The 46th Annual NHRA AAA of Southern California Finals at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona was one of the most dramatic in recent years. Three of the four professional category titles would be determined at this event.
The main drama of the event involved the perennial crowd favorite, John Force. After the devastating loss of team driver, Eric Medlen (from Oakdale) in a testing accident following the national event in Gainesville, Florida in March of 2007 and his own severe accident in 2007, Force was considered by many to be through.
With both arms and legs badly injured from his racing accident at the event at the Texas Motoplex late in the 2007 season, Force, against all odds, made one of the most dramatic comebacks in sports history. He spent hundreds of hours undergoing physical therapy and grueling workouts in the gym in order to continue in the sport he loved. He suffered two demoralizing seasons of racing, where in 2009, he failed to win an event for the first time in almost 20 years.
Now, at the age of 61, he was in a season battle for his 15th Championship with a young driver, Matt Hagan, about half his age. This championship was one he drastically needed to show he was back, to show he “still had it,” as Force himself said. He admitted he needed it for his sponsors that stuck by him during the recent hard times. He needed it for his family that wouldn’t let him give up on his dream of coming back. He needed it for his fans that supported him through all the glory years and the recent years of drought.
Team Force would have to let out all the stops. They even went with an unpainted, carbon fiber body that had only the required sponsor decals, in order to save weight on the car. Force increased his gym workouts, increasing his strength and stamina and losing weight to help lighten the total weight of the racecar and driver.
Force qualified second, behind his daughter, Ashley Force-Hood. Matt Hagan ended up qualified fourth. That put the two less than two rounds of racing apart. The problem was that they were on opposite sides of the elimination ladder and could not face each other until the final round (if they both made it that far). This would mean that Force and his team would need to set a new national elapse time record, if they met, and win the event. The weather conditions were likely not going to be good enough to make a new national record possible. He would need help. The help came on a red 2010 Mustang driven by a Ford teammate, Bob Tasca Jr., who qualified 12th, stepped up to the plate and took out Hagan in the first round of eliminations. That put nearly the entire crowd on its feet, and into a frenzy. Now Force would need to win the next two rounds, and the championship was his.
Each time he came to the starting line, nearly every fan in the stands was standing cheering him on. First he took out Gary Densham, a crafty veteran racer who drove for him until 2005. In the second round, Force watched as his daughter lost when her car lost traction at about half-track. Since his car was tuned similar to his daughter’s car, nerves were on edge. The pressure was on, but that is when Force is at the top of his game. As the fans once again rose to their feet with a crescendo of cheers, Force then took out Bob Bode, who stepped up and ran a strong 4.22-second effort to John’s 4.18-second effort. In both rounds, Force, the 61-year-old so-called “has been” reacted better than his opponent, getting the starting line advantage and driving away. His crew and crew chiefs (Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and Mike Neff) had his car running at the top of the pack each round. With his second round win, Force captured his 15th Full Throttle Fuel Funny Car title.
What transpired next was right out of a Hollywood script. The man, who could barely walk without a limp, ran nearly the length of the track back up the return road, getting high fives from all his fans along the way. One of the fans was a little boy who was holding a sign that said “John Force’s #1 Fan.” Force raised the sign in front of the national television cameras then returned it and gave the young fan a hug. And the crowd went wild.
After a short delay for the Championship trophy presentation, it was back to racing action. It was time to put a cap on things. And now Force was on a final mission, to win the event title. He took out Melanie Troxell and her In and Out Burger car in the semi-final found, setting up a final round match up with Jeff Arend in the Connie Kalitta team DHL funny car. In the final round, both cars left together (Force had a 0.002 second starting line advantage). With the nitro flames rising 10 feet into the air from the exhaust headers on each 8200 horsepower racecar as it thundered down track, Force streaked to a 4.085 second at 310.41 mph to 4.109 second at 307.65 mph victory. The grandstands shook with the enthusiasm of the legions of John Force fans. The atmosphere was electric. One of the most remarkable seasons in the history of the sport of drag racing had come to a close.
John Force celebrated his 25th year with Castrol Oil, with his 15th Championship. With the love of his fellow racers, family, friends and fans, he was standing “on top of the world” as the oldest driver in NHRA history to ever win a season championship.