Sports

John Force wins in NHRA Northwest Nationals’ oldest final race

Finding a driver around the National Hot Rod Association who has raced the iconic 1964 Funny Car in drag racing isn’t all that big of a deal.

Finding an NHRA racer who could have driven one in 1964? Now you are talking.

Age turned back the clock in a big way Sunday at the 27th Pacific Raceways — particularly in the all-California finals of Funny Car.

Sixteen-time world Funny Car champion John Force, 65, of Yorba Linda, and longtime veteran Gary Densham, 67, of Menifee, became the oldest drivers to race side-by-side for an NHRA race championship.

And the geezer showdown went to Force, who barreled down the left lane in 4.173 seconds for his eighth career national-event victory in Seattle, most of any NHRA driver.

Densham, a part-time racer on the circuit, smoked the tires in the first 300 feet and never challenged Force.

Other winners included Doug Kalitta, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, in Top Fuel. And Jason Line, of Mooresville, North Carolina, won against Summit Racing Team teammate Greg Anderson in Pro Stock.

Spanaway’s Joey Severance captured his second Alcohol dragster sportsman title at Northwest Nationals, defeating Chris Demke in the finals. Severance also won in 2011.

Force has had many extended hot streaks. He is definitely on one of them as the NHRA’s “western swing” (stops in Denver, Sonoma, Seattle) comes to a close, reaching his fourth consecutive Funny Car race finals.

He isn’t just fighting to move up in the points race. With his longtime sponsorships with Ford and Castrol set to expire after the season, he knows he is racing to attract millions of dollars.

“I want to win,” Force said. “That is what it is all about.”

He had no idea Densham would be the man standing in his way for his record 141st NHRA national-event victory.

But Densham — the first No. 15 Funny Car qualifier to make the finals in three separate races — upset John Force’s daughter Courtney Force in the first round. Then he took down Tim Wilkerson in the quarterfinals. And down went defending event champion Matt Hagan in the semifinals.

“Densham is a real savvy racer. He can come up here on a budget. He doesn’t have all the trick deals,” Force said. “My guys are over there with scrolls and maps, reading every little (detail) … about the track. And old Densham, he doesn’t care.”

Force certainly holds a soft spot for Densham in the sport. They both began drag racing with little or no money — starting with a match race in 1974 in Australia.

They have often met in Seattle, too, for open races. They first raced each other in an NHRA race in 1990 in Montreal. Later, they became Funny Car teammates.

“Bottom line, he is the 16-time champ. He has more money than God. He has got an incredible group of people, and unlimited resources,” Densham said. “It is kind of neat to come out two or three times a year and at least be competitive with him.”

No family has had worse luck at Pacific Raceways than the Kalittas.

It started with Connie, who never even sniffed making the Top Fuel finals in six races here. And Scott raced in Seattle 13 times, making the finals once but never winning.

This was Doug’s 17th trip to Pacific Raceways. The three-time runner-up finally closed the deal by powering past Antron Brown, 3.844 ET to 3.887 ET.

It was Kalitta’s 35th career NHRA national-event win, tying him with Don “Big Daddy” Garlits.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on that one for a while,” said the Top Fuel points leader, who made his ninth finals appearance Sunday. “It is a big deal for me. That is somebody I looked up to.”

Line became a three-time Northwest Nationals winner in Pro Stock, solidifying his status in the Countdown to the Championship while extending his teammate’s misery. It has been 54 races since Anderson, a four-time Pro Stock points champion, won a race.

And this kind — a win on a hole shot — hurts even worst.

“He’s not going to look back from there,” Line said. “He’s got a great car.”

The day of eliminations also had its share of fiery, frightening moments.

The top of Jack Beckman’s Dodge Charger exploded at the finish line, sending the metal 50 feet into the air in his Funny Car quarterfinal loss to Alexis DeJoria.

“The fuel tanks,” Beckman said, “are full of dynamite.”

A wreck in an Alcohol dragster race involving Mark Taliaferro, an NHRA Division 4 racer from Odessa, Texas, looked downright abhorrent.

Early in a quarterfinal run, his car crossed over into the other lane, crumbled on its side and crashed into a fiery, twisting mess on the wall before coming to a stop at the end of the track.

Somehow, Taliaferro got right out of the car with just minor shoulder pain.

It was on this same track that Arizona drag racer Mark Niver was killed during an Alcohol dragster run in 2010.

“I’m lucky,” Taliaferro said. “I’ve never had a crash before. It just got away from me. I was trying too hard, and these cars just aren’t too forgiving.”

Severance ran to his second national-event win of the season. He easily outpaced Demke, 5.238 ET to 5.251 ET. His time in the finals was the best mark of the weekend.

He is now second in the national points race behind Demke.

“We’ve got a pretty good opportunity,” Severance said. “We were in it all the way to the last race in 2011 … but now we have all the right equipment.”

PIT STOPS

Puyallup’s Brandon Huhtala won his first Competition Eliminator title. He was 0-for-3 in his previous attempts. And Spanaway’s Marc Heritage won the Super Comp title in his first try. … Force won his 78th career race in a Ford vehicle, tying former Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden for most wins in a Ford in any motor sport. … The Force- Cruz Pedregon quarterfinal matchup Sunday was their 94th career head-to-head race, most in NHRA history. … Track temperature for the late-afternoon finals was 118 degrees.

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