NHRA legend John Force shows he’s still got it — on drag strip and also on pitcher’s mound

Photo courtesy John Force Racing
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With a record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships and another record 148 wins in his career, there’s no question John Force knows how to make things go straight down the middle.

And it’s that kind of philosophy Force relied upon when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday at Wrigley Field for the game between the World Champion Chicago Cubs and visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

Force admitted to MotorSportsTalk Thursday that he was nervous heading to the mound. He’s only thrown a first pitch a couple of times in his 50-plus year drag racing career, the most recent time coming several years ago before a Giants game in San Francisco.

John Force, left, with teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight.

Force didn’t want to embarrass himself or his sponsors, so he kept visualizing the task in his mind for the last couple of weeks as a way of preparation.

When the time came for Force to rear back and let the ball fly, he wound up throwing an impressive strike.

John Force throws out the first pitch at Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Cubs pitcher Eddie Butler served as the catcher for Force’s toss and gave the driver some advice.

“Butler said to go back to your childhood when you throw it,” Force said. “I got out there on that mound and with all the cheering from the crowd, and just like going into the finals of a race, I tried to blank it all out and just got into my zone.

“So I had this big old wind-up and I threw that son of a gun as hard and as solid as I could throw it and it was a strike.”

As it turns out, Butler is a big drag racing fan and especially a Force fan.

It’s kind of hard to judge who was more excited about the event, Force for throwing the pitch or Butler getting to meet his favorite drag racer for the first time.

“Other than throwing out those other two first pitches, it’s been about 40 years or more since I last threw a baseball,” Force said. “I didn’t want to throw it in the dirt.”

Butler and several other Cub players signed the ball for Force as a memorial of the day, and Force — who is competing in this weekend’s Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois — then gave the ball to his grandson, Jacob.

“I did something for my grandkids that I’ll likely never be able to do again,” Force said. “It was really cool.”

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Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.