WADE: A Shift Within NHRA
SEATTLE — In qualifying No. 1 in the Funny Car lineup for the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, John Force spoke last Saturday like a caretaker. He sounded like a mere steward of a powerful race car and a powerful empire, not like the one responsible for all of its success.
By the end of the weekend, his organization once again had tightened its chokehold on the class. A JFR driver has won the Funny Car trophy at the past five events, dating back to the 2010 Halloween-weekend event at Las Vegas. Robert Hight became the first Funny Car driver at Las Vegas with back-to-back victories as he won his second of at three races so far this NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season. Mike Neff, pressed back into driving duty in late January, won Race No. 2.
Force talked more about Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas who mastermind the tune-up that produced his class-best 4.136-second pass in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. He paid tribute to his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, who’s sidelined by pregnancy this season. He gave a nod to teammates Neff and Hight.
“Let’s not forget: that’s my daughter’s — Ashley Force Hood’s — car,” he said of his Mustang. “More than any thing I want to do good for her, because that car means a lot to her and the kids she raced with for four years.”
Then, alluding to his future and that of his organization that just named Hight its president this Jan. 25, Force said, “Kids have so much energy. Me, I’ve turned so corporate. I can’t say a word without having a sponsor’s name in it. I’m guilty of that, but I’m the lead here, to keep the money for the kids in the hard times. And it took me 30 years to get it. I love to watch them.
“One day,” he said, “I’ll get out at the other end and I’ll get on that freeway and you’ll never see me again. I’ll just disappear and leave it to the kids when they’re ready to run it. I won’t have a final tour. I don’t like goodbyes. My wife never said goodbye to me. I just got home and I was locked out. And that’s the way it ought to be.”
So Force, the 15-time champion, still is in his racing groove and planning for that next step, whether it’s for the April 14-17 VisitMyrtleBeach.com 4-Wide Nationals at Concord, N.C., or the dawn of the next generation.
His “Next Generation” contingent includes youngest daughter, Courtney, who tested early this week at Las Vegas in the company Mustang under Douglas’ supervision. But they aren’t the only youngsters who shined or learned something at Las Vegas last weekend.
Second-generation Pro Stock driver Vincent Nobile, in the Nick Mitsos-tuned Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger, was fearless against Las Vegas dominator Mike Edwards in the final round. Nobile debuted at Brainerd, Minn., last summer and tried to qualify at three more events last fall, and he’s contending for rookie-of-the-year honors this season. So in just his third start, Nobile eliminated some of the class’ toughest customers.
First he defeated Warren Johnson, the most successful Pro Stock driver in NHRA history and a man who beat his father, John Nobile, in 11 of their 12 meetings. Then he knocked off Allen Johnson, one of the mightiest threats and his own engine supplier and mentor. He advanced to final by taking out Greg Stanfield, last year’s series runner-up.