John Force: 68 and full speed ahead

Funny Car driver John Force poses next to his car during the 2015 NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park. (File photo/The Capital-Journal)

At this point in his life, NHRA drag racing legend John Force would probably just as soon have his birthday slip by without anybody noticing.

 

But the 16-time world Funny Car champion and 148-time national event winner, who turned 68 on May 4, faces age the same way he faces racing — head on.


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“Everybody wishes they were young, but I don’t think about it,” said Force, who is competing this weekend in the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. “I think about being lucky to race in the sport that I love, NHRA. I surround myself with great people and I’ve got race cars that are finally funded. I’ve got no complaints and I’ve got no excuses, and age is only an excuse.

“(Donald) Trump’s trying to run this country — I don’t know how good he’s doing, I know nothing about it — but he’s older than me. I’m going to be doing this for a while. We’ve got big plans and things are exciting.”

Force, currently third in Funny Car points with a win this season, is still racing at an age when most professional athletes have been retired for a couple of decades or more, but he said he feels like he’s still on top of his game.

“When you’re my age, people think, ‘Geez, he ought to be retired,’ ” said Force, a nine-time winner at Heartland Park. “Drag racing’s a little different than NASCAR and IndyCar. Most of our work is done promoting and taking care of customers and taking care of fans and doing appearances at the races.

“And drag racing isn’t like NASCAR where you’re out there two or three hours. It’s just a matter of going to the gym every other day, watching my weight, keeping myself right, staying on the Christmas tree (the starting line) and practicing and getting my rest. I don’t party like I used to.”

Ironically, Force feels like his serious accident in Dallas in 2007 was a turning point and helped pave the way for his longevity in racing.

“Let me tell you, I was headed downhill,” he said. “You get into that life of winning and we were dominating. The biggest problem was when you live on the road and you do all that and you dominate, you get in a lifestyle where you think you’re Elvis, Superman and James Dean rolled into one, until you break your arms and legs and end up in the hospital.

“But I looked at that as I think the good Lord was trying to tell me, ‘You better straighten up; you’re going downhill.’ ”

Force, patriarch of John Force Racing, also had to deal with the loss of his longtime sponsor, Castrol, and his manufacturer, Ford, after the 2014 season, but he is proud of the way the four-team organization has rebounded. Force’s daughters, Courtney and Brittany, are regulars in Funny Car and Top Fuel, respectively, while JFR president Robert Hight also competes in the Funny Car class.

“The hot rods are starting to run; they’re low (elapsed time) every week,” Force said. “We’ve only won one race so far, but they’re coming around. We got back financially finally with PEAK coming on board and Monster (Energy) and Advance Auto Parts picking up Courtney and then Chevrolet, so money-wise we’re good. We got some of our help back and got some new help with Alan Johnson.

“There’s a lot of technology, a lot of things we’re doing, a lot of testing. We learned how to run fast, we’re just not consistent. When we find that we’re going to turn the corner, if we haven’t already. We’ve got no excuses. I always cried money. Sponsors were leaving, I lost people. I’ve got (sponsors) back, I’ve got people back. All I can say is the only way we’re going to fail is if we give it away ourselves.”

Courtney Force, who won at Heartland Park in 2014 and was No. 1 qualifier a year ago, said her dad is the same guy he’s always been.

“He definitely doesn’t dwell on (his age),” Courtney said. “He doesn’t like to sit there and talk about it. Honestly being in this sport I think keeps him young. The years go by but nothing really changes with him. He’s still the same guy and still has that same passion.”

“I have to stay in this sport,” John Force said. “I can’t visualize quitting and walking away. I’m here to stay. You’re stuck with me until I’m 100. I’ll be there.”

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