focus until after the final race has been run.
That’s why, even though he’s no longer in contention for the 2012 Full Throttle Championship, the 63-year-old icon can’t be counted out of the season-ending 48th annual Auto Club Finals beginning Thursday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Force’s “start strong; finish strong” mantra has yielded 134 tour victories and a record eight wins in the Finals, every one of them in an even-numbered year like the current one. The former truck driver won the Auto Club finale in 1988, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010.
He’d love to add another even-numbered title in 2012 and bookend an otherwise unremarkable season for his uncustomarily erratic Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang.
After winning the season-opening O’Reilly Winternationals at the same fairgrounds track, the inaugural winner of this year’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout struggled just to extend his streak of Top 10 finishes to 28 straight.
However, no one is better at finding off-season motivation than is the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection who knows that the mental games he plays with himself are much easier when he finishes on a high note.
As a result, that will be his focus this week when he returns to his home track, one of which he has won a remarkable 110 racing rounds in the Winternationals, the Auto Club Finals and one special event, the NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals contested in 2001 and, naturally, won by Force.
“You don’t want to leave the Finals on a downer,” said the man who won his most recent championship in 2010. “It’s three months till you’re back at the Winternationals and, trust me, that can be the longest three months of your life. When I red-lit in 1990, I thought (the new season) would never get here.
“I just wanted to get back in my ol’ hot rod and redeem myself. I never want to feel that way again.”
So, just because he enters the last of the 23 races in the series tied for seventh place with only an outside chance at a Top 5 finish, it would be ludicrous to underestimate the man who has won championships in three different decades and races in 25 different seasons.
Force long has preached that “if you can’t win, be spectacular.” His addendum to that premise is “if you can’t win the championship, win the Finals.”
That will be his focus this weekend when he competes for something almost as important as a championship. Peace of mind, however temporary.
John Force Racing