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Force not ready to pass the torch

June 14th, 2014 6:21 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Force not ready to pass the torch

BRISTOL — John Force has spent much of the past decade helping the next generation of his family become some of the biggest stars in drag racing.

Don’t think, however, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car World Champion is ready to get out of their way. In fact, he recalls last year’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway when he beat daughter Courtney in the first round on his way to a fourth Bristol victory.

“I ain’t passing the torch. I’m trying to whip their butts,” he said. “We have our ups and downs. The hardest thing here last year was when I had to take out my kid, Courtney.”

Force added that Courtney, who avenged the loss the next week in New Hampshire, reacts differently to losing than her sisters, Brittany and Ashley, or her brother-in-law Robert Hight.

“It goes from mad to tears. She doesn’t like to lose,” John Force said. “Brittany takes it another way and Ashley took it a different way, but Courtney doesn’t accept it. When she lost that final (at Atlanta) to Robert, she broke down on TV. But look at her when she wins, when she got the 100th (pro win for women at Topeka, Kansas) even Shirley Muldowney called. Coming from Shirley, that’s a real compliment.”

At age 65, the winningest driver in NHRA history with 139 victories has little left to prove. Still, the love of the sport keeps him going and it even delays a potential series of movies based on his yet to be released autobiography.

Every time it looks like the book is ready to be published, Force adds another chapter.

“The book is done, but it never ends,” he said. “I’m 65 years old and I got a deal to race until I’m 70. It was supposed to be done after my 10th world title, after my accident. I did a cartoon book about me having polio. My parents took me to the Catholic church and the nun told them that I didn’t have spinal menagitis that I had polio.

“They’re looking at three books that I’ve turned them over to my New York attorneys. The movie will be more about my mom working in the strawberry fields and tagging me along, how I got to race Funny Cars than my world titles.”

To paraphrase an old commercial slogan, he’s come a long ways. It’s been a Funny Car career that has spanned nearly four decades with Force not winning for the first eight years. Since then, no one has come close to matching his numbers. 

Even this season, he followed up the record-extending 16th world title by winning the season-opening NHRA Winternationals and doing it by setting a national record of 3.965 seconds and the top speed of 324.12 mph.

Lately, he’s had a few problems, although Force still ranks second to Hight in the Mello Yello point standings.

“I came off real good at Pomona, set the national record there,” he said. “Ran in the threes again at Phoenix. Charlotte, I was in the final there. I was going pretty good the first 3-4 races. Then, I went into a slump and can’t get past first round.

“But, we’ve addressed it. We were trying to get faster. But, we’re real excited about Robert. We had 15 straight final rounds starting at Indy last year. I got on a roll and the girls, Courtney has stayed in that top 10 and the dragster with Brittany has shown the most potential.”

He was the proud father on Friday, telling about a story about how excited Brittany was to see her Top Fuel car on a paper placemat at a local fast food restaurant.

“I remember the first time I saw my name on a food mat in a restaurant. It was right here in Bristol,” he said. “Last night, Brittnay called me from Bojangles, ‘Dad, you’ve got to see this.’ She’s almost in tears. It was a big deal for her to see that.”

As for John Force, he stays busy on all fronts. Outside of the racing, he’s working on a new reality television show and also as a judge on the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge with NASCAR drivers Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers. In addition, he’s still promoting longtime sponsor Castrol at every opportunity.

Still, there is an occasional downside to all the outside ventures. He explained how an appearance on the FOX cartoon show, “King of the Hill,” a few years ago caused unexpected problems.

“It was a lot of fun, but it created a big internet mess for me,” he said. “A lot of the fans watched it and thought I was losing my kidney. That’s how they watch TV and you have to be careful.”

“I like racing at all the tracks, but it’s such a pleasure racing here,” Force said. “When I see that NASCAR track and the money invested, we can’t go away. It ain’t like some little track out somewhere in the country. I raced at the track when IHRA was here.”

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