John Force added a second history-making victory to his 2010 resume Monday, when he beat his daughter to the finish to win the rain-delayed Funny Car final in the inaugural 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.
Force got his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to the 1,000-foot finish line just inches ahead of Ashley Force Hood to win an event that featured racing in four adjacent lanes, a configuration unique to zMax, the Bruton Smith-developed facility widely known as “the Bellagio of Dragstrips.”
Force stopped the timers in a career best 4.036 seconds at 316.23 miles per hour. Force Hood trailed at 4.042, 316.38 mph. Both outpaced the Schumacher Dodge cars. Ron Capps was third in the NAPA Charger at 4.088, 306.33 mph and Matt Hagan fourth in the Die Hard Batteries Charger at a slowing 6.736.
Force’s 128th tour victory kept him solidly in the Full Throttle points lead in his bid to secure a 15th individual championship and a 17th Funny Car title in 21 seasons for John Force Racing Inc. Force’s Monday success also underscored his reputation for reserving his best performances for those events with great historical significance.
Just six weeks ago, the 60-year-old icon won the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., to open the season. Before that, he won the 50th Anniversary NHRA Nationals (a one-off race contested at Pomona in 2001) and the inaugural Winston Showdown, a special event in which Funny Cars raced against Top Fuel dragsters at Bristol, Tenn.
Force paved the way to Monday’s victory by guiding his Mustang down a troublesome Lane 3 in 4.064 seconds at a career best 313 miles per hour in Sunday’s second round. His had the only Funny Car to successful negotiate the lane in first two rounds although Force Hood seemed to have no trouble with it on Monday.
“It is just a little taste of history,” Force said. “I gave the comparison of Shirl Greer, who was the first [NHRA] Funny Car Champion [since the current national points system was implemented in 1974].
“We recently lost Shirl and there will only be one first champion. I hear about that wherever I go, whether it’s [car] shows or events. This is special, like beating the dragsters at Bristol.
“The biggest thing for me is the money that Bruton Smith has invested in this sport,” Force said, “[but] I don’t know how [the four-wide concept] is going to play out. There are a lot of positives and negatives. We’ll have to see what the fan response is. What ESPN thinks, how the racers feel [and] how the NHRA and Bruton feel.”
Force Hood, who started slowly this season after finishing second behind teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight in 2009, was elated with the performance of her Castrol Ford even if it didn’t net her a fourth career victory.
“It felt good to get our car back,” said Force Hood, whose runner-up finish enabled her to advance to fifth place in the standings. “It [was] really consistent this weekend. We haven’t gone a lot of rounds this year so to get to the final was big, especially considering everything that was going on this weekend.
“We were really excited to maneuver our way through all the competitors and get to race against dad and two of the Schumacher cars [in the four-wide final]. You have two top teams battling it out against each other.”
For Force Hood’s dad, who has struggled since his 2007 crash, the win was just additional evidence that he has regained the form that once made him almost unbeatable. After going winless in 2009, ending a streak of 22 seasons in which he had won at least one NHRA tour event, Force has gone to three finals and won twice in the first four events.
Moreover, while he was the only one of four JFR drivers to go without a victory a year ago, he is the only team member with a win thus far this season.
“[One of the] hardest parts [for me] was racing Ron Capps,” Force said. “He’s always tough. He’s killer on that ‘Tree [and], racing Hagan now that John Medlen is over there will put the fear in you, too. [But] racing my own daughter, that’s the hardest thing. I have to be honest, she told me that when she pulls up beside me, she doesn’t leave anything on the table.
“I had to get that attitude, [too]. Her mother was proud. I joke about her mom beating me up, but she even said to me, ‘not bad for an old guy. Your daughter was right out the window.’
“I am just really proud of Ashley because she is learning the game and I know the pressure. My old knees were knocking and I have been doing this for 33 years.
“I really want to thank my sponsors [for sticking with me],” Force said. “For three years, now, I have struggled. They were paying me big money. Castrol, Auto Club, BrandSource, Mac Tools and Ford, [which just signed] me to a five-year deal. [And] I want to clarify what I said on TV. I said some of my other sponsors are pushing me out. I didn’t mean they were pushing me out of the seat, I meant they were trying to push my contracts out more years. In this economy, that is so important.”
Force Hood, the reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, believed for a moment that she had won the race and was briefly frustrated because she couldn’t get any information.
“I was frustrated [and] confused,” she said. “A light came on [in the wall in my lane] no one was talking to me at all on the radio. I got out and the first person I yelled at was my husband, Dan. I was like, ‘Dan you guys have a radio up there, you guys need to tell me something.’
“I got out thinking I [had] won and totally confused. I didn’t know who was in which lane [but] I was very thankful to see [dad] with a crowd around him. I figured he must have won. I was frustrated and a little mixed up [but] in the big picture it is more important that we were consistent and the two of us were able to come out on top over the two Schumacher teams.
“Our teams were pumped about that. That was one of the best runs I have ever made. I think the biggest thing [is we are] leaving this weekend with [the] car where we want it. We have all our parts and pieces together and we can get back and [get] focused on this championship.”
Force, who set personal records for time and speed at 1,000 feet in the final, was totally overwhelmed with the race track.
“What is really cool is how good this track is,” said the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection. “We ran 316 and I don’t usually run big speeds. Robert Hight and Auto Club usually run big speeds. Ashley runs big speeds [but] I carry a lot of tonnage in my Mustang.”
“It was so close,” Force Hood said. “We wanted to win, but how are you going to second guess yourself. Any little change could have made it totally different. I think if we were going to go up and run this run again, we would do the same thing.”
“Let me be clear,” Force said. “I have mixed emotions [about racing four-wide]. When I ran it last year [as an exhibition at the fall race], I was told by a lot of drivers that I was the reason we were here. [They said] ‘you were yelling and screaming in the pressroom.’ [But] it was a different ball game last year. It didn’t count for points. It didn’t count for money. It was just fun.
“I didn’t realize that until I put on that first bulb [on Friday]. Then the blue lights went off and stuff went crazy. I spent every round watching Pro Stock, Funny Car, Top Fuel. I watched everybody but the bikes. I was trying to learn how to play the game again. I wish there would be more races where you could have more shots at this [but] I am going to go with the crowd.
“I am going to be positive about something that was fun for me. This Christmas Tree [with its extra lights] can give you an ulcer. Next [race] will be hard because I have to forget about the blue lights now. You don’t realize it until that bulb comes on and it is different. ”
Source: Ford Racing