NHRA: As 2015 season concludes, John Force’s future looks bright again

(Photo courtesy Gary Nastase/John Force Racing)
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As the 2015 NHRA season draws to an end in this weekend’s Auto Club Finals, it has been a reflective time for legendary driver John Force.

The winningest driver in NHRA history knows he will fall short of extending his own record of Funny Car championships to 17. He comes into this weekend also knowing the highest he can finish in the final season standings will be fifth place.

But given all the transition and change that this season brought for both Force and his four-car John Force Racing operation, it’s ending on a high note – and with the promise of an even better 2016 for himself, daughters Brittany (Top Fuel) and Courtney (Funny Car) and son-in-law and JFR president Robert Hight (Funny Car).

JFR went through more change in 2015 than it had in the previous three decades. A 30-year relationship with Castrol Oil ended in 2014, replaced by Peak Antifreeze.

Then, Ford – which had powered Force for nearly 20 years – also decided to go in a different direction after 2014. Chevrolet stepped up to the plate in a big way and, between the car manufacturer and Peak, Force’s operation is in good shape for the next several years.

That’s a far cry from how Force was feeling a year ago, when JFR’s future appeared uncertain at the very least. It was bad enough to lose a sponsor that he had a 30-year relationship with.

But Ford’s departure after Castrol was such a double-whammy that for the first time in decades, Force wasn’t sure if the racing empire he had built could continue – and for how long.

Things got to the point where Force even talked about stepping aside if it meant keeping his daughters and Hight in their respective rides.

There were also changes in crew chiefs and crew members for Force’s own team, as well as changes for Brittany’s team, including picking up Monster Energy as primary sponsor after the season began. JFR also scaled back on the number of employees it had, a first for the organization.

But when the 2015 season began at Pomona, the same place it will end, with Peak and other secondary sponsors on board as well as Chevy, JFR was back in business and looking ahead to the future.

Force has repeatedly said that the adversity and uncertainty he faced has only served to make him and his organization stronger and more determined.

And while the end result for the four JFR drivers was not what they had hoped for heading into this season, they end the 2015 season with optimism for 2016, knowing that the future is much more secure and promising than it was at the end of the 2014 campaign.

“I knew this year was going to be tough but I am proud of this Peak Chevrolet team,” Force said in a team release. “We had a bunch of new sponsors and I was breaking in a new crew chief in Jon Schaffer.

“He did a great job and all my crew guys really kept me in the championship hunt until the very end. We got some wins and that is what the sponsors want and I feel like we have some momentum coming into the Auto Club Finals.”

Force uncharacteristically won just two races this season, but he has high hopes of leaving Pomona with a third.

While Funny Car counterparts Del Worsham, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr., will be fighting for the championship, Force can focus solely on ending the season as a winner, which would build momentum heading into 2016.

He also is assured of his 30th consecutive season of finishing in the top-10 in the Funny Car standings.

“You can’t hurt the heart of a champion,” Force said. “I race from the heart and that is where I get my motivation. These young guys that have been working on my race car all year motivate me and when I put on my fire suit I feel like I am 20 years old again.”

Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, has been Force’s home track ever since he began drag racing more than four decades ago. Not only is it his favorite track, it’s also the one he’s earned the most success at with 16 victories.

While he fell short of his 17th championship this year, a 17th career win at one of drag racing’s most legendary facilities is definitely within reach.

“Auto Club Raceway is my home track,” he said. “I sleep in my own bed and I just love driving out to the track and seeing the mountains.

“I remember driving out to the track at the start of the season and I was just excited to be racing. I will feel the same way every day driving to the races this weekend.

“I love what I do and I am lucky I get to race with my family and amazing sponsors. We are going for the win and hopefully we can have an impact on this Funny Car championship.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage