Monday, February 15, 2010

John Force reborn in NHRA's 50th Winternationals

After winning the 50th NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, John Force told a story about how his wife Laurie asked Castrol, one of Force’s sponsors on his funny car, for a six-year extension.
The representatives from Castrol told her they didn’t think Force would live another six years.
The 60-year-old Force ended one of the longest winless droughts of his career by taking the Winternationals on Sunday. He did not win a race in 2009. His last win came in 2008 at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas.
Force remembers winning that race in Kansas as being a bit of a fluke. It was his first win since his catastrophic crash in Texas the previous year. He broke his legs and had to go through months of surgeries and therapy to recover. He will admit that he hasn’t quite fully recovered from that accident. He readily admits his body will never be the same as it was before the accident.
“I’ll never be a centerfold, but I ain’t too bad,” Force quipped as he reflected on his latest win.
Age and a disregard for convention has carried Force this far. Winning the 50th Winternationals in Pomona meant more to him than winning in Kansas.
“Change has worked for us,” Force said. “My legs were broken. They said I might not walk again. Just to come out of that hospital and win again, that meant a lot.”
The past two years have been a mixture of discouragement, disappointment and pain for Force. He said the strength in his legs was sapped. He couldn’t keep his throttle leg still when he rolled into the starting lane. Some days he would sit in his gym and cry because he didn’t feel like he was making any progress in his recovery.
He didn’t give up though. He questioned his efforts, but he never stopped working. While winning in Pomona has historic significance, it also carries a degree of personal satisfaction.
Force met his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, in the second round at Pomona. One of the parachutes on her car unpacked before the race and there was a slight delay as her team tried to repack it. Force, who was going through his pre-race routine in the other lane, didn’t know his daughter was having problems. Her team got the parachute packed in time for the race, but it wasn’t much of a race. Force won easily and advanced to the semifinals. Even if her daughter’s parachute worked perfectly, Force was going to be hard to beat.
“The hardest was going against Ashley,” Force said. “I said I love you baby, but I may not ever get another chance. I gotta go. I gotta give you all I got.”
For the first time in a long time, Force was able to give it all he had. Some were wondering if Force was nearing the end of his career. Force says he even started questioning how long he might race.
“It wasn’t so much the winning, but coming back from the cellar, and I was in the cellar,” Force said. “When you’ve won all those championships, you just think that winning was easy. Then it got real tough and we just couldn’t do anything.”
Make no mistake, Force is coming to the end of his career. But it looks like he is not one to go quietly into that good-night. He still talks a mile a minute, drives even faster. If the Winternationals are any indication, Force will be giving every driver in NHRA funny cars all he’s got all year long.

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