NHRA: John Force begins quest for next 150 wins in this weekend’s U.S. Nationals

NHRA
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Nearly a month ago in Seattle, John Force earned the 150th win of his legendary drag racing career. Much like the 200 NASCAR Cup wins earned by legendary Richard Petty, it’s unlikely anyone will ever break Force’s wins mark.

Except, of course, Force himself. And that’s what he intends on doing this weekend in the biggest race of the season, the NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

Force is going for his fifth career U.S. Nationals win this weekend, having won previously in 1993, 1996, 1998 and most recently 17 years ago in 2002. He’s also qualified No. 1 a record 11 times.

Ironically, he’s been around longer than the race they call the “Big Go” – Force turned 70 in May, while the U.S. Nationals turn 65 years old this weekend (the event runs from August 28-Sept. 2).

“That’s the granddaddy,” Force, a grandfather himself, said of the U.S. Nationals. “That’s where everybody wants to go. Everybody wants to win. I’ve won it a few times, and my daughter, Ashley, won it twice in her Funny Car.

“Indy is always exciting. Extra qualifying run, extra day to be in my Chevy hot rod. No complaints about that. It’s always a good show. It’s the Big Go, the world’s biggest drag race, (and) everyone wants to win it. (Plus), it’s the last chance to claim a spot in the Countdown. It’s intense all the way to the end.

“We’ll see if we can do it again with the Chevrolet Performance car. Indy is always exciting, extra qualifying run, extra day to be in my Chevy Camaro hot rod. No complaints about that. It’s always a good show. It’s the Big Go, the world’s biggest drag race, and everyone wants to win it. It’s intense all the way to the end.”

Given he comes into Indianapolis – the 18th and final race of the regular season – sitting in third-place in the NHRA Funny Car standings, Force is looking to not only earn his sixth win in Indy, but also to kick off the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs on the right foot.

After taking just over a year to earn win No. 150, there’s no disputing what Force wants next: championship No. 17, which would extend his own NHRA record, as well as make him the oldest major class champion in NHRA history.

And the U.S. Nationals couldn’t come at a better time for him and his title hopes. In the first 17 races of 2019, Force has one win, another runner-up finish and has reached the semifinals eight times.

One added incentive not just for Force but for all pro class competitors is that there will be 50 percent more points available than in other national events. In other words, for every point a drag racer earns at other tracks, he/she will earn 1.5 points per every run they make this weekend.

Force is even debuting a brand new race car for the event.

“Indy is special to me because we do a specialty car with Chevrolet Performance,” Force said. “It’s become a bit of a tradition.

“It would be exciting to win, get their specialty scheme in the winner’s circle, but I’d love to win it with any of my teams, Robert Hight with Auto Club, Brittany with Advance (Auto Parts) and Austin Prock with Montana Brand. We’re all Chevy so no matter who wins, it’s a win for Chevy at the biggest race of the season, their race.”

Robert Hight is Force’s son-in-law and also president of John Force Racing. He’s been having a spectacular season to date, with five wins and one other runner-up finish. He just needs to qualify and will have clinched the No. 1 spot heading into the Countdown. That would be the first time in Hight’s career has entered the playoffs No. 1 as he seeks his third career Funny Car championship.

“Robert has a huge lead and I don’t think anybody can catch him,” Force said. “But there’s points-and-a-half at Indy, so I’m not conceding anything. I’ve won it a few times. (Crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Danny Hood and (car chief) Tim Fabrisi have given me a good hot rod so we’ll see if we can win it again.

“I may not be as young as these kids and I may not be a hot shot on the ‘tree anymore. But if you give me a good race car, I can still win and right now I’ve got a race car as good as anyone’s.

“I’ve finally got that monkey off my back (150th win) and I’m ready for the Countdown,” he said. “I’m in the hunt and that’s all I ever wanted to be.”

NOTES: The first of five pro class qualifying sessions is Friday at 7:15 p.m. ET. Two more sessions are on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions are Sunday, Sept. 1 at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 2.

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)