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At age 69, John Force back in winner's circle

By Norwalk Reflector staff • Jul 23, 2018 at 5:52 PM

MORRISON, Colo. — John Force captured his 149th Funny Car victory Sunday at Bandimere Speedway outside of Denver.

The win comes just 20 days before Force's return to Summit Motorsports Park for the 41st annual Night Under Fire event at the Norwalk venue where a portion of the grandstands are named in his honor.

Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history, defeated an impressive list of drivers to earn the Wally trophy on Sunday — including two-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan, long-time nemesis Cruz Pedregon, daughter Courtney Force, the current points leader and No. 1 qualifier, and in the final round Force took out the second-winningest Funny Car driver, Ron Capps.

At the end of the day, and after over a year between wins, the ever-humble Force thanked two special people for inspiring him to victory.

One was a lifelong friend, Bandimere Speedway track owner John Bandimere Jr., and the other was a brand new motivator, Kirstie Ennis, a U.S. Marine who lost her leg in combat in Afghanistan and was at the track representing Building Homes for Heroes and Advance Auto Parts.

“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career. It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007,” said an emotional Force in the Bandimere media center. “I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes and after my last one I had John Bandimere call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.

“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race," he added. "Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”

Force planned on giving his trophy to Ennis.

“I only had one trophy and one is going to Bandimere, but I am getting another one and I am giving it to this young lady (Kirstie Ennis) that my daughter Courtney introduced me to this weekend,” Force said. “She has really fought. What is the greatest? It’s God, then our country and our military. Look at this young lady that fought for our country and still fights every day and I am whining about me."

Force was the No. 5 qualifier and drew a tough first round opponent in Hagan. Force took out Hagan with a strong 4.158 second run at 285.77 mph for his 1,300th round win of his illustrious career.

The second round saw Force squaring off with a driver he has raced over 100 times, Pedregon. Force beat him off the line with a stellar .037 reaction time and getting a hole shot win with a 4.139 second pass to Pedregon’s quicker 4.137-seconds.

In the semifinal he faced one of his toughest opponents all season, daughter Courtney Force. She was the No. 1 qualifier and also the points leader. In addition, she held a 4-0 record against him in their head to head matchups this season.

But the elder Force pulled away past half track for the win and a chance to pick up his first victory since the Gatornationals in 2017, a span of 34 races.

The final round was another epic battle between Force and Capps, who he edged for his lone win at the NHRA Nationals in Norwalk in 2014. It was Force again taking a starting line advantage with another .037 reaction time and getting the win over Capps 4.075 to 4.067.

The win gave Force 1,303 round wins and 149 career wins.

“I had to beat a lot of great racers today," Force said. "Hagan, Cruz, Capps. I love them all. My fire was in me,” Force said. “I am fighting and I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. I am working through rehab to get out here to win races. I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit continues with the NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend in Sonoma Calif.

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