With only one final-round appearance this season, he needs to step on it.
When we’re wondering who will replace John Force, we’re asking that theoretically, not literally: He’s run out of daughters who want to race (Brittany, Ashley and Courtney), and sons-in-law (Robert Hight) unless Courtney’s husband, IndyCar racer Graham Rahal, gets tired of having to steer left and right. Likely his actual replacement, if they intend to keep his personal car going, will be any of the two dozen talented but unemployed drag racers out there, or he could groom a crewman, like he did with Hight.
No, what we’re wondering is who will replace Force as the NHRA’s chief personality. With so many hall-of-famers like Don Garlits, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme and Warren Johnson gone, their departure from the drag strip was made less painful for the NHRA by the fact that – since 1985, when he started to get competitive, eight years after he debuted in the series – John Force was always there, a walking quote machine that never met a tape recorder he didn’t like.
Force is 67. He hasn’t won a race in a year, and his record of at least one race win a year since 1987 (excepting 2009, when he was recovering from a near-fatal crash) is in jeopardy. In the first 12 races this year, he has made it to the final round once. In 2013, his last championship year, he won three races and made it to the final round 12 times in 24 races.
Yes, there have been crew changes and a new Chevrolet Camaro SS body to get used to, but Force has been there before, especially when he lost Castrol and Ford in a brutal one-two punch.
In the last half of the season, John Force needs to win again. It’s hard to say whether age has much to do with it – Chris Karamesines, the “Golden Greek,” showed up for 10 Top Fuel races last year, and he’s still racing: Sunday, at the K&N Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Illinois, he was taken out by Brittany Force. The Greek is 84. And he still sells a hell of a lot of teeshirts.
Says Force: “When I put on my firesuit I feel like I am 20 years old again. I see how all these young guys are working so hard on my race car and I want to make sure I perform. I am on my practice tree all the time. I am working out and watching what I eat. We got these new Camaros and they are awesome. I still love what I do and I will do it as long as I can.”
John Force is always relevant, but he’s far more relevant to the TV cameras when he’s winning, or at least making the final round. Here’s hoping for a second-half rally, and that 144th victory.