Photo Source: Gary Nastase / Auto Imagery

DINWIDDIE, Va. (June 19, 2024) – Five days shy of the 37th anniversary of his first NHRA tour victory (June 28, 1987 at Montreal, Canada), John Force tries to win his 158th this Sunday when he drives his PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS in pursuit of the Funny Car championship in a pared down, two-day version of the PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.

“Glad to be back in Richmond with my PEAK Chevy,” drag racing’s all-time winner said of his return to a track on which he has a higher winning percentage than on any other in the Mission Foods Series. “We’ve won the race a number of times (and) I’m excited to run it as a two-day (event). It’s something new for the fans, the drivers and the crew chiefs.”

Three Saturday qualifying sessions will set the lineup for Sunday eliminations on what is expected to be an exceedingly hot all-concrete track surface. 

An inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the California Sports Hall of Fame, and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, among others, Force has raised the “Wally” (the winner’s trophy named for the late founder of the NHRA, Wally Parks) four times in 12 appearances in the Virginia Nationals.  

Furthermore, while he hasn’t won since 2000, he advanced to the semifinals in 2022, the last time the race was run, and his overall record is a stellar 28-8.  

“This is the best car I’ve had in a long time,” Force said of his hot rod Chevy, “and I want to give credit to (crew chief) Daniel Hood, (Chris) Cunningham, (Tim) Fabrisi and all the kids on the PEAK team that keep me motivated to keep going.

“I love driving and I love winning, and I’ve got a car that can compete,” he said, “(but) I’ve got to get myself together. I got to the semis at Bristol (Tenn., in the last race on the tour), but I should have been to the finals. All I had to do was be a little bit better on the light, but I wasn’t.”

It’s that kind of introspection that has kept Force at the top of his sport for most of four decades during which he won a record 16 championships, 10 of them in succession (1993-2002).

“I beat myself up when things go wrong,” he said, “because I’m racing with these kids for a title, and I’ve got to stay in fight mode.”

He’ll get an opportunity to hone those “fighting” skills ahead of Sunday’s main event after qualifying once again for the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge as a semifinalist at the most recent event in the series.

“One day of qualifying with a race built right in,” he said of the #2Fast2Tasty. “It’s pretty exciting. Looking forward to being back in the seat in Virginia (especially since) Brittany’s HendrickCars.com dragster is starting to run better and (Austin) Prock’s Cornwell Tools Chevy is on fire.”