edge going into the final. He qualified
No.1at Seattle and made it to the semifinal,
was No.1 at Brainerd and beat McCulloch
in the final, then took the No.1 spot again
at Indy and lost in the second round to
McCulloch, who always owned that race.
The season was winding down as Force
beat Mark Oswald on a holeshot in the final
round of the next event, Maple Grove,
5.33sec to 5. 30, with a .040 reaction time,
the best light any Funny Car driver had all
day. There were just three races left. If he
didn’t blow it, he was about to win it all.
Force reached the semis again at
Topeka and headed to Dallas, the
penultimate event, on the edge of title
glory. He qualified in the slow half of the
field, drew that guy Spurlock again in the
first round, then beat him on a holeshot.
And just like that, it was all over.
At the World Finals at Pomona, title in
hand, Force red-lighted in the first round
against Tim Grose and never even made
it to the finish line. McCulloch got the win,
but it was too late – Force was the champ.
“I was just too jacked up and red-lighted,”
he recalls. “Sweat was pouring down my
face, I couldn’t see. Mentally, I was drained.
That doesn’t happen anymore. I know
what to do; I’ve trained myself. All year, Coil
would tell me, ‘You’re handing out résumés
on your burnouts. You’re thinking about
what you’ll say when you win. Stop doing
that.’ And I did. He showed me that if you
quit chasing money on race day and focus
on your job, you’ll be consistent and win.”
Force won another title in 1991, gave
one away in 1992 (see sidebar), then won
every championship for the next 10 years.
“My fan base got a lot bigger after
1990, but I never changed,” he says. “I
loved the drama, loved the crowds, loved
it all. Still do. Nothing changes me. What
am I now, anyway – 65 or 66? Doesn’t
matter. [ 66 – ed.] In 1990, I was ready.
The money was good, the team was good
– everything was good. It was my time,
and I never wanted it to end.”
After breaking through for that
life-changing first Funny Car title in
1990, John Force won a second title in
’ 91 and was well on his way to his best
year ever in ’ 92 – or so he thought.
Force took his fourth win of the
season Aug. 2 in Sonoma, then lost in
the first round at Seattle and in the
second round at Brainerd, where rookie
Cruz Pedregon scored. Then Pedregon
won the next one. And the next three.
Panic set in. “We were already testing
for ‘ 93 in the middle of ‘ 92,” Force
says. “We thought we had it.”
“They already had the T-shirts made
– John Force, 3X champ,” Pedregon
recalls. “Can’t say I blame them. It’d
been a pretty mediocre year for us, to
tell you the truth, pretty hit and miss.
We had a revolving door of crew chiefs,
but then we got Larry Meyer, and we
started winning and kept on winning.”
Pedregon won five straight,
highlighted by the infamous Dallas final,
where Force, after smoking the tires and
hitting the wall – instant disqualification
– got back on the throttle and ran into
it again a few hundred feet later.
There was just one race left, the
Pomona Finals, where Force had to
win and set a national record to even
stand a chance of edging Pedregon.
Instead, he put his car on its roof in
qualifying, thanks to a hung throttle.
“I never had a cross word with John –
he’s probably the only driver out there
I haven’t had a problem with – and
I was actually starting to fear for him,”
Pedregon says. “I was right behind him
and saw the whole thing and thought,
‘He’s nuts. What am I doing here?’”
Following that disastrous end to his
season, Force vowed never to get
overconfident again. “Sliding on my
roof, I said to myself, ‘What the hell am
I going to do now? I know – get back to
basics.’ And we did. And we won the
next 10 championships in a row.”
Force (ABOVE, left) dominated the early
stages of 1992, but a late-season surge by
Cruz Pedregon (right) shocked the champ.
tHE ONE tHAt GOt AwAy...
LOSING IT IN 1992
As a driver/crew chief
gets even close to
John Force and ace
tuner Austin Coil,
who won 15 NHRA
Funny Car titles and
132 national events
together. Sadly, the
relationship ended in
acrimony at the end
of the 2010 season,
but that shouldn’t
detract from a list
that will surely
never be matched.
“The money was good, the
team was good – everything
was good. It was my time,
and I never wanted it to end”