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

1 Comment

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

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

NHRA
Leave a comment

There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

Follow @JerryBonkowski