NHRA legend John Force starts 47th season while openly wondering ‘How far can you go?’

John Force NHRA
Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — “Big Daddy” Don Garlits tried to get NHRA legend John Force into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame years ago. Several times, actually.

Force declined every invitation.

“I kept telling him, ‘There’s other guys that need to go in, and I’ll be around awhile, I hope,’” Force said. “He finally called me and said, ‘You need to go.’”

Force, who will turn 74 in two months, relented and was the headliner of the 2023 class that was formally inducted Thursday night on the eve of the NHRA season. The often-colorful and always chatty Force delivered a nearly 20-minute speech that was as rambling as it was wide-ranging in front of a packed hotel ballroom that included the 91-year-old Garlits.

He promised to finally pay off several outstanding debts from decades ago and said he’s working on getting daughter Courtney back on track. Courtney stepped away from racing in 2019 and has since given birth to two daughters.

“Why am I still doing this at my age? Because I love it,” John Force said.

The 16-time Funny Car champion also made it clear he’s not thinking about retirement as he begins the season-opening Gatornationals this weekend. He even signed a three-year contract extension with Chevrolet and his primary sponsor, Peak, in December.

“How far can you go?” Force told The Associated Press. “I’m 73 now. I want to be respectful to the sport, but I also want to help the sport. I want to help it grow, and it needs some help right now.”

Force remains NHRA’s top promoter and drag racing’s unquestioned spokesman, roles he started to embrace long before his first championship in 1990. He went on to win 15 more, including an unprecedented 10 in a row between 1993 and 2002.

His last title came in 2013, and he hasn’t finished better than fourth over the last eight years. His team skipped most of the 2020 season, but he returned to win in 2021.

But John Force Racing continues to thrive, with daughter Brittany winning her second Top Fuel championship in six seasons in 2022, and teammates Robert Hight and Austin Prock finishing second and third, respectively, in Funny Car and Top Fuel. Hight came up three points shy of winning his fourth title, a number that would tie him with NHRA legends Kenny Bernstein and Don Prudhomme.

Force, meanwhile, is entering his 47th professional NHRA season. He holds nearly every record imaginable, including championships, final rounds (264) and event wins (155).

“Racing is what I do,” Force said. “I didn’t really come for the money or the trophies. I wanted to make a living and I wanted to race. That’s what I get to do. It’s easy for me.”

It’s resulted in now six Hall of Fame inductions, including the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2008, the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at Fort Worth in 2011, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2012, the California Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2019.

“I’ve lived it and I love it. It’s taken care of me and now my family,” said Force, who takes great pride in watching three of his five grandchildren race. “Those kids motivate me. You live through your children. Now I’m living through my grandchildren.”

Eli Tomac wins Seattle Supercross, ties Cooper Webb in championship points


In the past two weeks, Eli Tomac lost his momentum and with it the Monster Energy Supercross red plate to Cooper Webb, but a gutsy performance in Seattle gave him a sixth win of the season as he and the series heads into an off week tied. Tomac is currently tied in the points with Webb.

With this win, Tomac also ties James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list at 50 with six rounds remaining in 2023.

“I needed that bounce back,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “It was almost like I was in a little bit of a slump in the past couple of weeks; just a little bit off. I’m feeling much better now. That track raced really cool. There were a lot of different lines out there.

“It was obviously very dicey early on. I got passed and then had to make those passes back.”

Tomac suffered with a stiff neck in Indianapolis two weeks ago when he lost the red plate to Webb for the first time in 2023. In that race, he scored his worst finish of the season in eighth. He lost more points in Detroit after finishing a distant third behind Chase Sexton and Webb. This is the fifth time this season that Tomac and Webb finished 1-2 in a race. Tomac has won them all, but Webb has been more consistent.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Seattle

Webb was disappointed to lose the ground to Tomac, but he will enter the Glendale, Arizona race with a red plate and a share of the points’ lead.

“It was overall a great night to get up front and get a second was great,” Webb said after the race. “Those few spots where I would get close to Eli and then make a mistake.

“The track was gnarly. It was no joke. It was cat and mouse as to who could ride the cleanest race and pick the line. I got off to a decent start, but Chase and Eli were ahead of me and I had some catchup to play and got into a good position.”

Early in the race, Sexton was indeed ahead of Webb and the remainder of the field. Another costly mistake sent Sexton to the ground. He battled back to finish fifth but is now 22 points out of the lead and in jeopardy of dropping out of championship contention unless Tomac and Webb have problems.

Rounding out the podium was Justin Barcia, who scored the third-place finish on his birthday

“Awesome ride,” Barcia said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m sure we kept the fans on their feet tonight. The track was gnarly. […] We’re searching; we’re so close to having that speed. We want it so badly. We’ll keep pushing hard and going for that win.”

Sexton’s mistake kept the three top points’ earners of 2023 from sharing the podium for the sixth time in 11 rounds, but the trio finished 1-2-3 in Heat 2 with Webb first, Sexton second and Tomac third.

The 250 West contenders were back in action after giving the last four rounds over to the East riders and Jett Lawrence picked up where he left off in Oakland: In Victory Lane. Lawrence scored his fourth win in five 250 West rounds. Last week his brother Hunter Lawrence tied Jett with 10 wins, but everyone knew it would not take long for Jett to regain the advantage.

Between them, the Lawrence brothers have won all but one race each in their respective divisions.

Lawrence rode a patient race in the Main. He settled in behind Stylez Robertson and concentrated on navigating the ruts mistake-free. He could not afford to be patient any longer when Cameron McAdoo caught up to the leaders. Lawrence found a second gear and gapped the battle for second.

An incident in their main made the battle between Lawrence and McAdoo more dramatic. While racing for second, the pair of riders ran out of room in the rhythm section. Both crashed but had a large enough lead over fourth to maintain their positions.

“It was a very eventful day,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’s Daniel Blair, answering a question about the earlier contact. “[…] It’s good to be back racing. It’s been a while. I feel like I’ve had another offseason. Glad to get out in one piece tonight.”

Lawrence now has a 23-point advantage over the field with four rounds remaining.

Click here for full 250 Main Results

RJ Hampshire finished second in his race and is second in the points after a seesaw affair that produced the final pass for position just before the white flag was displayed.

“I felt like I had a pretty good pace going for a little bit,” Hampshire said. “I closed the gap and then had a couple of big mistakes that almost put me on my head. I backed it off a little bit.

“Cam actually gapped me a little more than I would have wanted. I knew I could get a push there at the end. I thought that was the last lap, which is why my pass was a little more aggressive than it should have been, but I’m stoked to be able to close the gap a little bit.”

McAdoo took the final spot on the podium. This is the fourth time in 2023 these three riders have shared the box and if not for a sixth-place finish in Anaheim 2, he would be mounting a much more formidable challenge for the points’ lead.

“The track was really demanding tonight,” McAdoo said. “It did change a lot and the key thing was to get off the rhythms every time. We were swapping back and forth.”

Enzo Lopes in fourth and Max Vohland rounded out the top five.

Robertson had the early lead but when he lost the top spot to Jett he cross rutted on the next lap, crashed hard and failed to finish.

2023 Race Recaps

Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

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