John Force took his wife’s advice to heart and extended his NHRA record with a 136th Funny Car victory on Sunday in St. Louis.
Hit with the bad news that sponsors Castrol and Ford would be leaving his team at the end of the season, the 64-year-old Force had been in panic mode much of the last few weeks.
It took a pre-race pep talk from his wife Laurie to get the 15-time Funny Car champion back in the right frame of mind for the AAA Midwest Nationals.
“I talked to my wife and she said you need to get back to winning because winning fixes everything. She got my head right,” said Force, who reached his 222nd final round. “I need to start winning races and I know how to do that. I don’t know if I will win another championship or another race but I will be in the fight with these young kids.”
It was a special weekend for the Forces, who celebrated their 32nd year of marriage.
While the news on the sponsorship front was a setback to Force, his performance hasn’t dropped off. It was Force’s second win of the season, following the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol back in June, and his sixth final-round appearance in his last 12 races.
Force is now second in the Mello Yello point standings, just six points behind leader Matt Hagan with three races left in the season.
It was also his first victory with crew chief Jimmy Prock, whom Force credited along with teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight for getting his car right.
In the final round, Force’s Ford Mustang roared down the track in 4.097 seconds (310.13 mph) to edge the Dodge of Jack Beckman by just .013 second (around six feet).
“Jimmy gave me a good hot rod,” Force said after his third career win at St. Louis “I was losing some races but Robert worked in that cockpit with me to get me comfortable. I have been guilty of getting overloaded and not focusing on my race car. Now I have people working (on sponsorship) for me so I can focus on winning. You have to live this race car every day.”
Force defeated rookie Chad Head in the first round, and knocked out Ron Capps in the quarterfinals before meeting Hight in the semifinals. Force used the set-up Hight suggested to get down the track clean with a pass of 4.111 seconds (311.70 mph).
Overall, it was a good day for the John Force Racing team.
Courtney Force lost in the quarterfinals to Del Worsham, but she managed to pick up one spot in the points, moving ahead of Johnny Gray into seventh place. Hight is also in the mix, fourth in the points.
Still, John Force had been shut out of the winner’s circle since Bristol when he won with Mike Neff as his crew chief. The team switched crew chiefs after Denver, pairing Neff with Hight and Prock with Force.
“It has been a little bit of a drought since we won in Bristol earlier this year,” Force said. “Robert said when we made the switch that these guys are great guys and they are unbelievable. The whole brain trust has been working together from Mike Neff to Ron Douglas, Dean Antonelli, John Medlen and Dan Hood to get these Funny Car running. We are working as a team and it is really cool.”
Two of the three JFR teams have primary sponsorship lined up for next season, although the manufacturer issue still needs to be taken care of. Force, who has plans to revive the “Driving Force” reality show as part of the marketing campaign to attract sponsors, promised his team will be back next season.
“I want to thank AAA (Hight’s sponsor) for their commitment to JFR,” Force said. “We have a long range deal with Traxxas for Courtney. We are not dead yet and I am not dead yet. We are going after wins and corporate America.”
Defending NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson was No. 1 qualifier for the third time this year at St. Louis, but the Greeneville driver was beaten by Rickie Jones in a tight quarterfinal.
Johnson raced down the track in 6.527 seconds (209.98) in his Dodge Avenger to beat the Ford of Larry Morgan in the opening round. He beat Jones off the starting line in the next round, but it wasn’t enough to win the race.
He fell to sixth in the points, but actually picked up a little ground on leader Mike Edwards, down by 69 points with three races to go. He’s still upbeat about his chances this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania.
“The biggest thing is that we have a really good car, a really good engine package,” Johnson said late Sunday. “Losing close races is part of racing, but we’ll leave here with a strong the car. The engine program’s really good – we were the quickest car in about 75 percent of the runs here this weekend. We head to Reading very upbeat.”
The race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship tightened up as well with Jimmie Johnson’s record eighth win at Dover and 65th victory overall.
Points leader Matt Kenseth wasn’t that far behind, seventh in the race, to remain eight points ahead of Johnson and 12 ahead of Kyle Busch.
Carl Edwards took the biggest hit on Sunday after a rear end problem with his Ford resulted in a 35th place finish at Dover. With all Chase drivers in the top 10, Edwards dropped from fourth to 11th in the point standings.
It left Edwards 65 points behind Kenseth, which would translate to well over 200 points under NASCAR’s old system. Joey Logano had a strong third-place run on Sunday, but he’s still 66 points down to Kenseth.
Kasey Kahne certainly appears to be out of contention, without a top-10 finish in any of the three Chase races and 78 points down to the leader. Although he was second at Kansas in April, it’s unlikely this would be the weekend to make up ground. Kenseth was the winner of the Kansas race in April.
Local motocross racers took to the Appalachian Fairgrounds this past Saturday night for Round No. 12 of the Hot Summer Nights Series.
Jacob Austin of Jonesborough headed up the list of local winners in the 250C class.
Other local winners included: Chandler Carver of Jonesborough (51cc/Shaft Stock), Chance Markland of Elizabethton (65cc Beginner), Chris Morelock of Johnson City (85cc Beginner), and Chris Furches of Jonesborough (ATV Youth 60-90).
There is another night of racing scheduled for this Saturday night.
Bristol Dragway ends its racing season Saturday with its popular Street Fights program.
Gates open at noon with racing scheduled from 1-5 p.m.
Champions were crowned in the DER Bracket Series last week with Chris Johnson of Maryville earning the title in the featured Super Pro class.
In the final DER races of the season, Justin Pierce defeated Carl Widener in a battle of Elizabethton drivers for the Sportsman victory. Junior Dragster, Division 2 also featured an all-Carter County final with Taylor Gill of Elizabethton taking the win over Garrett Freeman of Roan Mountain.
This past Saturday, there was another all-Elizabethton final at the Super Chevy Show as Lucas McKinney defeated Jesse Edens in Junior Dragster, Division 2. Alexis Whitaker of Telford was the winner in Junior Dragster, Division 1.
Five drivers from Kingsport Speedway including track champion Chad Finchum of Knoxville are participating in the “Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 300” this weekend at the Martinsville Speedway.
Others entered in the event include Hayden Woods, an 18-year-old Providence Academy student, Blake Jones, Ryan Stiltner and Adam Long.
There were 91 drivers testing for the race last week at the half-mile, paper-clip shaped track with Finchum, Woods and Jones all among the top 20 on the speed chart.