NHRA: Will John Force finally earn 150th career win this weekend?

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JOLIET, Illinois – It seems virtually everywhere he goes, everyone he talks to and everything he sees and hears — even in his dreams and nightmares — legendary NHRA driver John Force can’t get away from the number 150.

There’s a good reason for that. The winningest driver in NHRA history has been trying for more than two years to become the first driver to ever win 150 races. After winning four races in 2016, he won just one race apiece in 2017 (No. 148) and 2018 (No. 149). And even though he keeps trying, Force still hasn’t been able to hit that one-five-zero mark.

But Force, who turned 70 on May 4, is hoping to finally earn that elusive victory in this weekend’s Route 66 Nationals at one of his favorite and more successful tracks on the NHRA national event circuit, Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.

John Force. Photo: NHRA

He has plenty of motivation:

* He’s a three-time winner at the suburban Chicago track. His last win at Route 66 was in 2006. He’s also made a total of six final round appearances, most recently in 2013. He also has been No. 1 qualifier five times in the Windy City.

* He made history at Route 66 in 2000. Just a couple of years after the track opened as the first “stadium” of drag racing, Force won his 86th career race there, overtaking the late Bob Glidden to become the all-time winningest driver in NHRA history.

* Old World Industries, parent company of Peak Coolant and Motor Oil, the primary sponsor on Force’s Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car, is headquartered in suburban Chicago and Force will be hosting several hundred guests from the company over the weekend. Force recently signed a three-year contract extension with the company, meaning he’ll be racing until at least he’s 73 years old.

I’m going to be racing for awhile,” Force told NBC Sports. “I’m excited about coming back to Chicago. I won a lot of races there, won my 86th there and set a record. Now I’m trying to set 150. I struggled last year with the car, we got into trouble, couldn’t get out of it, came around and finished in the top 10. This year was a new start with a new team and we’re doing good. We’re not getting the wins but it’s going to happen.

The old days where I’d go out and win 12, 13 races out of 24 in a season, them days are gone. The competition is too tough. My own driver (son-in-law and John Force Racing president) Robert Hight has taken me out three times (in semifinal matches) this year and once in the final at Charlotte. These guys are tough, so it ain’t going to be like the old days. You can’t sleep, you have to stay focused.”

Force’s most recent championship – a record-setting 16th – came in 2013. And while he continues to chase his 17th crown, the king of the quartermile is confident it’s just a matter of time, perhaps in this case a matter of mere days this weekend, until he finally captures No. 150.

It’s no more of a struggle than to get (win number) 148 or 149,” Force said. “I’m driving Courtney’s race car (daughter Courtney Force stepped away from racing before this season began), brought over my son-in-law Danny Hood (daughter Ashley Force’s husband) and Brian Corradi (as co-crew chiefs). It’s a good race car. We were No. 1 qualifier at Richmond but couldn’t get the win there, but it’s starting to show promise and we’ll see where it goes.”

Even though he’s older than every one of his competitors, and is also doing battle with several drivers that are a third of his age, Force says his love for the sport and the competition keeps him young. But he humorously admits he’s had to make at least a few adjustments to keep up with Father Time.

Like wearing glasses nearly full-time for the first time in his life.

I don’t want to say I look like a nerd because that’s not politically correct,” he said with a laugh, and continuing with a chuckle by adding, “I’m going to look a little strange when I come in wearing glasses, but I’m strange looking anyways, so it don’t matter.”

When – not if – Force captures that 150th win, what will be his next goal? Can he reach 175 wins or maybe even 200, even though he’d likely be closing in on 90 years old by then?

I set a goal years ago that I was going to catch (Richard) Petty’s 200 wins, and now Kyle Busch has caught him,” Force said. “But I still set goals. I’ve been chasing guys like (Don) Prudhomme, (Big Daddy Don) Garlits and (Kenny) Bernstein my whole life. It ain’t about them, it’s about goal-setting that makes you strive to get there.

I don’t even tell people my age anymore. I feel like I’m going on 100. I came over here when race cars had wooden wheels, but I love what I do.”

I don’t even tell people my age anymore. I feel like I’m going on 100. I came over here when race cars had wooden wheels, but I love what I do.

Force struggled to a ninth-place finish in last year’s standings. To say the least, it was an explosive season but for all the wrong reasons, most notably experiencing four motor explosions – two of which put him into the hospital for at least a few hours of observation and examination.

Through the first eight races of the 24-race 2019 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, the start for Force this season has been much better. That’s why he’s so optimistic that No. 150 is right around the corner. Then, once he gets that monkey off his back, it’ll be on to No. 151.

Is 150 a monkey on your back? Yeah, but I don’t let that stuff bother me,” Force said. “I don’t think about it. I’ll get it sooner or later, unless I have a heart attack – and that could happen, I just hope it don’t happen on the racetrack.

I just had a complete physical and my health is good, heart checks out, I can do treadmills. For my age, they’re amazed. They say just keep doing what you’re doing.

We got snake-bit last year. Our engine program, it wasn’t the tuner’s fault, it was some things they had changed and it snake-bit us and we couldn’t stop it. We looked so many places and created things in the motor to make it stronger, and it made things worse.

All of a sudden, just everything went wrong. This year, I made some changes. We’re back on track, we’re going to go down this road, we have some new sponsors. Everything is changing, but change is good. We just have to figure out how to win – and we’re going to.

Bottom line, we keep putting ourselves in a position to win. I’m getting more confident every week. I’m using every trick I’ve got to run with these kids but it’s gonna happen.”

NOTES: Qualifying begins with two rounds Friday night (6:15 and 8:45 p.m. CT). The final two rounds of qualifying are Saturday (3:30 and 6 p.m. CT). Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2