Photos courtesy NHRA

NHRA: John Force has one last chance to earn 150th career win in season finale

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When Sunday’s season-ending Auto Club Finals concludes, John Force will have gone through his fifth season since his record-extending 16th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2013.

Nor will the 69-year-old greatest driver in NHRA history finish runner-up in the standings, like he did for the last time in 2014.

But if you think the Yorba Linda, California resident lays down and merely goes through the motions in Sunday’s final rounds of eliminations, you’re sadly mistaken.

Force knows what his role is: to play spoiler and to help teammates Robert Hight and Courtney Force, to do well.

Force’s only win thus far in 2018 came at Denver near mid-season. Winners of that event were, from left, Leah Pritchett, Greg Anderson, Force and Hector Arana Jr.

Force comes into Sunday’s finals in ninth place in the Funny Car standings, 276 points behind series leader JR Todd.

Hight, who is John Force Racing president, is the defending Funny Car champion and the team’s only hope of winning either a Funny Car or Top Fuel championship in 2018.

“My job now is to take out as many as I can and help Robert get the championship for John Force Racing, Auto Club, PEAK, Advance Auto, Chevrolet and the rest of our sponsors,” John Force said.

That’s unlike 2017, when Hight won the Funny Car crown and Brittany Force, John’s daughter, earned her first career NHRA Funny Car championship.

Because a maximum of 191 points are available to be earned by any driver in Sunday’s eliminations, John Force mathematically could finish as high as third or fourth place – especially if he wins the season finale.

What’s more, a Force win could steal some thunder from either Todd’s or Hight’s championship celebration, as it would mark something Force has chased much of this season: his 150th career Funny Car win.

“I live for winning,” Force said. “I’m up against all these young guns, but so far I’m holding my own.”

Force has just one win thus far in 2018, capturing the Dodge Mile-High Nationals to kick off the annual West Coast Swing during the middle part of the season.

That win marked 31 consecutive seasons that Force has won at least one NHRA national tour event.

Plus, heading to Pomona, is an ace in the hole for Force. He’s had more success at the suburban Los Angeles facility than anyone else in NHRA history.

He’s made 75 career starts at Pomona, which he’s considered his home track since 1984. During that 34-year span, Force has won 16 national events – including eight triumphs in the season-ending Finals – and 128 round wins overall.

Force is long overdue to win at Pomona: he hasn’t reached the winner’s circle since the 2010 season finale. Conversely, though, he’s finished runner-up three times in the last five years.

“We’ve got a pretty good hot rod right now,” Force said. “It’s not the quickest but it’ll go down through there and, early in the year, it wouldn’t do that but we battled back.

“These kids, my crew, led by Jon Schaffer, Ronnie Thompson and Joe Veyette, they’ve worked hard to get it right.”

Qualifying begins Friday at 1:30 p.m. PT and 3:45 p.m. PT. Two more runs will be at 12:30 p.m. PT and 3:30 p.m. PT Saturday, and Sunday’s 16-car eliminations begin at 11 a.m. PT (2 p.m. ET).

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IMSA: Hailie Deegan to honor Lyn St. James in Ford debut

Ford Performance
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When Hailie Deegan makes her IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge debut this Friday, she’ll do so in a paint scheme honoring a former racer who helped pave the way for women in motorsports.

St. James’ 1985 IMSA GTO Ford Mustang. Photo: Ford Performance.

Last week, Ford Performance unveiled the paint scheme of the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 that Deegan and co-driver Chase Briscoe will drive in the four-hour race at the Daytona International Speedway this Friday.

The red, white and blue paint scheme is a throwback to the Roush Racing Mustang IMSA GTO car that was driven by Lyn St. James in her breakout season in 1985.

In that season, St. James captured three victories, including the first IMSA GT victory by a woman driving solo. Over the course of her career St. James won six IMSA sports car victories with Ford, including two class victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

She also competed in IndyCar, with seven starts in the Indianapolis 500.

“I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of this Mustang,” said Deegan. “My anticipation and excitement level was already sky high, making my debut for Ford in my first ever road race in IMSA, but now we add this cool throwback scheme honoring the only woman to win a major IMSA race solo and it is just that much cooler.

“I have a ton of respect and admiration for what Lyn St. James did to pave the road for racers like me. It will be really cool to drive a car inspired by her 1985 IMSA GTO Ford Mustang.”

St. James served as an advisor for Ford Motor Company between 1981-96 and, has been a major ambassador for women in sports, particularly auto racing.

“I’m delighted that Ford is doing this throwback scheme,” said St. James.  “The whole goal of every race driver is to win races, and going into that 1985 season I was on the cusp of winning, and to get my first three IMSA wins that year really meant so much to me because they say that once you win once, the others follow, and that was true for me.

“I am certain Hailie and Chase felt the same way after winning their first stock car races.  You just want to win more.  Sports car racing may be different than what they normally do, but the mindset is the same.  I am excited to see them race and get to the winner’s circle.

The first round of the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season at Daytona International Speedway starts at 1:00 pm ET on Friday, January 24, and will stream live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

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