Photo courtesy John Force Racing

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

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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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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).