BRISTOL, TN ---- John Force continued to rewrite the record books winning for the 135th time in his Funny Car career today. This is the 26th season the 15-time NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car champion has won at least one race in a season. Force defeated daughter Courtney Force, Matt Hagan, Blake Alexander and Cruz Pedregon on the way to his fourth Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Ford Dealers victory. This was Force’s fifth win at Bristol Dragway. He also won the inaugural race, the 1999 Winston Showdown, when he defeated Bob Vandergriff’s Top Fuel dragster and collected $210,000 for the win and being No. 1 qualifier at that race.

On a day when his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was the quickest Funny Car in every round Force was unstoppable. Conditions we comparable to Saturdays qualifying sessions and Force took advantage running 4.125, 4.167, 4.117 and 4.148 seconds in the final. His race day average ET was 4.139 seconds. His reaction times were equally as devastating: .092 vs. Courtney Force, .036 vs. Matt Hagan, .080 vs. Blake Alexander, and .061 vs. Cruz Pedregon.

In the final round Force had lane choice and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was set up for another great run. The Mike Neff tuned Mustang Funny Car did not disappoint as Force flew down the right lane in 4.148 seconds at 305.29 mph. Cruz Pedregon’s Snap-On Toyota was beside him until about 600 feet when Force surged ahead of a slowing Pedregon.

“We have qualified good 1-2-3 in Topeka and we got asked if we were ready to win and we weren’t quite there yet. Everything is coming together. You can see what (Castrol GTX crew chief) Mike Neff and the other crew chiefs are doing.  This is the car he almost won the championship in. He was just a couple of rounds out on the last day of the season. When Neff tells me it is time I’ll be ready. He gave me a good race car today,” said the four-time Ford Thunder Valley Nationals winner.

“A good race car gives you confidence.  You get that and you get natural on the tree. My lights were all good today I am starting to come around. That is all I want to do is earn the right to be out here.”

This was the first time Force has faced Pedregon in the final since they raced in Bristol in 2007. Force won that race as well and won here again three years later in 2010 beating Tim Wilkerson in the final. Force is 16-8 in final rounds versus Pedregon and for his career he is 60-28 against the two-time Mello Yello NHRA Funny Car champion.

Force’s last win was the 2012 NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. It has been 31 races since that win. Last year in Top Fuel seven-time champion Tony Schumacher snapped a 32 race winless streak at this event.

“I am going after (Richard) Petty’s 200 (wins) if I don’t fall over before then. It is all the race car that they give you. We have been struggling with chassis changes. I never cry about it. I want to wait until it performs. We have been working on our motor program,” said Force.

“I really thought Courtney was going to take me out in the first round. Her Traxxas car has been flying.  It is all in the teamwork. I told Cruz at the other end after he said, ‘Hey the old man is still here.’ I said, ‘Yep at least I still get to play with ya’ll.’ That is why I get excited about this. If you can’t compete you get mentally out of it and I don’t allow that. It is a great day and to have my wife here and my kids on Father’s Day,” said Force.

“Laurie gave me a card this morning that said, ‘Don’t tell Courtney but I hope you win. Love, Laurie.’ That was like Mother Teresa fixed my car. She (Laurie) is a saint in our family. Laurie is the one that hold everything together. You guys don’t know it but I am really a mess. This is great to win here. So many fans wanted me to win here and today on Father’s Day. Last year and the year before I had a couple times it looked like I was going to rock and roll  and I failed. These fans get on you and they expect it since we have all these championships and wins. They don’t want to hear about your problems.”

“This is pretty cool in Bristol. The people we have lost over the years that have run this track. I am not going to try and get anybody emotional. These were my friends and they always said we would get back to winning. It has been 31 races. They were print up t-shirts that said John Force: Extinct. It would have been a big seller.”

With the win Force secured his spot in the 2nd annual Traxxas Shootout and Shawn Adams from Roanoke, Virginia won a 55” flat screen compliments of BrandSource and the Win with Force promotion.

“We haven’t won a championship and we haven’t made the Countdown but we made the Traxxas Shootout. That is pretty cool since that is my bosses program. Mike Jenkins is the Traxxas president,” said Force who won the inaugural specialty race last season.

In the opening round 15-time Funny Car champion John Force had one of his toughest opponents in the lane beside him, second year driver and daughter Courtney Force.  In their previous four meetings she had trailered the winningest driver in NHRA three times. Their Mustang Funny Cars were the class of the field in three of the four qualifying sessions recording the quickest runs of the session but inexplicably they faced each other in the first round since John Force was the No. 6 qualifier and Courtney was the No. 11 qualifier. The lone round where they were not tops of the category was the night session on Friday.

The first round match-up was tough but exciting race for the youngest Force, the 2013 Winternationals winner and the 2012 Road to the Future Awards winner.

“I was pumped up and excited. We had fun going up there and I messed with him on the light; tried to throw him off his game a little bit, but it’s all in good fun. I’ve grown up watching him race and it’s just really cool having him in the lane next to me, especially on Father’s Day. I was hoping his present would be to watch be go on and take home a trophy at the end of the day, but he took that present away and got the win himself,” said Force.

Despite her .088 reaction time to his .092 and the great race they gave the fans, it was just short of a round win and she gave her father one of the best Father’s Day presents he could ask for.

“It was a really close race. I didn’t even see him out my window. I thought I had the win light, but I’m happy for him. He needs those points too. We’re all fighting to get in the top ten and stay in. I wanted to win, but I guess it’s a good Father’s Day present for him,” said Force.

In one of the closest races in the first round, father defeated daughter on Father’s Day by .003 seconds. Courtney’s time was the second quickest Funny Car ET of the first round. For the second race in a row the Traxxas Mustang was solid on race day but did not advance to the quarterfinals.

In the second round two of the most recent Mello Yello world champions faced off with 2010 champ Force having lane choice over 2011 champ Matt Hagan. Force took a sizable starting line advantage to win the round outrunning Hagan 4.167 to 4.195.

“There are a lot of fathers out here. I haven’t been able to plug my sponsors in a while so I want to thank Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, Traxxas Mac Tools, and BrandSource for helping keep this machine going,” said Force from the top end after beating Hagan. “I have a good hot rod that is making me look good. I am trying to steal everything I can off that tree and beat these young kids.”

In the semi-finals Force faces upstart Blake Alexander for the second time this season. In Houston Force defeated the young driver from Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia in the first round.  Today Force and his Mike Neff tuned Castrol GTX Mustang made the quickest run of the day a blistering 4.117 second run as Alexander made a very strong 4.199 second pass.   

“You look over in that other lane and you see that young kid over there. He is doing what he loves to do. I am still loving it and I hope he loves it as much as I do now. I have a good race car and Mike Neff and my team is doing a great job,” said Force after the semi-final win. “Everyone at John Force Racing has been helping out and we haven’t won anything yet. We are up against Cruz but this ain’t 1992 so I am coming after him with a different attitude. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully we’ll get the win and if we don’t we still have a good race car.”

“That was a neat race. Alexander is me thirty years ago. Maybe forty years ago except he is way cuter. This is a great sport and I really love it. The kid out there he got out of the car and I know how bad he wants to win. I was a bridesmaid a hundred times it seemed. He has forty years ahead of him. He will be there trust me. That is what our sport is all about. That kid has a big future. He is young and is loving it,” said an impressed Force.

“He is very respectful and at the top end he said ‘Good job.’ and that is the guy that will beat you.  He isn’t crying about something that went wrong or that he got cheated or his lane was bad. All he said was good job because he already thinking about how he was going to win the next one. That is what makes champions. It was Austin Coil that helped build that character in me. That is what I am trying to teach my kids. The losing is the part that guts you inside. It makes you want it. Some guys come out and win and they are over it. You have to earn this feeling and it is a great feeling.  It is a great day for the Force family and to win on Father’s Day.”

Brittany Force had one of her most successful outings of her rookie season this weekend qualifying in the top half of the field and then advancing to her second quarterfinals in a row.

In the second round she also raced Spencer Massey for the second race in a row. She had lane choice due to her quicker elapsed time in her win over J.R. Todd.

