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NHRA Toyota Nationals brings out both sides of John Force

It must have been about 20 years ago when I first met John Force, or felt it. I remember it well. No way he does.

We were riding in a van with other racing people from the perimeter of Las Vegas Motor Speedway to the inner sanctum, where the garages are. This was the year the AARWBA — American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association — awards ceremony was at LVMS.

The irascible NHRA Funny Car driver did a 300 mph comedy routine on the way to the infield.

He was loud, he was bombastic, he was profoundly entertaining.

His arms were flailing.

He was just being John Force.

When it was his turn to receive an award, or to hand one out, he was even louder, more bombastic and more profoundly entertaining.

So that is one side of John Force, the side you see on TV and even when the cameras aren’t rolling. That’s a side that has endeared him to race fans and media.

A couple of years ago, I witnessed another side of the 16-time Funny Car champion.

A woman from Buffalo, New York, was dying, and she wanted to meet him. Not only did John Force agree to meet the dying woman during the middle of an engine rebuild, but he also made her feel as if she was part of his family. And when his daughter Courtney, who also drives Nitro Funny Cars, heard what was going on, she came over to spend quality time with the dying woman, too.

Both sides of John Force were there to behold Sunday at the Toyota Nationals at LVMS.

He edged Courtney in an all-Force showdown in the Funny Car final for his 147th victory, an amazing feat that sort of got the short shrift when Antron Brown locked up the Top Fuel dragster championship prematurely.

“They told me all I had to do was win this race and I had a shot at (Ron) Capps, then I found out at the top end (of the track) that wasn’t the case. I want a recount!” John Force said.

Bombastic John Force was at it again in the narrow stairwell in the media center that serves as an interview area.

But almost in the same sentence, which is how Force transitions from one thought to the next, the ageless 67-year-old former truck driver from Southern California’s Orange County spoke of awarding his trophy and medal to a youngster he had just met — somebody who has far bigger issues than doing whatever impossible math it would take to catch Ron Capps in the points.

“Something that happened to me before I went up for that final that really gave me heart was I met a young person who fought the fight and made it,” Force said. “We think we have problems, but there are people out there fighting fights we can’t even imagine. I am giving (this youngster) my win trophy and the medal. I never give away these medals, but I heard this story and was glowing with love.

“I just went out there and said let’s drag race like we did in the old days. Win or lose, let’s have some fun.”

So that’s what he did. He won. He had some fun.

And then John Force told the drag racing media all about it, as only he can.

LVMS

• Another major event was plagued by weather, as showers caused delays at the NHRA Toyota Nationals. The Red Bull Air Race Championship in mid-October was winded out, and it blew so hard just before the green flag at the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in March that Dale Earnhardt Jr. sought shelter in the media center among racing reporters because it was closer than his motorhome.

• Despite the wet and blustery weather, the NHRA drew huge crowds to the drag strip all three days, including a sellout of more than 30,000 for Saturday qualifying. NASCAR would give its left side lugnuts to draw a qualifying crowd like that. Yes, the drag racing stadiums are smaller, but the Mello Yello Series seems to be one of the few auto racing series not lagging for spectator interest these days.

NASCAR

Another race in the Chase, another Busch brother upset with a teammate. Last week it was Kurt Busch, who got into contretemps with Kevin Harvick on and off the track at Talladega Superspeedway. This past weekend at Martinsville, Virginia, it was Kyle Busch, who complained about having his progress retarded by Denny Hamlin. “(Blanking) great teammate,” Busch said after finishing fifth. “We (Joe Gibbs Racing) drivers worked so well together that we gave the win to (Jimmie Johnson) today. So JGR all the way.”

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

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