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John Force will land on his feet

KENT, Wash. -- John Force sat in his hauler at Pacific Raceways, chomping at the bit to relay a message for anyone concerned about the future of John Force Racing.

"I will not fail," Force said. "Let 'em know John Force has a plan."

It may mean moving to a Top Fuel dragster, it may not. But why would anyone doubt him? Force didn't become the most successful racer in drag racing history by letting a sponsor departure stop him.

"I'm going after corporate America in all the major cities and key markets," Force said. "It's sort of like when a private company goes public. I'm on the market. I'm gonna bombard them."

A sports legend and one of the best organizations in racing is waiting for a few wise executives out there. We're talking one of the most quotable athletes in professional sports. The man who is a walking, talking billboard of endless words to promote any company.

Ford's surprising departure, coming after the 2014 season, has opened things up. Why in the world would Ford leave what is arguably the best bang for the buck in all of auto racing?

No person in motor sports, with the exception of Richard Petty, is more iconic to his sport than Force is to NHRA drag racing.

But there's one big difference between Petty's team and Force's operation. Force still drives, still wins and still competes at a championship level. And his two daughters -- Courtney Force in Funny Car and Brittany, a rookie in Top Fuel -- are competing and rapidly becoming stars of the sport.

Courtney, who won the NHRA Future Award last season as the top rookie, already is a celebrity beyond the drag racing fans. She recently posed for The Body Issue of ESPN The Magazine and was voted the top cover shot of all the athletes in the issue.

And she's winning. Courtney has two victories this season and is tied for sixth in the standings with 2012 champion Jack Beckman. Courtney hopes to win again this weekend at the Northwest Nationals, where she earned her first Funny Car victory last season.

John Force Racing has won 17 of the past 21 Funny Car championships. Motorsports sponsorship opportunities don't get any better than this, which makes Ford's move to leave JFR so shocking after 16 successful years together.

Jamie Allison, the director of Ford Racing, said Ford wants to concentrate on the "grassroots" level of drag racing.

OK, sure. Or could it be that Ford is getting its hat handed to them in Sprint Cup and wants to take the more than $10 million it spends in the NHRA and move it to the NASCAR teams?

Whatever the reason, the move has left JFR in a quandary if new sponsors don't come along.

"I would have two options," Force said. "One, I could go sell to the competition. Or two, we [have to find new manufacturers]."

Force has a 160,000-square-foot facility in Brownsburg, Ind.

"I'm looking for a manufacturer, for somebody who wants to evolve engines and chassis,'' Force said. "I'm looking at other manufacturers in Detroit, but I'm going to open the door because I have something to sell.

"I sell a family concept. There's nothing stronger than a family. They call us the first family of drag racing. My daughters have put their lives on the line in these race cars."

But it wasn't enough for Ford to stay.

"First of all, I want to thank Ford," Force said. "I've got one more year with them and I'm going to do my job. I thought they were going to be here forever.

"Look what they did for me. They grew my company to where my shops at Indy are like NASCAR. I've got no complaints. The top brass were honest with me and kept me abreast as things evolved.

"I believe Ford will come back someday. That's just the nature of the beast. But their evaluation was the costs were too much money for the return."

Force also has some uncertainty about the future plans of his long-term sponsor Castrol, which has been with him for 28 years.

"Castrol has been good to us, but how much can they afford to pay?" Force said. "This economy has hurt us."

Force said the face of his organization may change, based on sponsorship issues that have caused John Force Racing to "take a hit,'' in Force's words.

That "hit" could be as much as $15 million in 2015 if new partners aren't found. Force won't let that happen. Corporate America will come calling.

But Force has a plan, either way. He might switch to a Top Fuel dragster to end his career, giving JFR two dragsters and two Funny Cars. A recent crew swap involving Robert Hight's team was made with that possibility in mind.

"Jimmy Prock [who was with Hight and moved to Force's car] is a guy who ran dragsters years ago," Force said. "If we have to make the change to Top Fuel, Jimmy and I would go. That was the reason for the change."

Yes, Force has a many-layered plan, including the return of the Force family reality TV show.

"We have to do it because it builds our sport and gives us prime-time TV exposure," he said.

"We've already shot the pilots. Part of this show is going to be about chasing corporate America."

Not just chasing, but catching. Wait and see. This will get done. Why would anyone doubt him?