Ahead of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, 16-time NHRA world champion John Force, who drives the PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, applied one more exclamation point to a career punctuated by superlatives Thursday when he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame as part of a 2023 class.
Founded in 1990 by “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and his late wife, Pat, and housed at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in nearby Ocala, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame recognizes the most accomplished straight-line racers in the world with inductees from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
“All of the inductees, even in the past and those to come, I’m excited to be a part of it,” said Force who was introduced by his long-time friend, confidant, and former publicist David Densmore. “When I got the call from Don, well It made me emotional. To be included in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, to be in Don Garlits’ house here, it means a lot.”
Thursday’s induction at the Hilton Convention Center completed a Hall of Fame Grand Slam for the 73-year-old Force who was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala., in 2008, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, now housed at Daytona Beach, Fla., in 2012, the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at Fort Worth in 2011, the California Sports Hall of Fame at Alta Loma in 2017 and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame at Darlington, S.C., in 2019.
“I didn’t race to make money, I raced because I loved it,” Force said. “Growing up in a trailer park you found the first thing with wheels that could get you out of there. I fell in love with drag racing, why am I still doing it, at this age? Because I still love it. My kids and grandkids, they help me find the little kid inside, find the fire inside to compete, to be a part of it, to win.
“I want to thank everybody, the people who got me here, Steve Plueger, my brother Louie, Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, I wouldn’t be standing here without them because I was a real loser,” Force continued. “The people we have now, Robert Hight, Jimmy Prock, David Grubnic, Chris Cunningham, Joe Barlam, my son-in-law Danny Hood, Tim Fabrisi, and then my kids, watching my kids compete and now watching my grandkids. My wife Laurie, she’s stood by my side, and I really do love her and appreciate her, if it wasn’t for her, I’d be lost, she’s my Mother Teresa, God protects me because of her.”
The NHRA record holder in almost every imaginable professional category including championships (16), final rounds (264), race wins (155), round wins (1421) and No. 1 qualifying positions (165), Force has won at least once in 34 of the last 35 NHRA campaigns, a streak that includes a wire-to-wire triumph in last year’s 4Wide Nationals at Charlotte.
Voted No. 2 drag racer in the NHRA’s first 50 years behind only Garlits, Force won 10 straight Funny Car titles from 1993 through 2002 highlighted by a 1996 season in which he won 13 of 19 events and was named Driver of the Year for all American motorsports, the first drag racer ever so honored.
Despite all the records and accolades, many consider Force’s greatest achievements to be his 2007 comebacks from the tragic death of teammate Eric Medlen in a testing accident and his own serious injuries in a 300 mph crash later the same season at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas.
Subjected to six hours of reconstructive surgery after being airlifted to a Dallas hospital and told by doctors he likely would not race again, Force defied the odds, was back in a car to start 2008 and, after winning two championships with Austin Coil and 12 more with Coil and Bernie Fedderly, he won his 15th with Mike Neff as crew chief in 2010 and his 16th with Jimmy Prock making the tune-up calls in 2013.
When qualifying begins Friday in the 54th annual Amalie Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, a race he won five straight times from 1992 through 1996, Force will begin his 47th year on the NHRA pro tour. The season-opening event in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, kicks-off with four qualifying sessions Friday at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Eliminations on Sunday are slated for 10 a.m. Television coverage of the event begins with a qualifying show Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Sunday race day action will be at noon ET on FOX Broadcasting Network.