Sunday, November 15, 2009
Is it time for John Force to put it in park?
John Force is in the twilight of his career. But he says he won’t retire from drag racing before his team bus retires from the road.
Make no mistake, his bus is on its last wheel. It leaks oil, the refrigerator door handle is broken, the generator under the toilet doesn’t always work and Force isn’t even sure how to fix it if he could find it.
But when a reporter suggested it's time for Force to pass the torch, he took offense. Force said it was the first time he was mad at the media. Force is a pretty excitable fellow. It’s hard to tell when he’s mad because most of his interviews and conversations are dominated with shouting bursts about everything from his partnership with Castrol to his drag racing daughters.
After Force posted the top qualifying time at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Friday, he came into the press box to talk about his run and his season.
“The credit goes to the brain-trust Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. John Medlen came over to work on our car. We had Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas help Jimmy Prock and then Jimmy came over and helped us,” Force said. “What we created was a group that worked together. They got me out of my embarrassing situation.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at himself. The only times he’s been in the press box to talk to the media this year has been when Ashley Force Hood, his daughter, or Robert Hight, his newly crowned funny car champion driver, set a top qualifying time or won a race.
Force Hood and Hight have done their share of winning this year. Hight added a 16th NHRA championship to Force’s collection as a driver and owner. Force has won 14 of those NHRA championships as a driver.
But the wins are few and far between these days for Force. Even though he captured the top qualifying time for a day, he called his 2009 season one of his worst. Statistically speaking, it was one of the worst seasons of his career. For the first time in 22 years, he did not win a race.
“Right now there is a lot of focus just trying to get me back in the game,” Force said. “Castrol pays good money. This is the second worst season I have had since I started.”
His worst season is actually one of two. He ran only five races and won only one round in 1980. He ran five races, did not qualify for two of them and won only two rounds in 1981. Both were equally bad.
He made the Countdown to One playoffs in 2009, but he was hardly a factor, a distant ninth place in the final standings.
Force says he is working on a deal that would keep him in his funny car for another five years. The 60-year-old driver says he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
There’s no doubt his team puts together quality cars for its drivers. Mike Neff, the fourth driver at John Force Racing, broke through with the first win of his NHRA career Sunday at Auto Club Raceway Pomona. Hight and Force Hood are testaments to how good the John Force Racing cars can run.
How well John Force can run is another question.
Photo: Ashley Force Hood won two races and finished second in the NHRA funny car standings in 2009. Her dad, John Force, did not win a race for the first time in 22 years.