Column: What’s next for John Force? How about another 150 wins?

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John Force can never be accused of not having a flair for the dramatic.

When he first started Funny Car racing in NHRA competition, it took him 10 years before he earned his first win back in 1987 (at Montreal). Back then, people wondered – heck, Force even wondered himself – if he’d ever win even one race before he broke through north of the border.

More recently, Force had to wait more than a year – it probably seemed more like 10 years at times – before the 70-year-old drag racing legend finally broke through Sunday for the milestone 150th Funny Car win of his career in the NHRA Northwest Nationals.

MORE: NHRA: John Force earns milestone 150th career Funny Car win

Sure, every win Force collects – in fact, every win he’s earned since he won No. 36 – he resets the Funny Car career wins national record (35) that was previously set by Don Prudhomme in 1989. So Force has now re-set the record an extra 114 times.

And while Ron Capps, the man Force beat in Sunday’s final round, now is No. 2 on the all-time wins list with 62 victories, and Force’s teammate and president of his racing organization, Robert Hight, earned No. 50 last week in Sonoma, California, there is no disputing who has been, is and always will be drag racing’s greatest driver of all time.

No one will ever come close.

Sure, hitting 150 has been somewhat of a thorn in Force’s side. It’s the most dominant subject reporters have asked him for more than a year, ever since he won No. 149 last year at Denver.

So, when do you think you’re going to get 150, John?”

And seemingly every day, every week and every month since last year at Denver, Force has said basically the same thing every time: he’s got a great team, he’s got a great hot rod and when it’s his time, it’ll finally and truly be his time.

Sunday, it finally was.

Hitting 150 wins is huge. It’s an even greater accomplishment knowing that Force is 70 years old. Sure, he’s not the driver he was in his heyday, when he was earning a record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships or when he’d win six, eight, 10 or more wins in a single season.

But Sunday proved there’s still some kick left in Force’s personal gas tank. By winning, he emphatically locks up his spot in the upcoming six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs. He’s now also third in the Funny Car standings, just 248 points behind Hight and 49 points behind second-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr.

Sunday’s win, perhaps more than anything, gives hope that Force may still have a 17th championship left in him. Sure, he’ll likely have to win at least three or four of the remaining eight races, but now that he has reached that magical, mystical 150 level, anything is possible.

Yes, it took Force 17 years to earn No. 150 after earning No. 100 back in 2002, and 12 years since he earned No. 125 in 2007.

He may be older, but he’s not slower by any means. And he’s still as hungry for a win as he was when he took home his first “Wally” (NHRA winner’s trophy) at Montreal 32 years ago.

I’ve known Force for well over 30 years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned far and away about the Southern California native is never, ever rule him out.

EVER.

Force has always been a creature of momentum. One win has oftentimes turned into multiple wins.

And now, with 150, Force could very easily ride another wave of momentum not only into the playoffs, but also right to the championship.

So you can see why, as frustratingly long as it took for him to reach Sunday’s milestone, now he can move forward, not having to worry any more about answering when he’ll finally earn win No. 150.

Now he can start worrying about having to answer when he’ll finally earn win No. 151.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”