John Force keeping NHRA candles lit at age 67

In the old TV series “Happy Days” there was a scene during which Richie and Ralph Malph were watching the Bears lose to the Chicago Cardinals of the 1950s on TV. After Ed Brown’s pass was intercepted, Richie suggested the Bears put in their backup quarterback.

Ralph said no way, that guy must be 30 years old, he was washed up. To which Richie Cunningham replied: “Whaddya mean, washed up? George Blanda must have two or three good years left.”

The joke was that the episode was filmed during the early 1970s when Blanda still was playing in the NFL.

George Blanda retired in 1976 at the age of 48; Julio Franco was 49 when he retired from Major League Baseball in 2007, a few months after he had homered into the swimming pool in Phoenix off Randy Johnson.

John Force, on the other hand, still is tearing up the quarter-mile (or thereabouts) on the NHRA Funny Car circuit.

Last weekend in Charlotte, he won his third nationals of 2016 and climbed to third place in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, the penultimate stage of which is set for Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 27-30.

John Force is 67 years old.

John Force is amazing.

Methuselah, start your engine.

“I have a race car now that I can race with,” the effusive Force said with his usual gusto after edging top qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. on Bruton Smith’s four-wide strip in North Carolina.

It was career victory No. 146 for the 16-time champion. It came just two seasons after Castrol dropped financial support of his operation after 27 years, and Ford withdrew after 17, which made John Force’s head spin faster than usual. To use his expression on those old TV commercials, how in the heck was he going to keep the candles lit with half his budget eliminated?

“I was almost out,” he said.

He had to lay off people and cut corners and wrap baling wire around the shoestrings. But 67-year-old John Force has managed to keep those candles lit.

He just isn’t allowed to display them on his birthday cake without express written consent from the NHRA Safety Safari.

NASCAR

* Among those who called to congratulate John Force on his win at Charlotte was injured (concussion-like symptoms) Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had spent time at the track with the drag racing legend and his racing daughters, Courtney and Brittany. Junior posed for photos with the Force clan while wearing a throwback Cassius Clay T-shirt, which received raves from observant fans on Twitter.

* It’s no secret that Brendan Gaughan’s favorite college basketball team is Georgetown, where he once kept the end of John Thompson’s bench warm. But he has more in common with Dayton in terms of the Xfinity Series’ first bracket-style championship. Like the Flyers in last season’s March Madness, the veteran Las Vegas driver is seeded seventh heading into Saturday’s Xfinity chase opener at Kentucky Speedway.

* If NASCAR was like hip-hop music and had an East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry, Noah Gragson might have something on Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac. After sweeping a K&N West Series doubleheader on the road circuit at the Utah Motorsports Campus, the Las Vegas teenager also set the winning pace in a K&N East road course event at New Jersey Motorsports Park last weekend.

LVMS

* The local short-track racing season comes to an end Saturday when 12 track champions will be crowned during Championship Night at the ⅜ths-mile oval. Gates open at 5 p.m. with racing at 7. And check this out — everyone attending will receive a free ticket to the Oct. 1 NASCAR truck series race at LVMS.

ELSEWHERE

* Simon Pagenaud, who sped into prominence with a three-year gig as lead driver for the IndyCar team owned by Sam Schmidt of Henderson, clinched his first championship in North America’s top open-wheel series by winning the season-ending race at Sonoma, California, driving for Roger Penske. James “Dancing With Stars” Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt’s drivers in the just-concluded season, finished 13th and 15th, respectively, in final points.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. His motor sports notebook runs on Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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