For more than 30 years and 16 national Funny Car championships, John Force has been a thunderous influence in NHRA drag racing.
So it’s fitting that the winningest driver in NHRA history will be honored this weekend at one of the most popular dragstrips in the country, Bristol Dragway – otherwise known as Thunder Valley.
Force will be inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame during driver introductions prior to Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Force will join a number of other luminaries that have been inducted to the track’s Hall, including Speedway Motorsports Inc. executive chairman Bruton Smith, legendary racer “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, NHRA multi-team owner Don Schumacher and former Bristol Dragway/Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jeff Byrd.
Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Dragway and Bristol Motor Speedway, issued a statement honoring Force’s induction into the track’s Hall:
“As NHRA celebrates 50 Years of Funny Car, it makes perfect sense to honor John as a Legend of Thunder Valley. From his victories at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals to his 1999 Winston Showdown win in his iconic Superman scheme, great stories about John are continually told, and we’re delighted to honor him during race weekend.”
Force is the winningest Funny Car driver at Thunder Valley with four wins there. He also has a runner-up finish, was No. 1 qualifier once and also has an additional victory as a team owner.
Force also holds the current Bristol Dragway Funny Car record for both elapsed time (3.978 seconds) and speed (323.43 mph).
One of Force’s biggest accomplishments came in 1999 during the non-points Winston Showdown exhibition race that pitted Funny Cars vs. Top Fuel dragsters.
Driving a special Superman-themed Funny Car, Force defeated Top Fuel driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. in the final round to claim the event’s overall victory.
It was that win that also prompted NHRA to return to Bristol Dragway for the first national event held there since 1967.
Prior to Sunday’s induction, Force will take part with fans and daughters and fellow drag racers Courtney and Brittany Force in a pre-race track walk. Fans that attend the race will receive special edition hero cards to mark Force’s induction as well as his achievements at Thunder Valley.
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.
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.
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.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
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.”
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;
–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.”