CHAMPIONSHIP SECURE, FORCE STILL MOTIVATED
16-Time Champ Aims for Ninth Victory in Season-Ending Auto Club Finals
POMONA, Calif. – He may already have clinched a record 16th NHRA Funny Car championship, but rivals know that John Force isn’t just going to “mail it in” this week when the 2013 Mello Yello tour concludes with the 49th annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
In fact, one of the many ways in which Force has kept himself viable for 36 pro seasons is by creating new challenges for himself and his team, not just season-to-season, but race-to-race. .
As a result, when he sends his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang back to work this week, he will focus on what little unfinished business remains in a season in which he has won four races, qualified No. 1 five times, recorded the second quickest run in the 1,000 foot era (3.985 seconds) and set a national speed record (323.50 miles per hour).
With a year like that, one might ask “what else is there?”
Well, while the 64-year-old icon has won the Auto Club Finals a record eight times, he’s never won the finale in an odd-numbered year.
Nevertheless, the most intriguing opportunity for the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America is one that would propel him into the company of seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher and Pro Stock World Champions Bob Glidden and Greg Anderson.
Schumacher, Glidden and Anderson are the only pro drivers ever to win four consecutive races to close out a season. No one has done so in Funny Car, not even Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, one of Force’s idols in the 1970s and early ‘80s when he was just so much cannon fodder for the frontrunners.
To be in a position to accomplish that feat a year away from his eligibility for Social Security borders on the unimaginable. However, it is much more than just a possibility.
After all, Force has been the No. 1 qualifier at each of the last two events in the Countdown, has been to four straight final rounds and has won three-in-a-row for the 15th time in his career but for the first time since 2005.
He credits crew chief Jimmy Prock and a veteran team that four years ago sent Robert Hight to the podium as a first time champion.
“Most of the guys working on this Funny Car have been here since 2005,” Prock said of his supporting cast. “We have been through the ups and downs, but everybody hung in there and worked together. This is a tough gig working on one of these race cars. Your heart and soul goes into them and when you win, it’s a great feeling.”
“We are learning how to race again,” Force said. “Don Schumacher Racing and Cruz Pedregon have been pounding us, so we needed to get back in the game. Winning is a team effort.”
Despite his success this year, Force admitted that he was a little unnerved by all the “Sweet 16″ signs that emerged as he neared his latest title.
“I didn’t like seeing those ‘Sweet 16′ signs,’” Force said. “That sounds like I’m quitting. I’m not quitting. I’m going for No. 17 next year. I’m going to be around awhile.”