The win marks Force's 10th championship with Ford and 75th race victory in a Mustang. Despite his age and record 16 championship wins, he says, "I don't like seeing those 'Sweet 16' signs the fans are showing me now. I'm not quitting. I love it out here and I'll be back next year going for 17."
Force hadn't won the championship since 2010, and says modestly, "We are learning how to race again. Don Schumacher Racing and Cruz Pedregon have been pounding us so we needed to get back in the game." He thanked his crew and all the employees behind John Force Racing, the team he owns and drives for. He made a special shout out to his crew chief, Jimmy Prock, after his third straight win of the season and 138th overall.
Head on below for the press release and a video of the Force vs. Force race.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Defying all the odds, a seemingly ageless John Force secured his unprecedented 16th NHRA Funny Car championship Sunday by driving his hybrid Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a dramatic victory in the 13th annual Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Closest pursuer Matt Hagan's upset loss in the first round opened the door for the 64-year-old racing icon and he sped right through it with a stellar performance that included a narrow final round victory over his youngest daughter, Courtney, in a shootout between the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers.
"This is probably the most stress I've ever had," Force said. "I just gave the worst top end interview I ever did (because) I couldn't believe that we got here. Racing my daughter in the final with the championship on the line. She wanted to win but, at the end of the day, the fans won."
Force, whose 4.062 got him to the finish line just a few feet ahead of Courtney (4.085), gave a shout out to his crew chief after winning his third straight tour event and the 138th of his career.
"I just want to take a minute and say 'how about that Jimmy Prock,'" Force said of the veteran with whom he began a collaboration last July.
"A lot of work goes into what we do and we couldn't be here without Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, Mac Tools, Traxxas and BrandSource," Force said after ending a streak of four first-round losses at LVMS. "I'm just strapped into that rocket ship. Jimmy Prock and Danny DeGennaro and all these kids putting this car together, we won as a team.
"We are learning how to race again. Don Schumacher Racing and Cruz Pedregon have been pounding us so we needed to get back in the game," Force said. "I want to thank all of my people – from the people in the shops to the marketing people to every employee. Winning is a team effort. I remember Dale Earnhardt used to say 'I'll do the winning and you marketing guys sell me.' Today we got it done."
Prock, who fell just short of winning championships in Top Fuel with Cory McClenathan and Joe Amato, became the third different JFR crew chief to win Funny Car titles with two different drivers.
"It felt great to see that win light come on and know we had clinched the championship," Prock said. "It was an awesome feeling to be able to get John another championship. He is the greatest drag racer ever. It is just a great feeling. We were down for awhile but we worked hard and we stuck together. Today, we got rewarded for it.
"Most of these guys that are working on this Funny Car have been here since 2005," Prock said. "We have been through the ups and downs but everybody hung in there and we worked together. They work really hard at what they do. This is a tough gig working on one of these race cars. Your heart and soul goes into them to be good at it and when you can win, it is a great feeling."
In celebrating at LVMS for the fourth time, for the third time in the fall, Force extended his points lead to 152 points with only 150 available to Hagan at the season-ending Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., Nov. 7-10.
After claiming his 145th No. 1 qualifying position at a track record 4.011 seconds, Force dispatched former teammate Gary Densham, former NHRA Top Fuel champion Del Worsham and rising star Alexis DeJoria to get to the final.
It's the second time the Hall of Fame driver has clinched a championship at LVMS, where he also secured his 2004 title. Significantly, it's the seventh time in history that Force has clinched a championship while winning the race. He also accomplished that feat in 2010, 2006 and 2002 at Pomona, Calif., 1999 at Dallas, 1996 at Indianapolis and 1993 at Reading, Pa.
It was Force's 75th tour victory in a Mustang and the championship was his 10th for Ford.
"I don't like seeing those 'Sweet 16' signs the fans are showing me now," Force said. "I'm not quitting. I love it out here and I'll be back next year going for 17."
Force's final round triumph, his first in four tries against daughters Courtney and Ashely, gave him three wins in a row for the 15th time in his career but for the first time since 2005 when he won at Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and Topeka, Kan.
