John Force captured his 149th Funny Car victory Sunday at Bandimere Speedway outside of Denver. The winningest driver in NHRA history defeated a Who’s Who of drivers including two-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan, long-time nemesis Cruz Pedregon, daughter Courtney Force, the current points leader and No. 1 qualifier and in the final round Force, in his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro, took out the second winningest Funny Car driver, Ron Capps. At the end of the day, and after over a year between wins, the ever-humble Force thanked two special people for inspiring him to victory.
One was a lifelong friend, Bandimere Speedway track owner John Bandimere Jr., and the other was a brand new motivator, Kirstie Ennis, a U.S. Marine who lost her leg in combat in Afghanistan and was at the track representing Building Homes for Heroes and Advance Auto Parts.
“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career. It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007,” said an emotional Force in the Bandimere media center. “I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes and after my last one I had John Bandimere call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race. Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed,” said Force. “He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”
“I only had one trophy and one is going to him but I am getting another one and I am giving it to this young lady (Kirstie Ennis) that my daughter Courtney introduced me to this weekend,” continued Force, who has won at least one event in 31 different seasons. “She has really fought. What is the greatest? It’s God, then our country and our military. Look at this young lady that fought for our country and still fights every day and I am whining about me.
“As we were walking into the press room I said to her. ‘Do you need help getting up the stairs?’ and she said. ‘No. 1 John, I can out run you and No. 2 I can carry you up the stairs.’ That is the real deal.”
Force was the No. 5 qualifier and drew a tough first round opponent in Matt Hagan. In a classic John Force Racing versus Don Schumacher Racing match-up, Force took out Hagan with a strong 4.158 second run at 285.77 mph as Hagan slowed to 4.279 seconds at 265.69 mph. The win was Force’s 1,300 round win of his illustrious career.
The second round saw Force squaring off with a driver he has raced over 100 times, Cruz Pedregon. The rivals both know each other’s tricks and habits but it was Force who got the better of the two-time Funny Car champ beating him off the line with a stellar .037 reaction time and getting a hole shot win with a 4.139 second pass to Pedregon’s quicker 4.137-seconds. It was Force’s start that secured the win at the finish.
“I had to beat a lot of great racers today. Hagan, Cruz, Capps. I love them all. My fire was in me,” Force said. “I am fighting and I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. I am working through rehab to get out here to win races. I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”
In the semifinal he faced one of his toughest opponents all season, daughter Courtney Force. She was the No. 1 qualifier and also the points leader. In addition, she held a 4-0 record against him in their head to head matchups this season.
It was a coin flip off the starting line and the elder Force pulled away past half track for the win and a chance to pick up his first victory since the Gatornationals in 2017, a span of 34 races.
The final round was another epic battle between Force, the winningest driver in Funny Car history, and Ron Capps, the second winningest driver. It was Force again taking a starting line advantage with another .037 reaction time and getting the win over Capps 4.075 to 4.067.
Force’s record against Capps improved to 58-38 and 11-8 in final rounds. The win gave Force 1,303 round wins and 149 career wins and he becomes the most prolific winner in Denver history with seven titles. The win also positions Force to sweep the famed Western Swing for the second time. He is the only Funny Car driver to win the three races in three weeks gauntlet, a feat he accomplished in 1996.
“I have to thank the fans and all the sponsors all over my car PEAK, Auto Club, Advance Auto, Monster, Carquest and Chevrolet,” Force said. “I really have to thank Jon Schaffer, my crew chief, and Ronnie Thompson. There are also guys like Jimmy Prock, Brian Corradi and Daniel Hood and, as a team, we are starting to put it back together.”
Points leader Courtney Force raced her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car to the semifinals for the fourth time this season. Force was consistent throughout qualifying and eliminations. Coming in as the No. 1 qualifier off a stellar 3.94-second pass from Saturday night, Force defeated Terry Haddock with a 4.089 pass in the heat of the day and then handed veteran Tim Wilkerson a second-round exit with a 4.089 pass before having to face her father and eventual event winner, John Force in the semifinals.
Side-by-side Courtney’s Chevrolet Camaro made a move towards the wall and had to lift for only a 4.453-second pass at 206.29 mph while John ran 4.048-seconds at 318.62 mph for the win.
“It was a good weekend for the Advance Auto Parts team, clinching a spot (in the Countdown to the Championship) knowing we don’t have to worry about trying to fight to get into that top 10 by Indy. We can just go out there and focus on doing the best job that we can to perform and to win races. I think we definitely had a pretty good comeback from a race where we struggled in qualifying and on race day. To come out here and to be quickest three of the four (qualifying) sessions I think is incredible. It says a lot about my team and what we’ve got going on. For all of our Chevys, they’ve been strong all weekend here. We were obviously hoping for a longer day. (In the semifinals) the car got a little to the outside and dropped a cylinder. I tried to pedal it but he had already turned on that win light.”
John Force Racing President Robert Hight took his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car to the semifinals at the Mile-High Nationals. Hight, the No. 2 qualifier, raced passed Jeff Diehl who red lit and out ran veteran Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 4.052-second pass at 318.09 mph before reaching the semifinals.
Hight lined up with familiar rival Ron Capps, the 2016 world champion, in the semifinal. It was a solid drag race that came down to reaction time. Hight ran a 4.035-second pass at 314.31 mph while Capps lit up the score board with a 4.052-second pass at 313.88 mph but had a .036 reaction time that bettered Hight’s .080 reaction time.
“We had a great race car today. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) got it figured out just in time and we won some rounds,” Hight said. “I would have liked to have lined up against John in the final but we will get our stuff together and get ready for Sonoma. It was a lot of fun to have Autumn here today. I feel like we had the race car to win this race and it just didn’t work out. This is a tough sport and I am going to put this race behind me and focus on the next one.”
After jumping into the No. 2 position on the final qualifying pass on Saturday night, Brittany Force was up in smoke mid track and tried to pedal her way through the pass but didn’t have enough to get around Jim Maroney in the first round. The Carquest Brakes Monster Energy dragster coasted to a 5.524-second pass. It is the first time in her career that Force has had a first round exit at Bandimere Speedway.
“It’s definitely tough leaving Denver with a first-round loss. Our team has been struggling. We can’t seem to go rounds. One thing I’ve learned from Alan Johnson is right now we’re getting ready for the Countdown. As long as we stay in that top 10, that’s the most important thing. And then we have to be ready and bring it when the Countdown begins, and then we have six races in the Countdown to move up as high as we can. That’s what we did last year. When we do go rounds and bring home another win, it will make all these rough days worth it.”
The John Force Racing teams will continue on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit with race two of three on the Western Swing at Sonoma Raceway. The Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals take place July 27-29th in Sonoma Calif.
JFR PR/Photo Credit: Gary Nastase, Auto Imagery