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NHRA legend John Force still going strong at age 70

When he finally climbed drag racing’s Mount Everest this year in Seattle by winning his unprecedented 150th NHRA Funny Car race, the TV announcers speculated on what they would get from the 70-year-old but forever young emotional box of chocolates known as John Force.

Would it be relief?

Would it be satisfaction?

Would it be tears?

It would be none of those. At least not when he pulled off his helmet.

John Force strafed the top end of the track with F-bombs that would have made Richard Pryor raise an eyebrow.

“I thought I wasn’t on TV because they’ve got time delay,” said the loquacious leadfoot who apologized between celebratory obscenities that endeared him even more to his legions of fans.

It was Brute Force.

It was Magnum Force.

It was Force 10 from Navarone, and from Bell Gardens, California.

It was John Force raw, in his element — what you see is what you get.

Between qualifying runs for the Dodge NHRA Nationals that conclude Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, motor sports’ irresistible motor mouth sat down for questions and answers in his motor coach.

He was asked three or four questions.

He gave about a hundred and one nitro-fueled answers.

Q: So how rewarding has been getting No. 150 and the rest of this season in general?

A: Oh, it’s been a great year. First of all, I don’t do it for the records. I love it when I do (set them). But you don’t plan ’em. You go down the road and hope it happens. I’ve got a real team behind me right now. I’ve got a shot at the title, my son-in-law’s right in front of me, (daughter) Brittany is right there in (Top Fuel) points.

But 150 was kind of a monkey on my back. Austin Coil, my crew chief for all of those years, called me and said turn that monkey into a positive. He said something’s wrong with your car — it’s fast, but you’re having trouble steering it, you’re having trouble braking it. I started making changes … and we bounce back two races later and we win Seattle. So just goes to show that sometimes the monkey ain’t a bad thing. He’s trying to help you.

Q: What motivates you at 70 ? You’ve won everything there is to win. You’ve been to the mountain top and back and …

A: Climb that mountain again. I really love drivin’ that car, whether it’s fast or it’s slow, that’s what does it for me. That’s why I love NHRA.

I grew up in a little trailer house with five brothers and sisters and ate off a TV tray my whole life. The first thing I wanted was a car to get out of it. And I had a ’55 Chevy, and the first thing I did was put my football helmet in, my girlfriend’s picture from school, Playboy under the seat — that was a way of life, and that car was freedom.

I wanted to be a football star, but I’ve got the record at Bell Gardens — I lost every game as a quarterback for three years. But I loved wearing that helmet, I loved being in that uniform. And now I’m (still) in that helmet, I’ve got cheerleaders in the crowd and I’m in the biggest trailer court with my friends out here. Whether they like me or not, they’re my friends, they’re the only ones I’ve got.

Q: What about the R-word? Surely retirement has crossed your mind.

A: Father Time is knocking on my door. But Clint Eastwood, he’s pretty old, and he said don’t let the old man in. I have my days when I fight him, but I’m not going to let him in.

But I want to make it clear — and I’ve finally confessed to what was that magazine? Forbes. (The author) did his homework. He said: ‘You always said you were going to die in a race car — (doing an animated impression of himself) I’m going to die in a race car; I don’t want to die in a rocking chair. But I say no, I don’t want that. I love my car, and I want to go out swinging, and I’ll go out that way — but only if God says. The real truth is when I go, I want to be with my family and my grandkids and my wife.

But I’m gonna stick around for a while. I ain’t retiring. I’ve got a lifetime contract with (primary sponsor) Peak. As long as I can deliver, win races, stay in the top 10, win a championship. Hopefully, that’s what I’ll be trying to do — even when I make another driver mad and they get on me.

I just say I’m old and slow and sometimes I screw up. But I love you, and I’ll be there next time.

That’s what I do.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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