Since he has fought his way back to the top of the NHRA Funny Car standings with consecutive victories in the Mello Yello Series, one might logically expect a little swagger from John Force when the Countdown to the Championship moves this week to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
However, if rivals Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman, as well as teammate Robert Hight, expect to face an overconfident points leader in this week’s 13th annual Toyota Nationals, they could be terribly disappointed.
That’s because drag racing’s biggest winner enters the season’s next-to-last race with a sense of apprehension that might suggest he is 65 points behind Hagan instead of 65 ahead.
The current scenario is eerily similar to 2010 when, coming into Vegas, the roles were reversed with Hagan in the lead and Force 64 points back.
That turn of events came out in Forse's favor.
Force drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang past Hagan’s Dodge in the final round at LVMS, then went on to win the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., and earn the most unlikely of his record 15 career championships.
For that reason alone, the 137-time NHRA tour winner isn’t going to be talking smack. He knows that nothing is yet written in stone because a lot can happen in eight competitive rounds
“We got past him three years ago, but, at the end of the day, he could do the same thing to us this time,” Force said of Hagan. “He’s got a fast hot rod over there with Dickie (crew chief Dickie Venables) and (car owner Don) Schumacher, he’s a great young driver and he’s motivated. That’s a dangerous combination.”
As a result, instead of talking title, Force has retreated to the comfort of the fallback position he always has maintained in pressure situations, “be humble and keep on working.”
It’s a fail-safe mechanism for the man who already has been inducted into the two major U.S.-based motor racing Halls of Fame – the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Detroit (2008) and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladeaga (2012).
“I just want to keep my nose clean, keep working the gym and stay focused,” said the 64-year-old racing icon who now has won three or more NHRA tour events in a record 21 different seasons. “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock’s given me a good car, the ‘Prock Rocket, but there are a lot of good cars out there including two in my own camp (the Fords of youngest daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight). With all these young kids, I just have to stay up for the fight.”
If the developments of 2010 aren’t enough to keep the former big rig truck driver humble, there always is the memory of what happened to him in 1992 after winning his first two Funny Car titles.
“We had a lead and we thought we couldn’t be caught,” Force recalled. “So we went into test mode. Cruz Pedregon had to win almost every race to catch us. Well, he won five-in-a-row and he beat us. I thought my career was over right there and I told myself I’d never make that mistake again.”
It’s a philosophy that’s worked pretty well so far.