Age just a number: At 70, John Force ready to win 17th Funny Car crown

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It’s a funny thing what a boost in job security can do for someone.

Just hours after it was announced Monday that legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force had agreed to a new multi-year contract extension with Chevrolet, Force and his Camaro went out and won the biggest race of the NHRA season, the 65th Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

“I want to thank Chevrolet and everyone who has faith in John Force Racing,” Force said in a media release. “I’ve got a job to do and that’s to win and sell Chevrolet cars and trucks.

“They want winners and I told them we’d give it everything we’ve got and that’s all you can do.”

And that’s what Force went on to do later in the day, giving the bow tie company its first Funny Car crown at Indianapolis since 2005. Could a Funny Car championship be not too far behind?

But Monday’s announcement and subsequent win isn’t just about keeping the Chevy millions flowing in the coffers of both Force and John Force Racing for the next several years. Rather, it was a confirmation that Chevy believes the ageless – but in reality, 70-year-old – Force is still viable, still competitive and, most importantly, still has the potential to win championships.

“I’m the oldest guy to ever win (the U.S. Nationals in Funny Car),” an extremely excited and animated Force told Fox Sports after climbing out of his race car. “That goes to show you, get off that couch, get a life, don’t let anybody tell you you’re already dead. I was dead 20 years ago and I’m alive! We got it, we won Indy at 70!”

Later, after reigning in his emotions and visiting the media center, Force talked more about winning Indy and what it means.

“Someday I’ve got to go out that door, and I’ve said two things: It would sure be nice to win a championship and it would sure be nice to win Indy one more time,” Force said. “This race really meant a lot. I didn’t think I would ever get the chance again and I didn’t think I could be that good with the right team that supported me.

“Racing is what I love to do and I love it so much. Winning Indy, it’s the biggest thing on my bucket list. I never thought I would get the chance again no matter how good I was. This was a big moment for me.”

Photo: NHRA

When the Southern California native won his 16th and most recent championship in 2013, he became the oldest Funny Car champion in NHRA history. He followed that up with a runner-up finish in the 2014 season, and earned multiple wins – four to be precise – as recently as 2016.

But since then, Force has admittedly struggled. He managed just one win in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons and his championship hopes faded early in the playoffs each season. While it’s hard not to think that Force will always be a force, no pun intended, in both races and championship battles, there was a growing concern among some that maybe Force’s viability and winning and championship potential had not just slowed down, but maybe reached its end.

Force’s long-time sponsors, Castrol Motor Oil and Ford both parted ways with him after the 2014 runner-up season. It was the scariest time of Force’s career, as he had no idea where his next dollar would come from or much of his four-car race team, as well as if he himself might be forced into involuntary retirement.

That’s when Chevrolet stepped in with a five-year partnership to start the 2015 season, reuniting with Force after a nearly 20-year separation, along with primary sponsorship coming aboard from Peak Lubricants, which gave Force a lifetime contract. Those two elements not only saved John Force Racing, they particularly saved John Force, racer.

Now, with the way the 2019 season has unfolded, you can throw any doubt about Force and what he still can do out the window. He’s enjoying not only his best season since 2016, he enters the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs ranked No. 2, right behind son-in-law and John Force Racing president Robert Hight, who has been having his own monstrous season.

And as the NHRA leaves Indianapolis and heads to Reading, Pennsylvania in two weeks to begin the Countdown, if any Funny Car driver, opposing team owner, reporter or fan had already counted out Force just because he’s 70, they will be sadly mistaken.

“This is just incredible that someone my age could do this again,” Force said after Monday’s final round win. “Don’t let anybody tell you you’re too old. Get up and stay alive, keep moving. I’m trying to fight the old man every day. You know I started hearing ‘you’re 70, this thing is over’ and it’s really true, it’s how bad you want it.”

Force obviously wants it bad, real bad. He’s driving with an attitude and performance that is classic John. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say Force is driving as good as he was 20 years ago … well, at least as good as he was in 2016 or 2014 or even 2013.

While he’ll be in a real dogfight with his son-in-law Hight – it should be interesting how Christmas dinner with the family will be this year if one denies the other the championship – Force definitely seems up for the challenge.

He needs six strong performances in the playoffs. Or at the very least, six consistent performances. But given that Hight has won five of the first 18 races, Force is going to have to give everything he can to win championship No. 17.

Or maybe Force could always threaten Hight with being fired if he doesn’t let the boss win. But that’s another story for another day.

The reality is after not having won at Indianapolis since 2002, Force finally did so in his 40th appearance at the sport’s so-called “Big Go” on Monday, passing Don “Snake” Prudhomme and tying him with former racer Ed “Ace” McCulloch for most Funny Car wins (five) at the U.S. Nationals.

Photo: NHRA

Force (3.919 seconds at 324.44 mph) defeated the race’s No. 1 qualifier, “Fast Jack” Beckman (3.940 seconds at 325.42 mph) in the final round Monday to take home the “Wally” winner’s trophy.

“Racing is what I love to do,” Force said after that race. “Winning Indy is the biggest thing on my bucket list and I never thought I’d get the chance again.”

