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John Force's BlueDEF Chevrolet Camaro during Saturday's qualifying in Pomona, previous to his crash. (Steve Himelstein photo)

WADE: John Force Keeps Going Down The Road

MESA, Ariz. — John Force, who celebrated his 74th birthday on May 4, admittedly has had multiple “Should I stay, or should I go?” moments during the past decade or so.

The 16-time champion and 155-time NHRA Funny Car winner had an emotional tug-o-war with himself that played out publicly following his victory in the 2019 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

On one shoulder sat Father Time, some family members and the demons of 2007 (when he lost beloved driver Eric Medlen in a crash and six months later suffered a dreadful accident himself) — all disguised as that little, leering devil with the pitchfork. And Force’s “SuperJohn” alter ego, the one with the cape and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet credentials, whispered in his other ear.

Pain, money, a COVID hiatus, dormant guilt for not being immersed in his daughters’ young lives years ago and a constant but motivating fear of so many things nagged him. Then again, so did that sense of what he’d be missing if he quit driving.

“I should’ve retired 20 years ago for that quality of life. I should’ve walked away and now I don’t even know how to walk away. I don’t know how to get off this train — but I got to. It’s coming. I don’t know when,” Force said back in 2019. “I’m trying to figure this out, where I’m going in life, because I know Father Time’s against me. It is pathetic. I come out here and I ache and I hurt. It is getting tougher, but I owe this sport for so much. When do you walk out the door?”

Too many were poised to hold that door open for him — too many thought they knew the answer this year when Force suffered a frightening crash during qualifying at In-N-Out Burger Dragstrip in Pomona, Calif., that also collected the car driven by J.R. Todd.

In the next session, Force had another pass disqualified and he ended up last in the 16-car field for only the sixth time in his extensive career.

Force was subdued, apologizing to Todd for the expensive inconvenience. But he later said he didn’t think age and cognitive abilities were a factor in the incident and that he’d know when it was time to step away from the seat.

Clearly, the race track had its problems that weekend. Clearly, his car had been acting up since the start of the season, two races before. But he admitted his driving strategy backfired, so he owned his share of the culpability.

“We’re going to address my car. My crew chiefs have addressed me. Robert (teammate Hight, John Force Racing president) has addressed me, like, ‘You push it too far.’ I’ve done it before, trying to get qualified, but this wasn’t a good time to push it, because it got me. Combination of things: I oversteered it myself. My fault. Maybe the track was really narrow. I learned a good lesson on that,” he said.

“Is my age a factor? I don’t believe so. But you ask anybody, ‘Why would you be 70 years old and driving a race car? Why?’ Well, because I love to drive ’em. I’m trying to help the sport. I’m trying to keep cars out there. I don’t do it for the money. I’ve made enough money I can retire. I do it because I love the driving. I love the battle. I love the camaraderie. I love being with the people and the cheering, all that (stuff),” Force said.

“We’re going to do to our car what we need to do to help the driver. But five years ago, I got over the center line, and people got after me then,” Force continued. “I don’t blame nobody. We just go down the road. I don’t follow the internet, but I’ve heard a lot of people are upset. Some are for me; some are against me. That’s the way the world is.”

Back in 2019, Force said, “I go out here with these kids that want to win so bad and I keep thinking, ‘Is there a plan for me?’ Racing is what I love to do, but I have looked at different directions in life to go. I have a job to do, to raise money to keep this ship afloat for well over 120 employees.

“I’m going to run until I drop, because if I stop, I’ll die. And that is what I’m afraid of. I just go down this road and do this stuff because it is the greatest sport in the world.”

And that always will be the bottom line for John Force.


This story appeared in the May 17, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.

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