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NHRA legend John Force had a busy weekend at Long Beach

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This year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach had seven series in action: the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge, Formula Drift, Stadium SUPER Trucks presented by Traxxas and the final Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.

And it had an NHRA legend making the rounds too in John Force, visiting the event as daughter Courtney Force and her new husband Graham Rahal were both there – Rahal competing and Courtney there to support.

Here’s the team release:

John Force spent his last free weekend before a grueling stretch of NHRA national events kicks off at a race track meeting with sponsors, chatting up racing legends and spending time with hundreds of fans. The 16-time Funny Car champion was easy to spot in his ever present PEAK uniform shirt and white PEAK baseball hat as he cruised the paddock area on Saturday and Sunday.

“I wanted to come out to the Long Beach Grand Prix for a couple of reasons. It is almost a hometown race for me since we live just up the road in Yorba Linda plus this is a great chance to see a lot of my sponsors and get caught up with them,” he said. “When I am with my PEAK Chevrolet Funny Car I get pretty wound up, but at the Grand Prix I was able to relax a little bit and have some good talks with a lot of people like Jim Campbell from Chevrolet and Traxxas owners Mike and Keli Jenkins. Mike and Keli even got me in the winner’s circle since Traxxas won the off-road truck race.”

Force-with-Traxxas-truck

In addition to spending some time with sponsors Force spent a few minutes with some of the legends of IndyCar including Mario Andretti and Chip Ganassi. The 143-time Funny Car winner also got to congratulate fellow Auto Club of Southern California sponsored driver Helio Castroneves on winning the pole for Sunday’s event.

“When you see the stars of Indy Car like Helio, Mario and Chip Ganassi you have to stop and pay respect. I have so much respect for these guys. I want my son-in-law Grahaam Rahal to do well of course but it was great to see Helio get that pole position in a Chevy,” added Force.

Force also worked the media while he was at the track participating in a number of interviews talking about both his NHRA season as well as the differences between being a driver and a spectator.

“I have been to more IndyCar races in the past couple of years now that Courtney and Graham are together. I like to watch them but I am not a good spectator,” said Force.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).