One month ago (in Seattle), Force achieved yet another milestone by earning the 150th national event win of his career. Monday, he started on his next 150 wins. And even though he’s now a septuagenarian, and given his personality and youthful exuberance, it would not be surprising to see Force race another 30 years and make it to 300 wins.

“This is a big moment for me. I’m having an emotional day because I won Indy,” Force said. “I owe this sport for so much. I love NHRA that has given me so much. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, you do it because you love it and I love it and when you don’t do good you do the best you can. This race really meant a lot to my girls, to my grandkids, a lot of my family was here.

“There are a lot of guys with a lot more talent than me. They just don’t have a race car with the money and the right crew chief, Brian Corradi, Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi. I just happen to be one of the lucky ones,” Force continued. “I’m racing guys that are young. You know, I just love these people. Beckman, this guy’s the best out here on the tree. Robert Hight, I can’t beat him but he smoked the tires (in their quarterfinal matchup Monday). It’s just like somebody wanted me to win this race.”

NOTES: The NHRA national tour is off this weekend, preparing for the start of the Countdown, September 12-15, with the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Penn.

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65th Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals statistics:

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Billy Torrence; 3. Antron Brown; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Shawn Reed; 6. Brittany Force; 7. Mike Salinas; 8. Steve Torrence; 9. Clay Millican; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Jordan Vandergriff; 12. T.J. Zizzo; 13. Richie Crampton; 14. Wayne Newby; 15. Scott Palmer; 16. Leah Pritchett.

FUNNY CAR: 1. John Force; 2. Jack Beckman; 3. J.R. Todd; 4. Matt Hagan; 5. Bob Tasca III; 6. Ray Martin; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Robert Hight; 9. Jonnie Lindberg; 10. Paul Lee; 11. Ron Capps; 12. Tim Wilkerson; 13. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 14. Bob Bode; 15. Justin Schriefer; 16. Cruz Pedregon.

PRO STOCK: 1. Alex Laughlin; 2. Erica Enders; 3. Jason Line; 4. Deric Kramer; 5. Bo Butner; 6. Greg Anderson; 7. Jeg Coughlin; 8. Val Smeland; 9. Kenny Delco; 10. Chris McGaha; 11. Richard Freeman; 12. Steve Graham; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 16. Matt Hartford.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Andrew Hines; 3. Matt Smith; 4. Eddie Krawiec; 5. Hector Arana Jr; 6. Joey Gladstone; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Karen Stoffer; 9. Angelle Sampey; 10. Steve Johnson; 11. Ryan Oehler; 12. Cory Reed; 13. Chris Bostick; 14. Hector Arana; 15. Kelly Clontz; 16. Angie Smith.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, 4.144 seconds, 212.43 mph def. Billy Torrence, 4.220 seconds, 206.01 mph.

FUNNY CAR: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.919, 324.44 def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.940, 325.92.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.648, 207.43 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.773, 206.80.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.851, 195.25 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.721, 330.07 def. Clay Millican, 3.721, 324.59; Shawn Reed, 3.772, 320.51 def. Leah Pritchett, 20.604, 20.91; Antron Brown, 3.723, 328.22 def. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.790, 322.50; Brittany Force, 3.701, 327.66 def. T.J. Zizzo, 3.801, 323.12; Billy Torrence, 3.731, 326.87 def. Wayne Newby, 5.401, 129.16; Steve Torrence, 3.734, 326.71 def. Terry McMillen, 3.781, 325.85; Mike Salinas, 3.714, 328.94 def. Scott Palmer, 8.232, 89.44; Austin Prock, 3.712, 330.15 def. Richie Crampton, 4.933, 142.70;  QUARTERFINALS — B. Torrence, 3.719, 327.11 def. Reed, 3.761, 323.27; Prock, 3.948, 304.39 def. Salinas, 4.082, 222.62; Kalitta, 3.757, 327.98 def. Force, 3.761, 322.19; Brown, 3.785, 323.58 def. S. Torrence, 4.772, 111.45; SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.766, 328.22 def. Prock, 8.991, 80.92; B. Torrence, 3.757, 324.44 def. Brown, 4.768, 156.06;  FINAL — Kalitta, 4.144, 212.43 def. B. Torrence, 4.220, 206.01.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.891, 326.48 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.438, 193.65; John Force, Camaro, 3.858, 329.58 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.943, 323.19; Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.892, 329.02 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, Broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.899, 328.86 def. Justin Schriefer, Charger, Broke; Ray Martin, Toyota Camry, 3.979, 323.04 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.097, 270.86; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.918, 326.56 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, Foul – Centerline; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.895, 328.70 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 9.686, 88.23; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.870, 327.82 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.017, 316.38; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.900, 329.10 def. Martin, 4.256, no speed; Hagan, 3.939, 320.89 def. Langdon, 12.468, 68.70; Force, 3.913, 326.95 def. Hight, 13.016, 71.18; Beckman, 3.922, 325.61 def. Tasca III, 3.943, 326.95; SEMIFINALS — Force, 3.940, 330.88 def. Hagan, 13.019, 75.31; Beckman, 4.065, 250.09 def. Todd, 4.547, 193.71;  FINAL — Force, 3.919, 324.44 def. Beckman, 3.940, 325.92.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.600, 208.30 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.656, 207.59; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.613, 207.53 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.614, 208.65; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.593, 209.04 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.677, 208.23; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.603, 207.15 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.633, 207.53; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.579, 209.56 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.653, 203.92; Val Smeland, Camaro, 7.176, 166.64 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 7.684, 132.48; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.598, 209.20 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.597, 207.56 def. Richard Freeman, Ford Mustang, 6.627, 208.04; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.622, 207.88 def. Smeland, 12.152, 72.15; Kramer, 6.597, 209.17 def. Butner, 6.617, 208.71; Enders, 6.609, 207.94 def. Anderson, 6.617, 209.07; Line, 6.597, 209.14 def. Coughlin, 6.623, 208.04; SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.627, 207.56 def. Line, 6.617, 209.30; Laughlin, 6.619, 207.59 def. Kramer, 12.603, 70.36; FINAL — Laughlin, 6.648, 207.43 def. Enders, 6.773, 206.80.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.847, 195.36 def. Ryan Oehler, 6.998, 192.66; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.908, 194.44 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.924, 191.67; Scotty Pollacheck, 7.038, 190.51 def. Angie Smith, 8.065, 122.43; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.917, 193.93 def. Hector Arana, 7.102, 194.10; Joey Gladstone, 7.037, 189.02 def. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Hector Arana Jr, 6.926, 194.30 def. Cory Reed, 7.029, 190.54; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.866, 195.14 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.173, 186.02; Matt Smith, 6.892, 196.59 def. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 7.043, 185.59; QUARTERFINALS — Krawiec, 6.932, 194.63 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; M. Smith, 6.883, 196.82 def. Stoffer, Foul – Centerline; Hines, 6.872, 195.82 def. Pollacheck, 7.029, 191.92; Savoie, 6.847, 195.08 def. Gladstone, 6.997, 191.46; SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.914, 195.14 def. M. Smith, 6.933, 195.93; Savoie, 6.864, 194.91 def. Krawiec, 6.941, 194.55; FINAL — Savoie, 6.851, 195.25 def. Hines, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS (Points will be re-set for Countdown):

