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John Force and Rick Hendrick: A Longstanding Friendship Initiated By a Movie and Later a Red Ball Cap

John Force is a man who wears many hats: multi-car NHRA team owner, businessman, and driver of the PEAK Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car.  

He has become one of the most quotable athletes in sports, and one of the most successful and popular drivers in NHRA history. Force is also well known for his signature hat, having worn a bright white sponsor hat on race day for the last 40 years. 

But this weekend in suburban Charlotte, while bidding to extend his own record to four career wins in the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, Force will also be carrying a red City Chevrolet hat that he received a number of years ago. 

The hat serves as a reminder of Force’s admiration for his friend, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick (who owns the original City Chevrolet), but also of the movie “Days of Thunder”, which premiered in 1990, the same year as Force’s first of what would eventually become a record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships.

This weekend, the Top Fuel dragster of two-time NHRA champion Brittany Force will carry primary sponsorship of, part of Hendrick Automotive Group. The Funny Cars of her father John, as well as teammate and current points leader Austin Prock, will also carry as associate sponsorship. The entire John Force Racing organization was invited to a private Hendrick Motorsports tour on Friday to celebrate.

The partnership between Hendrick Automotive Group and John Force Racing will also include three other races this season: Virginia Motorsports Park (June 21-23), a return visit to Charlotte (Sept. 20-22) and the Texas Motorplex (Oct. 10-13), the latter two being part of the NHRA’s “Countdown to the Championship.”

“I love drag racing. It’s where I found a love for motorsports, going to the local dragstrip with my dad and competing in my ’31 Chevy,” said Hendrick, chairman and CEO, Hendrick Automotive Group. “I have been a fan of John and his family for a long time, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to partner with Brittany and Chevrolet. I know they will be terrific representatives for the brand.”

Force, who turns 75 on May 4, is proud of the success he’s achieved in over 50 years of drag racing, with 16 NHRA Funny Car championships and 156 national event wins, with his most recent win coming just three weeks ago.

We sat down with John Force in the shadows of zMAX Dragway on Thursday afternoon and he spoke from the heart of his admiration for Hendrick, who is further expanding his motorsports reach into the NHRA world, first with 5-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, and now with Force and his organization.

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“Rick Hendrick has always been my hero,” John Force said. “He has excelled in everything that he has ever done in the automotive industry and motorsports. When I first saw Greg Anderson’s Pro Stock Camaro, I knew that Hendrick hit a home run and I hoped that someday I could be a part of it too.”

The colorful Force has long revered Hendrick’s success as a motorsports empresario. Known universally simply as “Mr. H.,” Hendrick has a NASCAR-record 14 Cup championships and 306 national event wins.

Force readily admits he’s tried to emulate much of the way Hendrick has built his organization into a NASCAR powerhouse, and Force has learned those lessons well, as his and his organization’s success attest to.

“With races becoming available in NHRA with my daughter Brittany, I thought there could be a chance to partner with them, so our president Robert Hight made the call to Rick Hendrick and the Hendrick Automotive Group. With my partnership with Chevrolet, it made a win-win situation for all involved.

“When I first received the paint renderings that Hendrick’s team had requested, I was excited that it was a duplication of not only Anderson’s Pro Stock car, but also other NASCAR paint schemes. It is very emotional for me to know Brittany will get to race a car that matches that of Rick’s son, Ricky. I still remember the first time I saw (Ricky’s) car and was reminded of those memories when I saw his cars in the Hendrick Motorsports museum. They were awesome.

“I have been in the sport longer than most realize and you all know I’m a movie buff. The first thought I have when I think of Rick Hendrick goes back to 1990, my first championship season and the premiere year for “Days of Thunder” (of which Randy Quaid’s character was believed patterned after Hendrick), when Tom Cruise drove a Chevy NASCAR stock car. I still have to this day, my red and white City Chevrolet hat that relates back to that movie.

“Austin Prock’s Cornwell Tools Chevrolet and my PEAK Chevrolet will also be flying the logos this weekend. This is more than a new partner. This is a friendship. If we are fast enough and lucky enough to win, we will be sure to wear our hats backwards in the winner’s circle.”

This story was originally published on April 26, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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