Despite DNQ, Force not ready to throw in the towel
Understandably upset after missing his second straight Funny Car field at the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals, John Force insists that he's not about to abandon his quest for the 15th NHRA POWERade Funny Car title. As expected, Force has been a huge hit with the fans at NHRA's newest event, and following Saturday's qualifying, he took the opportunity to give the members of the Charlotte media a 200-proof distillation of the humorous but sincere wit that has helped to make him drag racing's biggest star.
"I don't know why in the hell you want to listen to me," Force told the assembled media corps in Concord. "First, I'd like to apologize to [track owner and builder] Bruton Smith and the NHRA fans because when they give you an arena like this, the greatest facility in the history of our sport, I want to be a part of it. This [DNQ] don't help at all because Countdown starts here. I had the same opportunity as everyone else but just didn't get it done. Now, I've got to count on my team to do some real damage this weekend."
Force was not one of the quickest 12 qualifiers on Friday night, meaning that he had to put his Castrol Ford into the show on Saturday. He had a shot to make the show late Saturday afternoon, but his 4.15 came up short of the tough 4.13 bump spot.
"At the end of the day, everybody's tough," he said. "You've got one shot to run at night, and we screwed up last night. The car shook so hard it tried to break framerails. Today out here in the heat, we were praying for cloud cover but never got it. We'll just take our whippin' and move on.
"Afterward, [crew chief Austin] Coil said, 'I feel like you want to fire me'. I told him, 'What kind of champion would that make me?' It's really easy to be a champion when you're winning. Coil has 17 championships. That's why I don't make a change. I don't react to a race or two that's bad. I believe in my people."
Racing in Charlotte, in the shadow of nearby Lowe's Motor Speedway, Force also couldn't help but make the comparisons between NHRA POWERade Drag Racing and NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car racing. Force noted that he'd watched NASCAR's explosive growth in the 1980s and 1990s and predicts a similar future for NHRA.
"When Dale Earnhardt wasn't winning, he just fought harder, and I learned a lot from him and the NASCAR boys," Force said. "I learned how they draw the fans, and I've always wanted that dream for NHRA. This stadium gives us that chance. [NHRA president] Tom Compton and his team are working hard, and Bruton is helping them. He is one of a kind because he is willing to invest the kind of money it takes to build places like this. He's such a cool guy. Now, if I can just get him to quit hugging me. All weekend, the fans have been asking me, 'How do you like this stadium?' I'll tell you, this is gonna be a home run. Build 'em and they will come. That's what Bruton did."
Force was also asked about the possibility of adapting NASCAR's longstanding policy of granting provisional starting spots to their biggest stars so they are guaranteed a starting spot on Sunday.
"I'm excited and very proud but also a little embarrassed not to be in the show tomorrow. I've fought my whole life to catch up to the NASCAR boys, and this ain't helping me. I don't make the rules, but the rules are fair for everyone. At the end of the day, you have to earn the right to be there with the best. I ain't saying that there will never be a provisional, but I don't want to be put in [at someone else's expense]. Nothing against NASCAR, but if they want to put someone in the race because they won 14 championships, they can. I want to put it in the show, but we had the same chance as anyone else. We're going to have a great race tomorrow, and I ought to be in this show. We're not, but we'll fix it. Ashley will be out there, so the Force name will carry on.
"Don't feel bad for me. I thrive on this. This only makes me better. And if I'm not, I'm not worth a [damn]. After that last run, Ron Capps came over to me and said, 'I feel bad for you.' I just looked at him and smiled and said, 'Don't you ever feel bad for me. You got a leg up on me now, and you had better stay on it because I'm coming. It's like that line in the movie [Tombstone]. I'm coming, and I'm bringing hell with me. It's okay because this is just gonna make me fight more."