John Force reaches out to higher powers to help turn season around

(Photos courtesy NHRA)

It’s been a rough season so far for NHRA Funny Car legend John Force.

Through the first 13 races of the 24-race NHRA season, Force still has yet to win a race (it’s been more than a year; his last win came at New Hampshire in June 2015).

In addition, thus far in 2016 he’s lost five times in the first round of eliminations, lost four times in the quarterfinals, lost three times in the semifinals and lost in the only time he made it to the final round.


But Force isn’t giving up.

“I’m not where I want to be,” Force told “Man, right now, I have to win for PEAK, PPG and Chevrolet (his primary sponsors). It’s not a good time for me to lose.

“I’ve gotta get my stuff together and I’m going to. I’ll fix it and nobody knows this game better than me. I’ve been doing it a long time.”

Following another first round loss Sunday in the final eliminations of the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Illinois, Force finds himself ninth in the Mellow Yello NHRA Funny Car point standings, 699 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

That’s a margin of roughly just under five race wins worth of points. That’s a mighty hard pill to swallow for a guy who has won 16 NHRA Funny Car championships and 143 national event wins.

While Force will still likely make the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff – where he has a chance to make a big comeback and potentially still win the championship – things have been so rough that Force has taken to ask a higher power for help.

“I sat down at the Topeka race (May 20-22),” Force said. “My wife was there and my kids. Before the first round I said (with a dramatic pause), ‘Lord, I need a little help today. I’m trying to make this Traxxas Shootout (a special exhibition race worth $100,000 to the winner) and I’m running out of time.

“I know you’ve got starvation in the world, you’ve got wars, you’ve got the needy, but I need a little help. You need to stop what you’re doing and take a look at me.’

“My wife, who is very Catholic, says, ‘You’ve got to be (kidding) me. I listened to your whole prayer and you offered nothing to Him, just save me. That’s terrible.’

“Then my wife looked at me and said, God’s truth, ‘You should be struck by lightning for even asking that.’”

Well, apparently God was listening, but to Force’s wife, not Force himself. As Force went to make his next run a few moments later, he quipped: “At half track, I was on fire,” he said of a wreck that he was involved in.

Force is still praying for a season turnaround. He’s even reached out to the spirits of several drag racers that have passed away, also asking for their help.

Those included late uncle Gene Beaver (who got Force into drag racing), former Top Fuel champion Gary Ormsby, legendary engine builder Keith Black and Funny Car team owner Joe Pisano. All four passed away in 1991 and each had a profound impact upon Force and his career.

Given his past success at Route 66, Force was hoping to once again leave there with a win – certainly not be a first-round knockout.

Still, Force will keep praying.

“There’s just certain things that you’re supposed to talk to the Lord about what can I do for you because you take care of me every day,” he said.

“I pray for everything: ‘Can you fix this, can you fix that?’

“It’s just the nature of a guy like me that lives in fear all the time (of bad luck or lack of success).”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”