Like father, like daughter: There’s a new champ in John Force’s family

Photo courtesy John Force Racing
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I’ve known John Force for more than 30 years.

I’ve seen him laugh hysterically and blow his top in a fit of rage.

I’ve seen him glowingly congratulate fellow drivers for a job well done and cuss others when he felt they insulted him or did him wrong.

I’ve seen him in excruciating pain and on incredible highs of achievement.

But drag racing’s Superman, who has won an incomprehensible record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, isn’t supposed to cry.

Yet that’s what the sport’s legendary man of steel did Sunday after daughter Brittany Force clinched the 2017 NHRA Top Fuel championship.

Father John didn’t just tear up, he let the jets flow, bawling like a baby. But then, if you were a proud father like John is, wouldn’t you bawl after your little girl just went out and did something that only one other woman has done in drag racing history?

Brittany Force joins the legendary Shirley Muldowney as the only women to ever tame a Top Fuel dragster and win a NHRA championship. Shirley did it three times in her career, the last being in 1982.

It took 35 years before Brittany Force would join a very exclusive club that previously had just one member, Muldowney.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Robert Hight, president of John Force Racing and John’s son-in-law, went out and won his second career Funny Car championship.

John’s other racing daughter, Courtney Force, finished the 2017 season third in Funny Car, while John himself finished seventh in the same category at the age of 68.

To say JFR is standing tall and proud right now is an understatement. And given all the blood, sweat and tears John has put into his racing operation over the last three-plus decades, Force and the rest of JFR are to be congratulated for the rewards that have been reaped in 2017.

I remember talking to Force one day about 15 years ago on where his organization would go in the future. He was already past 50 years old at the time.

Given that he had no sons, I asked John how would his organization continue on and go forward once he stepped out of his Funny Car for the final time – not ever imagining that he’d still be strapped in it a decade and a half later.

Force looked at me in a non-plussed way and said something that kind of took me aback.

“I’m going to put my girls in the cars,” he said. “I’m going to make drag racers out of ‘em.”

But, he added with a caveat, “But they have to want to be drag racers first. I won’t force them. But if they want to do it, I’ll give them all the support and the best equipment there is. But I’m not just going to give it to them. They’re going to have to earn it first.”

In that same conversation, Force went on to reveal more about the plan he had in mind for Brittany and Courtney. Another daughter, Ashley, was getting ready to begin her own drag racing career in a few years, as well.

Force wasn’t going to push his girls, then in high school, into racing if they didn’t want to. But there also was an ulterior motive that Force quietly revealed to me about why he wanted his daughters in a dragster or flopper.

Sure, he wanted them to win and become successful, but the most important thing was to spend as much time together with them as possible.

“I missed so much time of their growing up,” Force said. “I missed lots of things they did at school. I missed lots of their activities. I should have been there, and I wasn’t. I was out on the road somewhere racing.”

Force has long been known as a man with a plan. It’s been that way since the first time he strapped into a race car in the early 1970s. Everything he’s done in his career has germinated from a plan, a need to look ahead, set a goal and then reach it.

It was the same way with his girls. Oldest daughter Adria, from Force’s first marriage, never quite had the racing bug herself, but she’s gone on to handle much of Force’s business operations along with husband Robert Hight over the last decade-plus.

And then there were the three daughters Force had with second wife Laurie: Ashley, Brittany and Courtney. “We named them ABC so John wouldn’t get confused,” Laurie told me once with a laugh.

To his credit, Force never moaned or lamented why God didn’t give him sons. To him, when it came to drag racing, there was no male or female, there was just one gender: a true drag racer.

And that’s what Ashley, Brittany and Courtney became. While Ashley’s career was shortened to start a family, Brittany and Courtney have gone on to become two of the most recognizable faces and names in the sport today.

“I wanted to make sure that John Force Racing goes on not only after I quit racing, but also after I’m gone,” Force told me a few years ago when Brittany and Courtney were just getting their respective racing careers going.

John Force is contractually bound to continue racing for at least another two more seasons, through 2019. At that point, he’ll be 70 years old. While he has repeatedly said over the years that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever retire, Father Time is definitely knocking on John’s door.

But if ever there was a time for John to walk away, it’ll be then. One daughter has won her first championship (and likely first of several to come), another daughter will likely follow her sister into becoming a champion in the next few years, and the company president just won his second championship.

They all learned how to race and to be winners from John. Like father, like daughter, Brittany has a razor-sharp stare when she’s at the starting line, ready to put a whoopin’ on the guy – or gal – in the other lane every time the green “go” light comes on. There’s no question she’s a Force, through and through.

Courtney is the same way. Each year, she’s continued to make progress towards becoming a consistent winner and eventual champ. Her time as a champion is coming, trust me.

Which brings me back to Force’s bawling after Brittany clinched the championship. Sure, he was overcome that she just brought the 19th championship to JFR – and it’s first in Top Fuel.

In all the time I’ve known John, I’ve only seen him cry hard one other time. It was during preseason testing in Phoenix in January 2008 – three months after he was almost killed in the worst crash of his life.

He cried about the pain he was still in 24/7, the pins and screws still in his ankle and leg, about getting back in the saddle of his Funny Car and hoping everything went right, about Eric Medlen who died nearly a year earlier in a practice crash.

Hell, I admit, I joined Force in shedding some tears of commiseration that day. But I understood why he was crying so very well. He was still in all kinds of pain physically, mentally and emotionally.

Sunday wasn’t crying about winning a championship for Force. In fact, his crying really didn’t have anything to do with drag racing.

It was all about his daughter making her greatest life achievement to date – and potentially the first of many championships to come – and John was joyously fortunate enough to be there to witness it.

That’s what a father’s love is all about. And while Sunday indeed was Brittany’s day, in a way, it was also Father’s Day for John. He fathered her, taught her how to race, taught her how to win races and was there to see her continue a family tradition.

Congratulations to them both.

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

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Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”