Photo: Gary Nastase, Auto Imagery, for John Force Racing.

John Force can make NHRA history Sunday: 750th start; 150th win

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Sunday has the potential to be one of the greatest days in John Force’s storied drag racing career.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion and winningest driver in NHRA history is on the precipice of a most unique double achievement.

The first thing is already assured Sunday morning: Force will start the 750th NHRA race of his 42-year career in the sanctioning body in the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

Which leads to what Force hopes is the second achievement, four rounds of eliminations later, to capture not only his second win in a row this season, but more importantly, the 150th national event win of his four-plus decade career.

Think of it: 150 wins in 750 starts. That means Force has reached the NHRA winner’s circle in every fifth race he’s competed in.

To further put that in perspective, here’s how his PR team put it in a release Saturday morning:

“Force has raced with seven different presidents having occupied the White House, under five different NHRA presidents. He has won championships under the Winston, Powerade, Full Throttle and Mello Yello banners and he’s raced with a dozen different crew chiefs including Larry Frazier, Steve Plueger, Henry Velasco, Austin Coil, Mike Neff, Dean Antonelli, Jimmy Prock, Ronnie Thompson and Jon Schaffer.

“During his career, the series has grown from nine races to 24 and the course has shrunk by 320 feet (from 1,320 feet to 1,000 feet). He won races at tracks no longer part of the Mello Yello series, many of them unfamiliar to an entire generation of racers and race fans, like those at Baton Rouge, La., Montreal, Canada, Columbus, Ohio, Memphis, Tenn., Ontario, Calif., and Irvine, Calif.”

Here’s how Force is approaching the potentially monumental day:

“I don’t feel any different, except that I’ve aged 750 races. The real truth is when it’s time (to get out of the car), I’ll make that decision myself. It won’t be because anybody told me to. It’ll be because it’s time and it ain’t time yet. I’m having too much fun. I’ve got a good race car.

“You can be down, you can be tired, you can have something that depresses you, something that went wrong with you, a loss of someone that you cared about and all of sudden, you get in that race car and it all goes away.

“Because now you’ve gotta protect yourself. You gotta win, No. 1, but you’ve gotta protect yourself out there because these cars will bite you and I‘m proof of that this year. So when I get into it, my mental thing, I find the fire in my blood and I go after it.  I want to win. I’ve been wanting to win since I was a kid and I had a lot of practice at losing in the old days and I ain’t giving it up because now I’m winning.”

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Dean Wilson’s life as a privateer reconnects the rider to his roots

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One of the added benefits of subscribing to NBC Sports Gold is the in-depth interviews from each Saturday’s action. Last week between the first and second rounds of qualification for the Glendale Supercross race, a relaxed and confident Dean Wilson joined Race Day Live’s Daniel Blair and Jim Holley to review his fourth-place finish in the season opener and his mindset moving forward.

Losing factory support from Rockstar / Husqvarna at the end of 2018 was not exactly what Wilson had in mind, but after getting off to a great start in the first two races this season, it may well have been a blessing in disguise.

The life of a privateer is not exactly relaxed, but it affords a rider the opportunity to call his own shots. For Wilson, it is also a way to reconnect with the grassroots feel that attracted him to Supercross in the first place.

“I think that’s what I like,” Wilson said on Race Day Live. “I think that’s the environment and atmosphere I like – it’s just more low key. At Anaheim I, you would think I was local racing at Glen Helen. I had a Sprinter and I had another trailer just to chill in, do my spins. It was so cold I had a little propane heater to warm me up. But I like that. That’s what works for me.”

MORE: Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim 

The program Wilson was able to put together during the offseason produced back-to back top 10s – a much better start to the 2019 season than he experienced last year.

In 2018, Wilson did not score a top 10 until his fourth feature at San Diego. His first top five would not come until late March in Indianapolis.

This year Wilson got the hole shot and led 14 laps at Anaheim in the opener before finishing fourth. Last week in Glendale, he finished eighth.

“What was going through my head was ‘it’s about time; it’s about five years too late to lead some laps here,’ ” Wilson described his emotion as he led at Anaheim. “It was nice because I did a lot of work in the off-season and my starts were really good. The thing is I haven’t over-analyzed my starts and practice.”

At Anaheim I, Wilson struggled with visibility as his goggles began to get fouled by mud. A once comfortable lead was eroded by Justin Barcia. With pressure from behind, Wilson made a minor mistake that was then compounded by lapped traffic.

“I was leading my laps; I was just trying to hit my marks. I was doing really well until I made a couple of mistakes. I couldn’t hit that middle double, double … the rut was getting real chewed out, but I was already on the right side where you couldn’t double the middle part so you had to go roll, roll, roll – and Barcia was already on me.”

Wilson’s pair of top 10s was enough to keep him fifth in the standings, three points behind Glendale’s winner Blake Baggett.

For more, watch the video above.

Next Race: Anaheim II Jan. 19, 11 p.m., NBCSN

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