Chasing Neon Dreams for Seventy NHRA Seasons
“Take it to the bank.… John Force will be back in 2021.”
Last season NHRA president Glen Cromwell sent a message to racing fans when he made the above comment to Steven Cole Smith in an interview for Autoweek. Now five months later, race fans might be wondering if the National Hot Rod Association is chasing a neon dream for the sanctioning body’s 70th Anniversary. After all, John Force will be 72 years old in 2021 and the coronavirus pandemic is still raging. Although the Godfather of Nitro is eligible for an early round COVID vaccination, will it be possible for the Camping World Drag Racing Series to make it through the 2021 schedule in a way that allows the sport’s winningest driver to meet sponsorship requirements for the John Force Racing?
No doubt the coronavirus pandemic took a heavy toll on the National Hot Rod Association’s championship events during most of the 2020 NHRA drag racing season. After the first two west coast rounds had been completed last year, noticeably missing from the later stage of the Championship were the loyal following of NHRA race fans, title sponsor Mello Yello (a Coca-Cola product), much of the events’ purse money, and the entire team from John Force Racing. The latter included former Top Fuel champion Brittany Force, Funny Car champions John Force and Robert Hight, and the team’s aspiring Top Fuel second-season driver, Austin Prock.
In 2019 at the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle, the son of Jimmy Prock (a longtime JFR crew chief for Robert Hight’s Funny Car), claimed his first career win in Top Fuel by eliminating Steve Torrence, the reigning NHRA Top Fuel champion. The driver of the Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain top fuel dragster joined the list of only ten rookie drivers to win in their first season and only one of thirteen drivers to ever qualify for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
So Why Did JFR Call It Quits in 2020?
Following a good opening round performance at Pomona with a final Funny Car run of 332.34 mph that came up just short of “Fast” Jack Beckman’s winning speed of 333.33 mph, the 71-year-old patriarch of JFR pulled his team from competition following the second event at the Arizona NHRA Nationals. Force had said the pandemic would make it impossible for his teams to meet sponsorship obligations due to the inevitable changes expected to the NHRA 2020 Championship schedule. Ironically, it was “Fast” Jack that Force had beaten at the 2019 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to break his own NHRA record by claiming his 151st National victory.
Although the team collectively has 280 National wins and 21 NHRA Nitro Championships in total, it would be the charismatic, larger-than-life personality of Funny Car’s winningest driver in NHRA history that would be sorely missed for the remainder of the 2020 calendar. Even though Force has already said that he will retire sometime, it looks for his fans that 2021 will not be the year he calls it quit. After all, 55-year-old Ron Capps is only 85 national wins behind the hall-of-famer with 66 NHRA Funny Car and 1 Top Fuel Wally in 1995 at Seattle.
Update on the 2021 NHRA Camping Word Drag Racing Series
John Force had announced in December that John Force Racing would be back in the pits at NHRA National events with four (4) drivers competing for 2021 championships in both Funny Car and Top Fuel dragster. At that time, the sponsorship picture appeared locked in for the old guy and his son-in-law Robert Hight with both competing in Funny Car. However, there was still some level of uncertainty regarding Top Fuel sponsorship for daughter Brittany and Austin Prock. All of that is the good news; the bad news is, although John Force Racing was fully committed to NHRA for the 2021 season, the sanctioning body has already been forced to cancel the Arizona Nationals originally scheduled for April 23-25 as the fifth event for the Camping World Drag Racing Series. The 36th annual Arizona Nationals had raced in February last year at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park before the coronavirus abruptly shut down professional sports.
As for the latest online rumors circulating social media platforms, NHRA Top Fuel champion Leah Pritchett and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart (co-owner of Stewart/Haas Racing) are a couple. Although it is true that Stewart completed Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and made passes in a blown Top Alcohol dragster at Bradenton Motorsport Park, Smoke hasn’t announced his intentions for joining the ground-pounding action in one of NHRA’s nitro classes. Nonetheless, the National Hot Rod Association remains firm on its commitment to host a 22-race pro championship in 2021, including divisions for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. To keep up with racing news for the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and the 2021 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, bookmark this website for future reference.