Racing legend John Force clinched his 16th Funny Car world championship Sunday in Las Vegas, winning his third-consecutive race, and doing so in the final round against his daughter Courtney Force.
The win was the 138th of Force’s illustrious career.
The 64-year-old force of nature said he won’t be satisfied with 16 championships.
“We’ve won the championship and we’re glad to have done so. Man, we’re having fun,” John Force said. “I don’t want to end my career at 16. I want to end it at 17, at least.”
“I’d like to scream and say, ‘Gee, it was me,’ but the truth is (crew chief) Jimmy Prock and the team he’s got around him is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a team effort and if there’s anything that I’ve ever done right in my life, it’s been the team effort. That’s what I’m really proud of, holding together when it looked like we were falling apart.”
Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) also were winners at the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. Smith claimed his second career world championship with the victory as well.
In winning the Pro Stock Motorcycle race, Smith joined Force on the world champion’s podium to celebrate his second career title. He powered his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell to a final round run of 6.991 at 192.08 to beat Jerry Savoie, who went 7.050 at 190.19 on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki. Smith, who has won the last three races, claimed his fourth win this season and 17th in his career en route to clinching the championship crown. His father, Rickie, also won the world championship in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series this season.
“This team has been awesome,” Smith said. “What else can you ask for? With me winning the championship and dad winning the Pro Mod championship, it’s been great. I don’t want to sound too confident, but we’ve almost been unstoppable. We’ve been to 10 finals since Epping and have six wins. Those are amazing numbers for our team.”
Pro Stock’s Gray picked up his first win in more than two years and third of his career with a holeshot victory against V. Gaines. Gray, who moved to fourth in points, posted a winning time of 6.699 at 206.89 in his Chevy Camaro, and his quicker .032 reaction time overcame Gaines’ quicker, but losing Dodge Avenger, which finished in 6.698 at 207.46.
“The team needed a day like this,” Gray said. “I got a big boost of confidence today, and it’s amazing what winning will do. It lets you know that you are still capable of doing this, and anytime you can win a round on a holeshot I think you’ve done something special.”
Jeg Coughlin extended his points lead in Pro Stock by advancing to the semifinals before falling to Gaines. He now holds a 71-point lead over second-place Jason Line. Mike Edwards is 80 points back in third, while Gray trails Coughlin by 84 points.
“I’m looking forward to Pomona now,” Gray said. “I think we’ll be even tougher now. These cars are getting more and more difficult to run, and the driver is so important now. The Countdown escalates everyone’s performance two notches.”
Brown, the defending world champion in Top Fuel, moved to second in the points standings by powering his dragster to a run of 3.782 at 324.51 in the final round against Clay Millican, who went 3.822 at 322.50 in his dragster. Brown claimed his fourth victory this season and 25th in his career, and trails points leader Shawn Langdon by 102 points heading into the final event.
“We struggled in the middle of this year, but what I’m proud of the most is the way we just kept our heads down and never gave up,” Brown said. “We just put our head down and worked harder. We just kept on digging.”
Langdon, who was the #1 qualifier, lost to Millican in the semifinals but still holds a commanding lead in the points race in his dragster. Brown, who beat Bob Vandergriff, Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein to reach the final round, knows it will take something special at the final event in Pomona to earn a second straight championship.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Brown said. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. We’re going to try and go for those qualifying points and qualify in the top half. Our team knows that we’ve been losing some crucial qualifying points and in Pomona that’s what we’ve got to go for, and we’ve got to take it one round at a time and give it everything we’ve got.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will conclude its 2013 season Nov. 7-10 with the Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.
Pro Stock Championship Point Standings
1. Jeg Coughlin 2,512 2. Jason Line 2,441 3. Mike Edwards 2,432 4. Shane Gray 2,428 5. Allen Johnson 2,419
Funny Car Championship Point Standings
1. John Force 2,581 2. Matt Hagan 2,429 3. Jack Beckman 2,410 4. Robert Hight 2,375 5. Courtney Force 2,366
Top Fuel Championship Point Standings
1. Shawn Langdon 2,530 2. Antron Brown 2,428 3. Doug Kalitta 2,392 4. Spencer Massey 2,388 5. Morgan Lucas 2,367
Pro Stock Motorcycle Point Standings
1. Matt Smith 2,602 2. Michael Ray 2,437 3. Hector Arana 2,400 4. Hector Arana Jr 2,397 5. Eddie Krawiec 2,377
The NHRA, Drag Race Central, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.