Sports

Even at 65, Force still has the speed, reflexes and determination

Sometimes John Force’s body betrays him.

Still the king of the National Hot Rod Association, Force is no spring chicken.

He is 65 years old, coming off his 16th world Funny Car points championship last season.

Even as the final rounds of qualifying at the NHRA Northwest Nationals began winding down at Pacific Raceways on Saturday, Force felt a lot of the sensations of getting older. His neck ached, to the point he could barely talk. His left arm was numb.

“Today I was dragging,” Force said. “I took an Ibuprofen ... and my voice came back. I’ve got to keep going.”

In so many ways, Force is a drag-racing marvel.

At 65, he isn’t slowing down one bit. You could argue his performance numbers, including speed and reaction time, are as good as they have ever been.

The veteran from Yorba Linda, California, watched as his daughter, Courtney, barreled down the track in the early evening on a 4.082-second elapsed time (ET) run to steal the top qualifying spot away from her father.

Minutes later, Force regained it – by going an astounding 4.057 ET, which is nearly .05 seconds faster than everybody but Courtney.

And it netted him his 150th career No. 1 qualifying spot. He has won 140 career NHRA races.

Other top qualifiers stayed the same from Friday: Tony Schumacher, of Brownburg, Indiana, (3.804 ET) stayed atop Top Fuel, and Allen Johnson, of Greenville, Tennessee, stayed the fastest in Pro Stock (6.535 ET).

Fife’s Bucky Austin saved his best run in professional Funny Car qualifying for last.

Unfortunately, his 4.398 ET just fell short of Jeff Diehl (4.361 ET) for the No. 16 seed to get into the field of eliminations.

But the day belonged to Force, who reached another performance milestone, doing it in dramatic fashion.

With most of the field in the three professional classes staying put in elapsed times, Courtney bolted to a 4.082 ET to send her father – who ran 4.085 on Friday and Saturday — to the No. 2 seed.

“I definitely wanted to keep him at No. 149 (career No. 1 spot),” Courtney said. “I don’t mind him making him wait another weekend.”

John Force only had to wait five minutes. As soon as he saw Courtney’s time, he instructed crew chief Jimmy Prock to adjust the clutch as they sat parked in the runway.

“She whupped me last week (in the Funny Car finals in Sonoma, California),” Force said. “I wanted to whup her.”

Don’t racing skills start to erode at Force’s age?

Besides having an enormous amount of natural ability, Force said he has cut down on his alcohol intake to an occasional glass of wine; works out religiously, especially his leg muscles (quadriceps, calves); and has supplemented his already perfect vision with a pair of specialized racing goggles that sharpen his focus.

“What scares me is to having to quit,” Force said. “Sooner or later, Father Time will get you.”

PIT STOPS

Schumacher, a four-time Northwest Nationals winner, will get a rematch with Jenna Haddock in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Haddock’s only victory came in her professional debut two weeks ago in Denver where she upset the top-seeded Schumacher. “No. 1 qualifier jinx? No, it is not a jinx,” Schumacher said. “It means you are a lot closer to the edge than anyone else. We’ve got a great car. I wouldn’t want to race me tomorrow. We’ve got the right car at the right time of the season.” ... With Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens off for two races, including the Seattle stop, Johnson can overtake her if he wins Sunday. “Right now we’d like to have that No. 1 spot because of the 20-point bonus you start with (in the Countdown to the Championship),” Johnson said. “Is it a huge, huge deal? No. If we start second, we’d probably be tickled to death, too.” ... Austin leaves Northwest Nationals early, but optimistic about future races in Las Vegas and Pomona, California. On Saturday morning, the valve cover came loose during his qualifying run, spilling oil on the track. Two hours later, he went 4.398 ET, but got knocked out of the field when Gary Densham ran 4.303 ET. “It ran 4.39, and we didn’t hurt any parts,” Austin said. “In our next outing (in Las Vegas), we should run 4.25 or 4.30 right off the bat.” ... Kapowsin’s Ron Smith also failed to advance in Top Fuel. He went 4.339 on his final qualifying run, but Haddock got in as the No. 16 seed at 4.176 ET.

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