In the second round Force left with Massey and her Castrol EDGE dragster was side by side with Massey’s Battery Extender Powered by Schumacher dragster until the finish line. Massey’s winning time was 3.864 to Force’s 3.871 seconds.

“We went out second round against Spencer Massey for the second race in a row, so I’m going to really come after him next time we run him,” said Force. “He’s a great guy and a great competitor. He came up to me before and after our run.”

“We got those two extra points in qualifying and to go past first round is good for the Castrol EDGE team. This moves us up in the points. We’re getting up there and I want to get into the top ten. That’s our goal and we’re working that way.”

Todd was filling in for the injured Brandon Bernstein behind the wheel of the Protect the Harvest/MavTV dragster. This was the first meeting between Force and Todd and with the round win Force moved up to No. 12 in the Mello Yello point standings around veteran David Grubnic.

Even though Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang were the No. 16 qualifier, that position was not a true reflection of the performance capabilities of their 10,000 horsepower Funny Car. In the opening round of eliminations Hight’s Auto Club Mustang was out in front of No. 1 qualifier Del Worsham and he was pulling away. Unfortunately he had too much power for the Bristol Dragway track and he smoked the tires as Worsham moved around him, also hazing his Goodyear tires to get the round win. This was the second time this season Hight has lost to Del Worsham. The last time was in the semi-finals at the NHRA Gatornationals.

“We just couldn’t get a break this weekend. This Auto Club Ford Mustang was charging and it felt pretty good. I thought it was going to go all the way to the finish line. You can’t give a team and driver like that a chance or they will beat you. I am ready to get to the New England Nationals I’ll tell you that much,” said Hight.

* * * *


FUNNY CAR – 1. Matt Hagan, 746; 2. Cruz Pedregon, 730; 3. Johnny Gray, 677; 4. Jack Beckman, 584; 5. Ron Capps, 579; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 571; 7. Courtney Force, Traxxas Ford Mustang, 560; 8. Del Worsham, 557; 9. John Force, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 555; 10. Robert Hight, Auto Club Ford Mustang, 514

TOP FUEL – 1. Tony Schumacher, 802; 2. Shawn Langdon, 801; 3. Spencer Massey, 716; 4. Antron Brown, 660; 5. Khalid alBalooshi, 578; 6. Doug Kalitta, 563; 7. Morgan Lucas, 515; 8. Clay Millican, 473; 9. Steve Torrence, 459; 10. Bob Vandergriff, 448; 11. Brandon Bernstein, 445; 12. Brittany Force, Castrol EDGE dragster, 376

PRO STOCK – 1. Mike Edwards, 921; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 757; 2. Allen Johnson, 757; 4. Erica Enders-Stevens, 687; 5. Jason Line, 657; 6. Shane Gray, 576; 7. Vincent Nobile, 570; 8. Greg Anderson, 528; 9. Roger Brogdon, 501; 10. V Gaines, 467


JOHN FORCE, 64, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

Final Qualifying: 6th at 4.071 seconds, 301.54 mph

Bonus Qualifying Points: +4 (Quickest of Q1 and 3rd quickest of Q3)

Race Results: Beat Courtney Force, Matt Hagan, Blake Alexander, Cruz Pedregon

ROBERT HIGHT, 43, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 16th at 6.849 seconds at 90.78 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0

Race Results: Lost to Del Worsham

COURTNEY FORCE, 24, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 11th at 4.129 seconds, 309.56 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +6 (Quickest of Q3 and Q4)

Race Results: Lost to John Force

BRITTANY FORCE, 26, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster

Final Qualifying: 8th at 3.828, 319.98 mph

Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q3)

Race Results: Beat J.R. Todd. Lost to Spencer Massey,

* * * *

Dusty Brandel

President of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Inc. Worked with Mike Hollander since Tapsis, Compuserve, etc. and has posted to the website since the beginning. First Female photo-journalist to be given a garage and pit pass for the NASCAR garage, 1972 at Ontario Motor Speedway. One of first seven female writers, photographers given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and pits in 1971. Past President of Greater Los Angeles Press Club, 1992-96, and first female editor of the 8-Ball publication for the Press Club

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Volume 2013, Issue 6, Posted 9:48 PM, 06.16.2013