No one can ever claim John Force is washed up.
Even after nearly 40 years and 16 NHRA championships, Force, 67, can still wheel a Funny Car with the best of them.
He proved that Sunday afternoon at zMax Dragway, winning the NHRA Carolina Nationals – the first race in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship – for his record 146th career event title.
“I ain’t great, but I’m good … and when I’m on my game, I can win,” said Force, who has now recorded at least one career win in every NHRA event. “I’ve got a race car now that I can race with.
“It’s been a great day for me. I’m 67 years old, but so’s Trump (actually 70), and Hillary’s older than that (she’s 68). What I’m saying is I can do this job, I love it and want to be a part of it. The day I can’t do it right, I’ll walk away.”
Force climbed from eighth to third in the Funny Car points with Sunday’s win, just 50 points behind Ron Capps (2,194-2,144), with reigning series champ Del Worsham second with 2,152.
Force edged out top qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final, overcoming his 0.027-seconds advantage in reaction time with a pass of 3.946 seconds at 324.05 mph.
Johnson – who advanced to the final by beating Bob Gilbertson, Matt Hagan and Worsham – made his final pass in 3.987 seconds at 315.71 mph, after coming off the start line first with a 0.032-second reaction time, compared to Force’s 0.059.
“Tommy was flying all weekend and outran us, but I was right in the hunt with him,” said Force, who beat Dave Richards, Tim Wilkerson and Capps to advance to the final. “At the end of the day, it was just a fight and we got the win.”
Sunday’s other winners
Antron Brown: Won his fifth career Top Fuel title at zMax Dragway, his fifth race this season and the 59th of his career (42nd in Top Fuel), beating top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final with a 3.763-second pass at 319.29 mph.
Jason Line: Beat teammate Greg Anderson in an all-KB Racing final for his eighth Pro Stock division title of the season and 45th of his career. Line won with a pass of 6.621 seconds at 209.39 mph to give his Mooresville-based team its 15th win in 19 events in 2016.
Chip Ellis: Stunned reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle division champ and 2016 points leader Andrew Hines in the final, posting his first win of 2016 with a 6.879-second pass at 194.88 mph. It was Ellis’ seventh career NHRA victory, and his first since 2008.
▪ Cameron Ferre, of Huntington Beach, California, made his first career Top Fuel start a memorable one, beating eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher – fourth in points entering the Countdown’s first event – in the opening round of eliminations Sunday. But he failed to come to the line for the second-round race against Pat Dakin.
▪ Australian driver Wayne Newby also played spoiler in the Top Fuel division, not once but twice. Newby beat Shawn Langdon (seventh in points) in the first round, then upset Steve Torrence (third in points) in the second round. He was eliminated by Kalitta in the semifinals.
▪ In addition to the upsets by Ferre and Newby, several other Countdown drivers lost in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations, hurting their championship hopes. Dakin upset J.R. Todd (sixth in points) in Top Fuel; part-timer John Bojec stunned Alexis DeJoria (10th in points) in Funny Car; and Karen Stoffer upset Eddie Krawiec (second in points), Steve Johnson knocked off Jerry Savoie (fourth) and Jim Underdahl beat Matt Smith (ninth) in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
▪ Other division event winners were Canada’s Shawn Cowie (Top Alcohol Dragster), D.J. Cox Jr. of Whiteford, Md. (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Doug Doll Jr. of Lancaster, Pa. (Competition Eliminator), Peter Blondo of Maspeth, N.Y. (Super Stock), C.J. McDonald of Carthage (Stock Eliminator), Ray Miller Jr. of Spring City, Tenn. (Super Comp), Jason Lynch of Pleasant View, Tenn. (Super Gas), Canada’s Gerald Milette (Top Sportsman), Bob Mandell III of Culleoka, Tenn. (Top Dragster), and Bob Rahaim of Grosse Pointe, Mich. (Pro Modified).
▪ The NHRA teams will move on to Madison, Ill., for the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park. Qualifying rounds will be Friday and Saturday, with eliminations next Sunday.
They said it
“I’m dreamin’ right now. Somebody needs to come pinch me. But I know I’m not dreaming, because (John) Force kissed me. I still smell him on my cheek.” – Brown.
“I took my son (Jack) to ride in this Corvette, and we probably got it up to some illegal speed. He just looked at me and said, ‘I can’t stop smiling and I don’t know why.’ It was the greatest thing, but right now I know why I’m smiling.” – Line.
“I had my daughter with me this weekend, and she was servicing the clutch every round. Every time she comes to a race and services the clutch on that motorcycle, we (win) a round. So McKenzie, you’re not going to school anymore.” – Ellis.