FORCE'S QUALIFYING STREAK ENDS AT 395 CONSECUTIVE RACES 14-Time Champion Can't Overcome Demons at LVMS LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Time finally ran out Saturday on John Force, the 14-time and reigning NHRA Funny Car champion. Drag racing's ...
FORCE'S QUALIFYING STREAK ENDS AT 395 CONSECUTIVE RACES
14-Time Champion Can't Overcome Demons at LVMS
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Time finally ran out Saturday on John Force, the 14-time and reigning NHRA Funny Car champion. Drag racing's biggest winner will watch Sunday's eighth annual SummitRacing.com Nationals from the sidelines at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after failing to make the 16-car starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 31, 1987.
Driving a heavier version of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang in which he qualified for the first three races of the season, Force bumped into the field on his final attempt Saturday -- but couldn't stay there. He wound up 17th with a time of 4.852 seconds, just shy of the 4.837 rung up by No. 16 qualifier Jack Beckman.
"I was given the same opportunities as everyone else," Force said after seeing his streak of 395 consecutive starts come to an unexpected end. "We just didn't get the job done. It's that simple. I've still got two cars in and there's a Force still out there still (daughter Ashley was the No. 3 qualifier at 4.748 seconds in the Castrol GTX Ford and son-in-law Robert Hight No. 2 at 4.740 in the Auto Club of Southern California Ford).
"There's bigger things in life that I've faced," said the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection. "Trust me. So, this is only a little stone. We've been climbing mountains lately.
"I love what the fans did (in giving him a standing ovation)," Force continued. "I don't let myself get down in no kind of situation. I'm just going to come out here tomorrow and root the kids on -- Robert (son-in-law Robert Hight, who qualified second in the Auto Club Mustang) and Ashley. Hope we get a win. We'll take a look at our ol' hot rod and then test here on Monday. Most of all, we want to get out of here with a safe race.
"It's easy to be good when you're on top," said the 57-year-old icon, "when you win 14 championships, but if you can put up with it when you get beat in the dirt, it shows what you're made of. My whole team has been beat up (but) we're gonna go back tonight and rally 'em, not just in this situation, but with what's been going on the last three weeks (with the death of Eric Medlen).
"I've got sponsors out here -- Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, AAA of Southern California -- plus some new sponsors in Mach 1 Air Services, Racebricks and Nordic Boats and that's probably my toughest call, but they understand the business and they know we'll be back.
"Bottom line, I've got no complaints. I thank the sport, I thank the fans, I thank the media and I thank God. There's not a better job in the world. So now it's done and I can move on," Force said. "I've got bigger fish to fry. We're working with the NHRA, the PRO and our vendors to make this a safer sport for everyone and that's my mission, me and John Medlen (Eric's crew chief and father, who is heading up Force's safety initiative)."
The second longest streak in history was 303 straight starts by Pro Stock veteran Warren Johnson. Ironically, the second longest active streak, the one that Top Fuel dragster driver Doug Kalitta had run to 164, also came to an end Saturday. That makes Angelle Sampey's 152 straight starts in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class the longest active streak.
Force, who has been decidedly unlucky at LVMS, a track on which he has won just one time in 14 career appearances, had been flirting with qualifying failure all year long, making the starting field on the last of his four qualifying attempts in two of the three races in which he previously had participated. This time, he couldn't come up with a miracle to extend the record.
The last time Force failed to make a field for which he attempted to qualify was Oct. 31, 1987 when he was shut out of the 16-car lineup for the season-ending World Finals at Pomona, Calif., dropping him from second to fourth in the final standings. His daughter, Ashley, the No. 3 qualifier Saturday, was just four years old at the time.