THE BIGGER THE STAGE, THE BIGGER THE FORCE MOMENT AS HE WINS NO. 152
The bigger the stage, the bigger the John Force performance.
And in Force's eyes, his 72-year old eyes, there's no grander stage than Bruton Smith has at his self-proclaimed Bellagio of drag strips with zMAX Dragway, the palatial straight-line speedway on the hallowed grounds of his Concord, NC, horsepower complex.
With the strip closed in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Force helped Smith make a grand return to the Camping World Drag Racing Series by winning the NGK NTK NHRA Four-Wide Nationals by edging out J.R. Todd at the stripe.
Call it Force bravado, but the cagey veteran's mouth wrote a check his butt had no other choice but to cash.
"I ran my mouth and said I could win this for Bruton, and that's just a play of running your mouth, but I really wanted to, and it was in my heart," Force said. "He's done so much for me. Things people don't even know to keep my head in the game. When I'm getting old, he always says, 'I'm older than you," and I dedicated this trophy to him."
Force might have written the check with his words, but he's quick to point out co-crewchiefs Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi ensured the account had sufficient funds.
"Danny's going to get one. So is Fabrisi, but this is going to Bruton with the hat," Force said. "I've got a young team; the only thing old is me."
Age is only a number, Force believes.
"Is Bruton too old to run race tracks? Force asked. "Is John Force too old to drive a race car? I don't make those rules, but today I'm okay, and I'm going to keep doing it. Sometimes things just work right for me."
Force made a clean sweep of the event, driving his way to the No. 1 qualifying position on Saturday. He was also the top runner of his quads in the first two rounds of competition, running 3.926, 329.10 in the first round, and low elapsed time of the event in round two with a 3.897, 330.31.
Force ran a 3.916, 328.78 in the final round, edging out J.R. Todd's 3.944, 327.02.
"Timing is everything; God's got a plan for me," Force said. "I won the inaugural coming in. I met Bruton a hundred years ago in a coffee shop early in the morning. He came in and said he wanted to meet with me when he built Bristol. I just saw the fire in his belly where he was going and with kids like I have. We went down a road, and we did our thing. I don't ever run my mouth very much.
"I called out to Bruton. I insinuated I was going to win this race. And then I said, you can't do that. And I said, 'Well, I am sure going to try. I threw that in. You never tell him you're going to do something and then don't do it."
The timing couldn't have been any better for Force, who picked up career win No. 152 after sitting out the pandemic restart last season, which started in July.
"You don't realize how much you love something," Force said. "It's a wake-up call. You take things for granted. Do you know what I mean? Buy flowers for the wife, do stuff. Don't ever take somebody for granted. And don't take the job that you love for granted or the people. Do you know what I'm saying?
"I never get to see the people anymore. I got one in Seattle and then Indy. I won Indy. And then we didn't get to race last year, but you know what? We're back here."