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Tuesday, October 29, 2013
16th NHRA title sweet for John Force

By John Oreovicz
ESPN.com

John Force's rags-to-riches story just keeps getting better.

His family wasn't rich. He overcame childhood polio. His drag racing team went winless over its first nine years of competition.

John Force
John Force defeated daughter Courtney in Sunday's Funny Car final to secure NHRA championship No. 16.

Force overcame all that to become one of the most successful drag racers in history. Yet adversity kept finding him.

His teammate Eric Medlen was killed in a John Force Racing Funny Car on March 23, 2007, and Force himself suffered potentially career-ending injuries exactly six months later in a wreck of his own. Nearly 60 years old at the time, Force would certainly have been forgiven if he had chosen to limp away from the sport that defined him.

Instead, he committed to overcoming the physical obstacles, culminating in a record-extending 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

But Force wasn't done leaving his mark on drag racing. John Force Racing is a family business, and by then, Force's daughter Ashley was a Funny Car star in her own right. When Ashley retired from driving to devote more time to raising a family of her own, her younger sisters, Courtney and Brittany, were there to fill the void.

Still, challenges presented themselves. In August, Force learned that long-standing business relationships with Ford Motor Co. and Castrol would be terminated after the 2014 season. News of losing tens of millions of dollars of sponsorship revenue might have defeated a lesser man, but John Force the team owner blocked out the distractions, allowing John Force the driver to produce a stunning series of performances that resulted in his 16th NHRA Funny Car crown.

Force ended the 2013 NHRA regular season fourth in the standings and dropped to fifth, 98 points behind leader Matt Hagan, after a second-round exit in the opening round of the Countdown to the Championship for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

But crew chief Jimmy Prock refined the setup on the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, and since then, Force has been almost unbeatable. He lost in the finals to Cruz Pedregon at Texas, then reeled off three consecutive event wins at Gateway, Maple Grove and Las Vegas to clinch the title with a round to spare.

Force now has 138 event wins in NHRA competition.

The final element of the storyline made championship No. 16 very sweet indeed: Force's final-round opponent was his daughter, Courtney. And it was a great race. Father clocked 4.062 seconds/310.63 mph to daughter's 4.085/319.22.

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Congrats to my dad & the Castrol GTX team on winning Vegas & bringing home the championship!! pic.twitter.com/c4Z1OaovDH

— BrittanyForce (@BrittanyForce) October 28, 2013

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"I'd like to scream and say, 'Gee, it was me,' but the truth is Jimmy Prock and the team he's got around him is unbelievable," exclaimed John Force. "It's a team effort, and if there's anything that I've ever done right in my life, it's been the team effort. That's what I'm really proud of, holding together when it looked like we were falling apart."

Force likes to say "anything to get us to the next race" is his philosophy, and earning his latest championship as a driver is certainly going to help him sell sponsorship as a team owner.

And make no mistake: At an age when many normal people are easing into retirement and most athletes are decades removed from their careers, Force will be back standing on the gas.

"We've been having a lot of fun, and I'm going to be around a while because I truly love it," Force said. "I have great companies with me and they allow me do this. We won them a Mello Yello championship, but next year I am going to try and win again. My luck just turned around in a year when I needed it to sell corporate America.

"Sometimes luck just gets on your side, and we've been fortunate these past three races."

A lifelong drag racer, Prock has worked with Force since 2001. He and co-crew chief Danny DeGennaro helped JFR work out of a midseason lull that culminated in another title for their boss.

"It felt great to see that win light come on and know we had clinched the championship," said Prock. "It was an awesome feeling to be able to get John another championship. He is the greatest drag racer ever. It's just a great feeling.

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I'm late on this but how about John Force winning a 16th #NHRA Funny Car title?! Fastest busted-up old dude in world history.

— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) October 28, 2013

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"We were down for a while, but we worked hard and we stuck together," he added. "Most of these guys that are working on this Funny Car have been here since 2005. We have been through the ups and downs. Everybody hung in there, we worked together and we got rewarded for it. When you can win, it's a great feeling."

Courtney Force was the No. 2 qualifier at Las Vegas and matched her performance from the spring race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by making the finals.

Courtney and John Force are evenly matched against each other in eliminations, with four wins apiece.

"I'm happy with what we accomplished today," said Courtney Force, who set a track record with a 319.98 mph pass in the opening round of eliminations.

"We couldn't get the job done in the final," she said. "It was definitely a tough race up against my dad. I was a little bummed at the top end. I really thought we had the win, but he just outran me. We had lane choice and I thought that would help us, but he had the better car and that's all there is to it.

"I'm happy for my dad and his Castrol GTX team," she added. "It's huge for John Force Racing for him to get that win and clinch his 16th championship."