Auto racing: John Force still racing, still winning as NHRA cruises into Route 66 Speedway

Top Fuel driver Brittany Force makes a qualifying run during a past NHRA Nationals event at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet.

CHICAGO – The old line is true.

John Force would make coffee nervous.

To look or listen to him, you wouldn’t know he just turned 75. A regular hour in the gym keeps him in shape. A burning desire to succeed in his chosen vocation keeps him in the seat of a Funny Car for his drag racing team on the NHRA circuit.

Thus, Force, daughter Brittany and fellow team driver Austin Prock made the rounds of Chicago media the past two days, promoting the weekend’s appearance of the national series at Route 66 Raceway. Brittany Force, who pilots a rail dragster and holds the Route 66 track record, and Prock, like John Force, a Funny Car specialist, made their points Thursday at a bistro across the street from Wintrust Arena.

John Force? He needed a cup of coffee to settle down, before and after several promotional outbursts at lunch hour.

It’s unlikely any other sport has had a more chatty spokesman than Force, who could sell tickets to the track owner if need be. IndyCar could use him. Formula One wouldn’t know what to make of him.

But John Force has always backed up his words with actions. He’s already won a weekend this year – his record 156th title – and in Prock has the points leader in Funny Car. Force, fifth in the standings, 70 points in arrears of Prock, won his first NHRA series title in 1990, and, through dominating seasons and comebacks from injuries, has outlasted just about everyone he’s run against.

“I don’t know how to get off this train,” John Force said. “I love NHRA. It’s made me financially stable – at my age, that’s kind of nice. I’ve got to keep working. I’ve got to keep helping them. Every time I talk about retirement, I know they don’t want it.

“There’s just a lot of stuff I need to be a part of.”

Team Blue DEF stages Brittney Force and her father John Force’s cars out on the track for a photo shoot in preparations for the NHRA Route 66 Nationals this weekend at Route 66 Raceway on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Joliet.

Force has been around so long, his granddaughter, Autumn Hight, will be competing at Route 66 this weekend in Super Comp, one of the many support series that burns rubber on the same 1,000-foot track.

“It’s what I need to do,” Force said. “And I worry that, because I’m so hyped, if I quit I’ll go down fast. I’ve got a rocking chair on my front porch, and I’ve never sat in it.”

Fast is what John Force has always been. Among his victories at Route 66 were No. 86, which passed Bob Glidden for the most in NHRA annals, and No. 100, making Force the first to hit the century mark in receiving the Wally, the winner’s trophy named for NHRA founder Wally Parks.

Force doesn’t discount the notion of getting a second season win this weekend. He can still beat his opponent in the other lane off the starting line.

“I have good days and bad days,” Force said of his reflexes. “But trying to whip these kids like Prock, he’s unbelievable. He stands on the gas and kills me on the lights. I’m doing everything I can. I had ‘em covered in Charlotte in the four-wide. I set the track record, had low elapsed time, won the first round and second round – I was on my way. But brain fade in the final. I got whupped.

“I’m racing guys who are 20.”

Just 55 years younger than he is.

The weekend’s schedule returns to the pre-pandemic format. Two pro qualifying sessions for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle on Friday beginning at 2:30 p.m., two more Saturday starting at 11:40 a.m. (plus a Pro Stock callout showdown beginning 10 minutes earlier) and the match-play elimination finals Sunday commencing at 11 a.m.

Intertwined with the big series will be a variety of sportsman classes going through their fast motions, two at a time, all day and into the night. A full weekend ticket starts at $165, with tickets for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s finals starting at $68 each day. Friday seats start at $59, with junior (age 12 and younger) tickets each day for $25.