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,742; 2. Doug Kalitta, 1,184; 3. Antron Brown, 1,109; 4. Brittany Force, 1,108; 5. Mike Salinas, 1,071; 6. Clay Millican, 1,058; 7. Leah Pritchett, 957; 8. Austin Prock, 931; 9. Richie Crampton, 842; 10. Billy Torrence, 819.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 1,481; 2. John Force, 1,376; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,269; 4. Jack Beckman, 1,259; 5. Ron Capps, 1,234; 6. Matt Hagan, 1,165; 7. Bob Tasca III, 1,116; 8. J.R. Todd, 1,095; 9. Shawn Langdon, 997; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 863.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 969; 2. Alex Laughlin, 967; 3. Jason Line, 906; 4. Greg Anderson, 884; 5. Erica Enders, 853; 6. Deric Kramer, 818; 7. Matt Hartford, 809; 8. Jeg Coughlin, 745; 9. Chris McGaha, 630; 10. Val Smeland, 429.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 1,126; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 882; 3. Matt Smith, 839; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 743; 5. Jerry Savoie, 551; 6. Karen Stoffer, 527; 7. Angie Smith, 474; 8. Angelle Sampey, 462; 9. Ryan Oehler, 458; 10. Hector Arana, 449.

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WATCH: Red Bull F1 team completes pit stop in zero gravity

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The Red Bull Racing pit crew may have already made headlines last weekend when it completed the fastest pit stop in Formula One history, changing Max Verstappen’s tires in 1.82 seconds, but the team’s most recent stunt took their skills to new heights – quite literally.

With the help of the Russian Space agency Roscomos, a group of the team’s mechanics completed the world’s first zero-gravity pit stop, on-board a IIyushin II-76K cosmonaut training plane.

Using a 2005 BR1, the team filmed the viral video over the course of a week, enduring seven flights and about 80 parabolas – periods in which the plane climbs 45 degrees before falling again at a ballistic arch of 45 degrees, creating a period of weightlessness for approximately 22 seconds.

With such a short time frame between weightlessness periods, the car and equipment had to be both quickly and safely secured before gravity once again took effect. Each filming lasted roughly 15 seconds, and the stunt was the most physically and technically demanding activity the live demo team had ever undertaken.

“It pushed us harder than I thought it would,” said Red Bull Support Team Mechanic Joe Robinson. “You realize how much you rely on gravity when you don’t have any!

“It challenges you to think and operate in a different way – and that was brilliant. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and honestly, I could have stayed and done it all month. It was amazing. I think it’s the coolest, most fun thing the Live Demo team has ever done with a show car.”

Though Red Bull was the first team to perform a pit stop in zero gravity, surprisingly Red Bull was not the first team to put a car through zero gravity. In 1999, McLaren driver David Coulthard and his car experienced zero gravity as part of a promotion for then-sponsor West Cigarettes.

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