force ready for showdown at auto club finals POMONA, Calif. - John Force knows he can't drive forever. His rivals in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series may not be so sure. At age 61, in his 33rd professional season, his 25th at the...
force ready for showdown at auto club finals
POMONA, Calif. - John Force knows he can't drive forever. His rivals in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series may not be so sure.
At age 61, in his 33rd professional season, his 25th at the wheel of a Funny Car sponsored by Castrol GTX, Force is poised once more to make history as the 2010 season speeds to a uncertain conclusion with the 46th running of the Auto Club of Southern California Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Force rolls into the season finale trailing third year pro Matt Hagan by 37 points in a two-man duel for the $500,000 champion's bonus. It is a classic battle: Hagan's youth against Force's experience; Hagan's Dodge Charger against Force's Ford Mustang.
It's John Force Racing against Don Schumacher Racing; Castrol against Valvoline; Mac Tools against Matco Tools; Force's three-rail chassis against Hagan's two-rail. It's Hagan, the Virginia farmer, against Force, the former truck driver who grew up in the Southern California car culture.
It's the stuff of which movies are made, which isn't so surprising since Force's entire career has played out as little movie vignettes, many of them more unlikely than anything offered up in even the most outlandish Hollywood screenplay. There was overcoming childhood polio to become a high school football quarterback on a team that, in his three seasons, never won a game.
There was the fight through abject poverty to field his own race team and compete against childhood idols Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen. There was his rise from drag racing doormat to royalty as the most prolific winner in the history of the sport with 14 series titles, 131 tour victories and enough all-star hardware to fill a warehouse.
There was the transformation from movie fan to television personality as the star of "Driving Force," a reality series that aired for two seasons on the A&E network.
And then, in 2007, there were the crashes. The first claimed the life of Force's teammate, friend and protege Eric Medlen and sent him on a single-minded quest to improve safety. The second, six months later, sent Force to a Dallas hospital for six hours of surgery to repair damage to his arms, legs, hands and feet.
Now, three years after the crash, after enduring countless hours of rehab and conditioning, Force one more is in contention for the championship.
His quest to win for the first time since his crash, for the first time since the NHRA adopted the Countdown to 1 playoff format and for the first time when trailing the leader entering the season's final race, recalls for many, not a movie script, but a recent Toby Keith song lyric: "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was."
That's because this week Force needs to marshal his considerable skills just one more time for a total of eight 1,000 foot sprints down a ribbon of concrete and asphalt on which he has won more than 100 previous rounds and celebrated in the winners' circle 14 times.
Just once more does the charismatic icon need to work his magic. Not that it will be easy. Hagan's Die Hard Dodge has been in the final round in each of the last three races and, if it is again this week, Force's challenge will be exceedingly more difficult - though not impossible.
The bottom line for Force, who's won the Auto Club Finals a Funny Car record seven times, is that he has a chance "and, at the end of the day," he said, "that's all you can ask for. I like the kid - but I'll be ready to do my job."