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.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”