Friday, February 21, 2014
PHOENIX (AP) — John Force has three grandchildren and will hit retirement age in three months.
Put him in the cockpit of a Funny Car and it's like he has taken a dip in the pool from "Cocoon."
"People joke about my age and senior discounts at Marie Callender and all that, but I put on this fire suit and I'm 24 years old again — Superman," Force said as he gets ready for this weekend's NHRA races at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler. "Laugh at me all you want. I can still get it done."
He sure can.
At the age of 64, Force is drag racing's force of nature.
A high school quarterback who lost every game he started — 0-27 — he has become one of the most dominating drivers in any motorsport, winning 139 races and 16 NHRA titles, both records.
Force has shown that age hasn't slowed him down any, backing up his 2013 championship by winning the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., racing to an elapsed-time national record of 3.965 seconds two weeks ago.
The frenetic energy that took him into racing in 1979 hasn't waned, allowing him to still blow past the competition at more than 320 mph at an age when most race-car drivers are long retired or talking into a microphone.
"I can come to the track and be tired and mentally wrong, and all of a sudden fans start cheering, little kids run up to you and it gets you going," Force said. "It's just what I love to do. I wonder sometimes if the light is ever going to burn out. I'll have days where I crawl out of bed and it's, oh, man, I can't keep doing this, then I'll get to that race track and I change."
It hasn't always been easy.
In 2007, Force wondered if he could continue racing after Eric Medlen, a driver for John Force Racing, died in a testing crash. Force nearly had racing taken away from him later that year, when a 300 mph accident in Dallas had doctors telling him he'd have to relearn how to walk and that racing was out of the question.
Not one to be told he couldn't do something, Force worked his way back into racing and toward making cars safer to prevent accidents like the one that took Medlen's life.
Force won the next year to extend his streak of at least one win to 22 seasons, then followed his first winless campaign with his 15th Funny Car championship in 2010.
Finances became a road block for Force last season, when he learned two major sponsors would be leaving at the end of 2014.
Undeterred by an uncertain future, he went to work on the track, earning his 16th title, one he hopes will open doors to new sponsors and prove to everyone that this old dog can still drive like a young pup.
"The win was key and to go into this season with a championship and No. 1 on my race car is showing corporate that I'm still alive," Force said. "I'm no young kid, but I can still get the job done. That championship last year, probably the most important in my career if I'm going to continue in this sport."
It certainly doesn't appear Force will slow down anytime soon.
The Winternationals marked his sixth straight final dating to last season and he still has that unmatched ability to hit that throttle just a little quicker than the other guy when the starting-line Christmas tree lights green.
"This isn't NASCAR where you have to drive three or four hours around in a circle," Force said. "This is drag racing, where you've got to be at the peak of your game right when that Christmas tree comes down. I've been driving these things longer than anyone; no one has driven a Funny Car as long as John Force has. In that period of time, I joked that I could drive it blindfolded. I may try that sometime."
Chances are, he'd probably win that, too.