ATLANTA, Ga. – John Force moves one step closer to Social Security this week, but the former truck driver, wannabe football quarterback and NHRA drag racing champion isn’t likely to apply for benefits any time soon.
In fact, in an era in which mandatory retirement no longer is a factor, Force plans to keep working for as long as he can do his job.
The 15-time Funny Car champion, who turns 63 on Friday, the first day of qualifying for the 32nd annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, is contracted to drive the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford, one of the world’s most powerful race cars, at least through 2014.
However, based on his continued competitiveness (he’s already won a race this season), there really is no reason to believe the sport’s biggest winner will climb out of the cockpit, even then, to devote his time exclusively to team ownership.
“I still love the roar of the crowd,” Force said, “and I still love the competition. This isn’t like NASCAR. It’s not like I’ve gotta drive around for four hours. As long as I can still get my energy up for all these kids, including by daughter Courtney, I can do this. I think I’ve still got a lot of racing in me.”
Force already has done a lot of racing at Atlanta. The high school quarterback who lost all 27 of the games in which he played at Bell Gardens High School (in southern California), has lost only 21 of the 83 two-car heats in which he has been involved in the Southern Nationals.
The 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection raced in the Atlanta Funny Car final EVERY year from 1992 through 2000. His seven victories are the most in either of the top three NHRA pro categories and he is the track record holder at the 1,000 foot distance at 4.072 seconds, a mark that earned him a No. 1 start just one year ago.
Nevertheless, the racing icon has become almost as well known for his Atlanta losses as for his wins.
In 1996, the year he expanded his race team to include two Castrol Funny Cars, the same year he won 13 of 19 races and was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, Force was upset in the final round of the Southern Nationals by teammate Tony Pedregon
Eleven years later, he was beaten in the first round by his own daughter, Ashley Force Hood, who thus became became the first woman ever to beat him in a head-to-head race in the NHRA series.
One year later, she would beat him again, this time in the final round, to become the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car event.
This week, one in which he hopes to close the gap on front-running teammate Robert “Top Gun” Hight in the Full Throttle point standings, Force must confront the possibility that another daughter, 23-year-old Courtney Force, will be trying to duplicate her older sister’s Atlanta performance.
While he enjoys racing with his kids (middle daughter Brittany is testing a Top Fuel dragster for a possible 2013 debut), Force admits that he still wants to win himself.
“You love your kids and you want them to do well,” he said. “I want (Courtney) to do well for her sponsor, Traxxas, but when she beat me (in the first round) at Phoenix, I have to admit, that stung a little.”
That may lead to one more lesson in Courtney’s Drag Racing 101 class: paybacks are heck.
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