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Tough Final Round Puts Damper on Weekend for John Force at Charlotte NHRA 4-Wide Nationals

Hopes of a perfect weekend for John Force fell short in the final round of Sunday’s NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

One week before his 75th birthday, the ageless wonder recorded the quickest elapsed time of his career (3.820 seconds), which was also the 10th-quickest time in NHRA Funny Car history, during Friday night’s second round of qualifying. He then came back with two outstanding final qualifying runs on Saturday.

Force motored through Sunday’s first two rounds of quad eliminations, but a tough start at the starting line in the final round kept the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion from winning for the second time this season.

“It was a good week, it was good to take the track record,” Force said. “We were able to go rounds, but I couldn’t close it at the end.”

The most successful driver in NHRA history won the weather-rescheduled Winternationals final in Phoenix three weeks ago and had he won Sunday, it would have been for the 157th time of his career.

Force was looking to extend his personal record of three wins in the 4-Wide event in suburban Charlotte (he also has a win in the traditional two-lane race there in the fall).

Even though he came up short, the driver of the PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car was still happy to reach the final round not only for his primary sponsor, but also for new associate sponsor, owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick.

Force’s daughter, two-time NHRA Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, carried the colors as primary sponsor on her dragster for the first time this weekend, while her father and teammate Austin Prock carried as associate sponsors on their respective Funny Cars.

“I’m excited to move forward with them,” Brittany Force said of the relationship with “They seem very happy and excited on their end and we want to make them proud. We want to go rounds and we want to land them in the winner’s circle.

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“We’re proud to be teamed up with them. Hendrick is such a huge name and a legend in motorsports and we’re glad to have them in the Top Fuel category.”

Just a few minutes before the final round of Funny Car, five-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, who is also sponsored by, won for the 105th time of his career.

Here’s how Sunday’s three rounds played out for John Force:

·     Force and Cruz Pedregon got past Chad Green and John Smith in Sunday’s first round.

·     In the second round, Force and JR Todd defeated Alexis DeJoria and Pedregon in the semifinal matchup.

·     Then, in the 268th final round appearance of his storied career, Force finished fourth behind winner Matt Hagan, runner-up Dan Wilkerson and third-place finisher J.R. Todd.

Until the final round, Force dominated throughout the weekend, starting with the career-best run in Friday night’s second round of qualifying.

Force rolled through Saturday’s two final rounds of qualifying to remain the No. 1 qualifier for the 167th time of his career, and then was flawless in Sunday’s first two rounds of quad competition before the final round.

“I had the car to win with, in my opinion, and I just didn’t get the job done,” a disappointed Force said.

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In Top Fuel, after a strong first round quad run (3.734 seconds at 335.82 mph) moved her into the semifinals, Brittany Force was unable to advance to the final round.

The younger Force had the fastest speed of her semifinal quad (336.57 mph), but her elapsed time (3.729 seconds) fell a bit short, also hampered by a slow reaction time at the start of the run.

“I’m staying very positive,” Brittany Force said. “We had a good race day. We struggled during qualifying and we turned things around today.

“I’ve made a little bit of progress in reaction time. You could see it in qualifying and you saw it on race day. That last run (Round 2), it was a long tree and you’re waiting for three other people and it’s a long time to be sitting there staring at that Christmas tree and I double-stepped.

“I’m not holding my head about it. I know what I did wrong and I’m focusing on the improvement and not the negative, and I’m moving forward to Chicago (the next race) with that.”

Force leaves Charlotte ninth in the Top Fuel points standings. She had been hoping for a win to give a successful debut, but she feels that elusive victory is close.

“I honestly thought it was going to happen today,” Force said. “I feel like we’re definitely making a lot of big moves and moving in the right direction. I could taste the win today. I felt like we were going to get there, but unfortunately it was an early day for us.”

Lastly, after two strong qualifying runs Saturday that put him in the No. 3 position in Funny Car to start Sunday’s eliminations, the third driver of the John Force Racing stable, Austin Prock, lost traction and was eliminated in his first-round quad with a run of 4.609 seconds at just 225.86 mph.

“This car really hasn’t struggled much at all this year,” Prock said. “We struggled on Friday and got it turned around on Saturday and made some really nice runs. Like my dad told me as a kid, you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win.

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“We haven’t lost much this year but it definitely stings, but we have 15 more shots at this year. We’re looking forward to Chicago. I think we’ll pick up right where we we’ve been and we’ll be just fine.

“Still a good outing for John Force Racing. We’ve got three really good JFR race cars right now and we’re going to be tough all year. We’ve been in the final round as a team every race this year so far, so it’s something to be proud about and we’ll chalk this one up and go to the next one.”

Even with the loss, Prock, the driver of the Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, remains the points leader in Funny Car, holding a 17-point edge over Todd. John Force is fifth in the standings.

“I don’t think I’ve ever held the points lead this long, so that’s something to be proud about,” Prock said. “This team is just doing a great job. When we falter, we just come back and attack and everything seems to work out.

“You’re only as good as your last run and we go back and prove that. It’s been a great year. You can’t hang your head too hard going out first round. That’s drag racing, you never know what’s going to happen. Today wasn’t our day but maybe next race will.”

The NHRA now enjoys nearly three weeks off before the next event, the PEAK Nationals, May 17-19, at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.

This story was originally published on April 29, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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