Sunday's win also carried Force past the 1,500 mark in rounds won. The 15-time Auto Racing All-American ran his career round win total to 1,502, an average of almost two rounds (1.9) in each of his 617 NHRA starts. That means over the course of his entire career, the one-time truck driver's average finish is a semifinal loss.
Significantly, it was Force's second straight win from the No. 1 starting position and the 57th wire-to-wire victory of his career, another record.
"I read an article this morning about being humble but, after a day like today, I'd like to say it was me," Force joked. "Jimmy Prock is unbelievable. The team he has around him is awesome. I used to race against his dad, Tom, who ran the Tom and Jerry Funny Car and the Detroit Tiger. He and Danny DeGennaro got the job done (in the Countdown).
"Look at how these cars ran side by side," he said of a final decided by .025 of a second. "If there is anything I have done right, it is putting together this team effort. We pulled together when it looked like we were falling apart. I have great companies with me and they allow me do this and today we won them a championship.
"We got (this first) Mello Yello championship," Force said, "but next year I'm going to try and win again. You take it for granted when you win. Then, when you lose, you are looking through National Dragster seeing if you are in there anywhere. I'm going for No. 17 next year. I'm going to be around a while.
"I do love it and I'm going to stay out here until I drop," Force said. "If I ever had to win, this was the time to do it. I was winning with Mike Neff and then we switched it up (in mid-season when Force went over to Prock's car and Hight over to drive for Neff).
"I'll be the champ while we are making deals next year (and that) gives you strength," he said. "There ain't nothing wrong with me. This ain't like NASCAR where they have to have rest stops.
As for Courtney, she will move on to Pomona in fifth place behind brother-in-law and teammate Robert Hight with a chance to finish higher in the final standings than she did a year ago in her Rookie-of-the-Year season.
"Our Traxxas team is good here at The Strip," Courtney said after earning runner-up honors at Vegas for the second time this season. "We had a great race car all weekend and, you know what, I'm happy with what we accomplished today."
"We couldn't get the job done in the final. It was definitely a tough race up against my dad," she said. "I was a little bummed at the top end. I really thought we had the win, but he just outran me. We had lane choice and I thought that would help us, but he had the better car and that's all there is to it."
"I'm happy for my dad and his Castrol GTX team," said the 25-year-old graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "It's huge for John Force Racing for him to get that win and clinch his 16th championship.
"I'm looking forward to Pomona. I think we're going to leave here on a really good note and that will get us into a good rhythm so we can go rounds and pick up more points (at Pomona)," she said. "We moved up two spots this weekend, which is huge. We came close to moving up three spots which was our goal, but I'm happy and definitely proud of my Traxxas team because these guys have worked really hard."
Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III both were ousted early in the event and Robert Hight's title chances ended in the second round against Courtney.
"We've been in test mode the last couple of races, working on different blower combinations," Tasca said of his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang. "Truthfully, we've been struggling with the car making too much power. A lot of times, you think more horsepower is better, but balance is ultimately what you have to find.
"We really are chipping away at some exciting stuff but we really want to finish the season on a high note and take a lot of the data we have and put it to good use in the off-season for next year."
Wilkerson, too, has been dealing with mechanical issues in the Levi, Ray and Shoup Mustang he owns, drives and tunes.
"All of a sudden, we're really having fits with clutch application and dropping cylinders," said the 17-time tour winner. "Those two things are related a lot of the time. If the clutch wear isn't what you're after, it will drop a cylinder faster than you can blink and right now we're stuck in a bit of a rut doing that.
"We wanted to put a good enough lap on the board to make them sweat it out and earn the win if they got it, but we didn't do that and our day was over way too quickly.
"Huge congratulations to John and his whole team," Wilkerson said. "People ask me all the time what he's really like and all I can say is what you see on TV is what he is, plus the fact he's the most driven and dedicated guy out here. What he did this year is a huge accomplishment and we're proud him as a Ford teammate and a great ambassador for our sport."