One might think that after setting nearly every record in NHRA funny car drag racing, 64-year-old John Force would have nothing left to prove.
But Force, who won a record 16th funny car title last year, believes he has everything to prove. That’s because the four-driver team he owns is losing two major sponsors and their millions of dollars in support after this season.
So Force, who’s been flying around the country trying to recruit replacement sponsors, made the best sales pitch he knows: keep winning at the dragstrip.
Force defeated Matt Hagan in the final round Sunday to win the funny car class of the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
It was Force’s record 139th career win and he earned it in record fashion.
Force defeated Hagan with a run of 3.965 seconds at 323.58 mph, the quickest time for funny cars since the NHRA in mid-2008 went to 1,000-foot races for funny cars and top-fuel dragsters, the other 300-mph division in the sport’s Mello Yello Series.
“What a good time to flex your muscles,” the ever ebullient Force said in reference to his sponsor search. “My old hot rod, she’s fast and I’m proud of it.”
In the top-fuel class, Khalid alBalooshi defeated Doug Kalitta to win that division of the Winternationals with a run of 3.974 seconds at 324.36 mph.
Force’s other drivers are his daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight, who’s also president of Force’s Yorba Linda-based team, and Force’s other daughter Brittany, who races in top fuel.
Hagan, a 31-year-old Virginian, was the 2011 funny car champion and he drives for Don Schumacher Racing. He defeated Courtney Force, Hight and Del Worsham in elimination rounds Sunday to reach the finals with John Force.
As the finalists waited for the green light, Force’s family stood behind the starting line in support, including Courtney and her boyfriend Graham Rahal, the IndyCar Series driver.
After John Force won, Rahal promptly tweeted that Force’s 139 wins were “insane to think about.”
But Force, who went the first nine years of his big league career without a win until he finally broke through in 1987, said he and his team have to stay hungry to gain more sponsors.
“I need to focus on this car, this is a critical year,” he said. “This is about somebody putting a value on you. No matter how much they love you or what you’ve done, none of that counts. It’s about: ‘Where’s he going?’ ”
It was the third career victory for alBalooshi, 34, a Dubai native who lives in Los Angeles and is starting his third season in the NHRA’s top ranks driving for the Al-Anabi Racing team.
“I feel like our car got better and better each round,” said alBalooshi, who started the day by defeating record seven-time champion Tony Schumacher (Don Schumacher’s son) in the first round of eliminations.
“When you win a round with Tony, I felt my day was open” for a good result, alBalooshi said.
Other first-round losers included former top-fuel champion Antron Brown, who also drives for Don Schumacher, and funny car driver Alexis DeJoria.
During qualifying Saturday, DeJoria became the first woman to make a funny car run of under four seconds in the 1,000-foot era with a pass of 3.997 seconds at 318.32 mph.
In the NHRA’s pro stock division, Jason Line won the event Sunday by defeating V. Gaines with a pass of 6.526 seconds at 212.06 mph.