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What goes through your mind when you rocket 146 mph down a drag strip? I did it and asked John Force

A couple of weeks ago I rode along with NASCAR driver Regan Smith at Texas Motor Speedway. He said we went about 140 miles per hour. Sure, it felt fast but it also, surprisingly, didn’t feel all that different than speeding down the interstate.

So speed is speed, right? Wrong.

Thursday — in advance of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at ZMax Dragway in Concord this weekend (April 22-24) — I rode in a dragster.

We hit 146.24 miles per hour, and it was a totally different experience.

Behind the wheel was Douglas Foley, son of Pure Speed Racing president Doug Foley. (I was also behind a wheel, but mine wasn’t attached to anything, thank goodness.)

We traveled 60 feet in 1.332 seconds, an eighth of a mile in 5.858 seconds and the full quarter-mile in 9.189 seconds.

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The force pushed me back in my seat, the roar of the engine filled my ears and the car shook with this barely-restrained power as it rocketed down the track. I remember yelling “Oh shit!” right when we started and after that my brain pretty much shut off.

So afterward, I asked NHRA Funny Car superstar John Force what goes through his head when he flies down the track. Is it normal for the brain to shut off?

“It happens because the brain, after a while, like a boxer, starts slowing down,” he said. “And as it slows down, instead of being in that pure panic and fear, when you get control of emotions you start seeing it. … You’re in a zone.”

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Force, if you don’t know, is kind of big deal and the biggest name in the sport. He’s 66 and has won 16 Funny Car titles. The email that invited me to talk to him described him as the “Michael Jordan of drag racing if MJ were still playing in his mid-60s and had 16 world titles.”

He’s also a talker. During a 20-minute interview, he held court on Superman, religion, movies (he usually goes to the theater two times a week), the Dale Earnhardt T-shirt he was wearing under his fire suit and, oh yeah, racing.

A taste.

On “Superman vs. Batman” *SPOILER ALERT*: “Superman freaked me. And Batman. I was willing to say, no matter what they do, yeah Batman’s gonna come up with a trick and get some of that green shit and screw him up … but Superman will come back and find a way like he always did. But I never realized until I bitched, a guy on the internet said, actually there was a comic book story years ago when Superman disappeared.

“But at the end in the coffin, if you’re really watching like I did the third time I saw it, it’s rising. … Does he really die? … You can’t kill Superman or you kill everything we dream about.”

On his favorite movie he’s seen recently: “I watched ‘Dear John,’ … I watched it about three times. Written by the same lady that wrote the movie with — “Notebook.” Those movies are really personal … you know what I mean? About falling in love. I sat there and I cried and my wife laughs at me.” (“Dear John” and the “The Notebook” were both written by a guy: Nicholas Sparks.)

On Twitter, which he recently joined: “You know how long it takes me to do a Twitter? … What I’ve decided, I’m gonna fix this. Instead of spending an hour typing a little tweet, I’ll just tell them all I have an hour a day, I’ll put my phone number out there and everybody call me. Just call me. And I’ll answer the phone and I’ll give you a 125-letter story.”

On Moses: “The first movie that made a real impact on me, God’s truth, I was probably in eighth grade: ‘The Ten Commandments.’ … Then if you look on the History Channel, and they do this big thing about Moses down on the beach like, ‘I don’t know what the eff to do here, we’re in big trouble and they’re coming,’ and then he looks out and then he gets an idea. The tides are moving.

“There was no waving a wand and, you know, parting the Red Sea. I ain’t saying it ain’t true, but what I’m saying is that the water shifted, that time of year, at certain times of the day, and you could wade across. It ain’t like there was waterfalls as high as Bruton’s building. But I ain’t saying there wasn’t. I’m just saying History Channel, they said it.”

On “Jaws” and surfing: “Here ‘Jaws’ came out and that was the year I went to Australia, 1975. And ‘Jaws’ came out and that’s when I saw the great white, and he does exist and I was a surfer. I don’t go in the water ever since then. I won’t wade in my swimming pool at night.”

I don’t know what all that says about Force, but what happened after our interview spoke volumes.

When a tour bus pulled onto the track, the communications folks tried to hide him, so he wouldn’t get harassed by fans. But when Force saw the bus, he ran over to it, stopped it and took pictures with every single person on it.

Photos: Corey Inscoe. Video: Courtesy of Pure Speed

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