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Rain Postpones John Force’s Bid for First Win in Nearly Two Years

Rain prevented John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history, from potentially earning his first win in nearly two years during final eliminations of Sunday’s Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.

As a result, Force will have to wait two weeks before the final round of the Winternationals’ Funny Car competition – Force vs. longtime rival Matt Hagan – will resume as part of the next race weekend, April 5-7, at Firebird Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Ariz.

While a win is not guaranteed to Force, odds are in his favor: he is an undefeated 4-0 in all Winternationals meetings with Hagan (regardless of which round).

The winner of a record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, Force last won a national event on May 1, 2022, at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C. He made two final round appearances last season, but finished runner-up each time.

Had Sunday’s rain held off and he would have defeated Hagan, the 74-year-old Force would have earned a record eighth Winternationals victory, and the 267th final round (his overall record is now 155-111) appearance of his storied career.

The weekend didn’t get off to a great start for the driver of the PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car. His solo qualifying effort Friday was disallowed after his car crossed the center line.

Force then bounced back to qualify No. 6 in Saturday’s rain-shortened session (it was supposed to be two rounds, but steady rain in the morning and early afternoon shortened the schedule to just one qualifying attempt that day).

Force got off to a great start in Sunday’s first round of eliminations with a run of 3.959 seconds at 324.12 mph, easily outdistancing opponent Jim Campbell (7.842 seconds at 83.03 mph).

Force kept things going in the second round with another easy victory (4.016 seconds/302.14 mph) over Bobby Bode (4.550 seconds/190.89 mph).

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In the semifinals, Force maintained his career supremacy against Ron Capps, now having a 69-55 lead over Capps in head-to-head meetings. Force (3.922 seconds at 327.74 mph) went straight down the middle of the dragstrip, while Capps (8.390 seconds at 95.83 mph) lost traction early on in the run and was unable to recover.

Force took time out to applaud Capps, who had said on the TV broadcast following his previous run about how much he missed John Force Racing president and three-time Funny Car champ Robert Hight not being at the race. Hight is taking time off to address personal medical issues.

“One of the things that was really impressive today was after Capps won the round before when he beat (JFR driver) Austin Prock, he got out and talked about Robert and how much he hated Robert not being here,” Force said. “I thought that was very classy. I’ve always liked Capps but it made me like him even more. Drag racers care about each other and that’s what I like about this sport.”

Then came time for the ultimately washed out final round. Force was eager to face reigning and four-time Funny Car champion Hagan.

“I’ve got a real good hot rod,” Force said. “I think we’re on to something and I’m excited about it. I’ve done well at Phoenix over the years. I love racing Hagan, he’s a great racer and a great champion.”

Force can’t wait to get to Phoenix – and hopefully earn win No. 156.

“It was a good weekend, I’ve got a good hot rod that excites me, wish we could have got it done,” Force said. “We’ll see what happens in Phoenix.”

In Top Fuel, No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force, John Force’s daughter, fell short of checking off one of the top items on her bucket list – a Winternationals win – losing in the semifinals to Justin Ashley.

Force lost traction about one-third of the way down the dragstrip, ending with a run of 4.626 seconds at 216.13 mph, while Ashley had a run of 4.190 seconds at 296.63 mph.

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A two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion (2017 and 2022), Force on Saturday recorded her first No. 1 qualifying effort since Denver last summer and the 47th of her career. It was also her fourth No. 1 qualifying effort at the Winternationals.

Driving the Mark Christopher Auto Center Chevrolet/Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster, Force had a fairly easy go of it in the first two rounds of Sunday’s eliminations.

Because only 15 dragsters entered the event, Force had a solo run in the first round (3.714 seconds at a very stout 336.91 mph) by virtue of earning No. 1 qualifier honors on Saturday. 

Then in the second round, Force had another solo run of sorts. Her scheduled opponent, Clay Millican, broke at the starting line and was unable to make a run. Force, meanwhile, covered the 1,000-foot in 3.723 seconds at 333.99 mph.

But Force’s bid for her first-ever win in the Winternationals was abruptly stopped in the semifinals by Ashley.

“Overall, I think we’ve had a very good weekend,” the younger Force said. “This (crew chief) David Grubnic team and this Mark Christopher Chevrolet car ran consistently all weekend long. We made a semifinal round appearance, and looking back at last season, we’re off to a really good start.

“This pumps us all up. Now that we have this momentum that we’re qualifying well and going rounds, it just gets us pumped up for Phoenix.”

The third John Force Racing driver, Austin Prock, saw the outstanding streak of runs in his first two races come to a halt.

Prock won his first-ever race in a Funny Car last month in an exhibition event in Bradenton, Fla., and then in his first official NHRA national event, the season-opening Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., two weeks ago, he was runner-up. He also was No. 1 qualifier in both events.

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But not so in Sunday’s eliminations. Prock, who qualified 15th, exited in the first round after his Automobile Club of Southern California/Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS lost traction (4.138 seconds at 236.22 mph), losing to Capps (3.891 seconds/328.86 mph).

“It’s drag racing,” a disappointed Prock said. “Obviously, it’s frustrating. My guys did a great job. The thing was truckin’.

“I had my hands full. We’ll get ‘em next weekend. Nothing to hang our heads about. It’s early in the season, I’m learning and just getting it dialed in in different conditions. I’m sure we’ll be strong in Phoenix.”

Prock then added, “It really was an honor driving this Auto Club of Southern California Camaro this weekend. I’ve cheered this car on my whole life and it was pretty damn cool sitting in the seat of it.”

Both John and Brittany Force, by respectively reaching at least the semi-final in their classes Sunday, are eligible for the next session of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, which will take place in conjunction with qualifying at the next NHRA national event, the Arizona Nationals.

The Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series continues next with back-to-back events: the Arizona Nationals, April 5-7 at Firebird Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.; and the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, April 12-14 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nev.

This story was originally published on March 25, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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