John Force sets another national record en route to NHRA Winternationals win; alBalooshi, Line also triumph

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John Force started the weekend of the season-opening NHRA Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., by setting a pair of national records and ended it Sunday with yet another new record en route to his 139th career Funny Car victory.

After setting new national records for elapsed time (3.966 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) earlier in the weekend, Force broke his still- fresh elapsed time record with a 3.965 second effort (at 323.58 mph) in Sunday’s final round of eliminations, defeating arch-rival Matt Hagan.

Force ended last season by extending his own record of NHRA championships, earning his 16th in 24 seasons. And with this being the final season of long-standing sponsorship and support from Castrol GTX motor oil and Ford (Force drives a Mustang), Sunday’s performance makes it abundantly clear he’s determined to go for his 17th Funny Car crown this season.

“We’re back in the game,” Force said. “Everything’s just going right. … I’m just excited. There’s a lot going on (with potential new sponsors for 2015), and man, what a good time to flex your muscles.”

In Top Fuel, Khalid alBalooshi won his third career national event, defeating top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final round. alBalooshi finished in 3.974 seconds at 324.36 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, while Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster lost traction at mid-track and slowed to 5.368 seconds at 143.40 mph.

“We had a strong day today,” said alBalooshi. “It’s a good win. … Doug’s car was the best car all weekend, so it made it a very big day for us to take him down in the final and get the trophy.”

alBalooshi, who finished 11th as a rookie in 2012 and eighth last season, leaves Pomona atop the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Top Fuel points standings for the first time in his career.

Jason Line won the Pro Stock class, defeating V. Gaines in the final round. Line and his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro covered the 1,000-foot lane at 6.526 seconds at 212.06 mph to defeat Gaines’ Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger (6.533 at 212.56 mph).

It was Line’s 32nd career NHRA win and his third at the Winternationals.

“My day was great,” Line said. “It’s a huge deal to start the season off with a win. It’s a big deal. The last few years we’ve struggled and wasn’t what we had hoped for. We worked really hard over the winter and I think we improved. This sport is just crazy hard right now. It’s tough to separate yourself out here it’s so competitive.”

Line said he would give his winner’s trophy to longtime teammate Greg Anderson, who is at home recovering from heart surgery and will miss the first three months of the season.

“I’m forever indebted to him,” Line said of Anderson. “He gave me an opportunity that nobody else would.”

The next NHRA national event, the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, Ariz., will be held Feb. 21-23.

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Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”