John Force riding high after Pomona; seeks first Phoenix win since 2005

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John Force popped out of the roof hatch of his Castrol Ford Mustang at Pomona two weeks ago, after taking down rival Matt Hagan in the finals to the NHRA season opener.

The emotion that followed was vintage Force, fueled by the fact he had denied Hagan the chance to sweep all three John Force Racing Funny Cars in the elimination rounds.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s a runaway freight train, and you’re just hanging on, and you just scream what you feel,” Force told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week.

“When you see your daughter (Courtney) get spanked first round, and then you see Robert Hight get beat, and then he’s gonna take you out? No-no. Different ballgame.”

The 16-time champion, Force has more than 100 final round victories. But this one at Pomona, no doubt, ranks near the top of the all-time list because of what it means as Force continues to search for sponsorship to replace Castrol and Ford at year’s end.

It also came after Hagan beat him in the final round season finale, also at Pomona, last November. So all Force did this year was go out, set a national ET record (3.965 seconds) and national speed record (324.12) at the 1,000-foot distance.

“Without a doubt it’s one of the best weekends we’ve ever had,” Force said. “My crew chief Jimmy Prock was on a roll. He works with the braintrust, that’s what makes our team win. We know how to work with each other and we know how to trust each other. And me, I was on my game.”

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, it’s a slightly different world than it has been for years on the NHRA circuit.

The track formerly known as Firebird Raceway is now Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, and it’s been completely resurfaced. Force is the all-time winningest driver in Phoenix with eight wins, although none since 2005.

“My guys will be watching the weather,” Force explained, since ambient temperatures this week have already hovered in the 80-plus degree range.

“I probably won more races at Phoenix than anyone. I match raced before going on the NHRA circuit, I was coming up and I was 24 years old. Over all those years of racing, Phoenix, I got a handle on it so when we got to the nationals, we knew the track.

“What’s different this year is all the data we have in the computer, all I know about the dips, and that gives me that edge over the kid who’s coming up who doesn’t know the race track. They’ve spent a ton of money rebuilding the race track. Not only the lighting, the bathrooms, but they rebuilt the surface of the race track and that is big. That’s gonna be either a real aggressive race track or it could have problems. We don’t know until we run on it.”

Much of my 30-minute chat with Force this week was spent on his crusade for safety and pursuit of sponsorship, and he provided an interesting look at all that that entails. The team has agreed to a major associate deal with PEAK Antifreeze, announced at Pomona. More on the safety and business of racing side with JFR will follow in separate posts.

As for this week, it’s a chance for the 64-year-old to start two-for-two in his quest for a 17th championship.

“You the hear the jokes, and they’re always respectful, like, ‘Oh, ‘ol John Force can still win at his age, when he oughta be at Marie Callender’s, getting the discount for being older.’

“And you bounce back and say, ‘Hey, you’re right, I ain’t arguing.’ But in this firesuit, I’m 24. I’m a kid. I become Superman when you give me a hot rod like that.”

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.