In a career in which he’s hoisted a record 16 NHRA championship trophies, won a record 149 Mello Yello tour events, been recognized as the Driver of the Year for all American motor racing (1996) and been inducted into two Motorsports Halls of Fame (neither exclusive to drag racing), John Force has been able to cross an awful lot of items off his competitive bucket list.
Nevertheless, the driver of the PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car never is short on incentive when the tour returns to Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex as it does this week for the 33rd renewal of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.
Force suffered the worst injuries of his career at the Texas track in 2007 when he crashed heavily after winning a second-round race with fellow Hall of Famer Kenny Bernstein. He left the track in a medi-vac helicopter, underwent six hours of reconstructive surgery on his battered hands and feet and was in rehab at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas for a month before returning to his native California for further physical therapy.
“I have said it before but I want to win at the Motorplex before I retire and I don’t plan on retiring any time soon,” said Force. “I have come close to getting another win there but I really want to stand in that winner’s circle with a cowboy hat and just celebrate. I have a pretty good hot rod now and we will be ready this weekend.”
As a result, returning to the winners’ circle at the FallNationals has become a personal goal for the former big rig truck driver. Not that he hasn’t been close. He has. He was runner-up to Matt Hagan in 2010; to Cruz Pedregon in 2013. In 2012, he actually celebrated in the winners’ circle at the Motorplex as winner of the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout after it was moved from Indianapolis to Texas due to weather.
To Force, that wasn’t the same as winning the FallNationals. So, this weekend, at age 69, Force will be racing to get his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevy Camaro back into the winner’s circle at the event that tried to break him while also chasing a milestone 150 victories.
“I have a lot of wins at the Texas Motorplex and I have won their in the fall and at the race the used to run in the spring,” said Force. “That is a great race track and Billy Meyer built it right. We have stadium seats and all-concrete. If the weather cooperates I think you could see some awesome times. This is a AAA Texas race so I know all our Camaros will be trying to win for one of our major sponsors. I have to win for PEAK and Courtney and Brittany have to win for Advance Auto Parts. Robert’s car will be covered in AAA Texas and he won the last AAA race in St Louis. It will be a busy weekend but that is what I live for.”
Overall, he’s won the FallNationals six times, five times in an eight-year span from 1998 through 2005. In 2000, he swept at the ‘Plex, winning the track’s now defunct spring race before also prevailing in the fall. The AAA Texas event is one of seven in which Force has turned on as many as 60 win lights (61-25).
Winner of at least one Mello Yello tour event in 31 of the last 32 seasons Force extended that streak this year when he directed his 10,000 horsepower PEAK Camaro past Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, youngest daughter Courtney Force and Ron Capps to win the Mile-High Nationals at Denver.
Eighth in the Funny Car driver standings with four races remaining, he already is assured of another Top 10 finish. He hasn’t finished outside Top 10 since 1984.
Qualifying at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals begins with two sessions on Friday at 3 and 6 p.m. and continues Saturday at 2 and 5 p.m. Eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m. at Texas Motorplex.
JFR PR/Photo Credit: Gary Nastase, Auto Imagery