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

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
Leave a comment

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter