$100,000 payout beats a bang on the head, but Force gets both

National Hot Rod icon John Force celebrates his $100,000 victory Saturday at the Traxxas Nitro Shootout bonus race for Funny Cars during the AAA Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas, at Ennis. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

After John Force won Saturday's inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Cars during Saturday qualifying for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals near Dallas, the $100,000 victory went to his head -- literally.

Well, the trophy did, at least.

"That trophy weighs 75 pounds," Force declared after defeating points leader and top seed Ron Capps in the final of the bonus race-within-a-race at the Texas Motorplex.

"I had it over my head and I dropped it, " he said. "I got a big ol' knot on my noggin. Want to feel it? I put it over my head, and the guy (driving his up the return road to celebrate with fans) hit the gas with the car. Went back and it smacked me on the head. That thing'll hurt ya!"

He delivered the hurt to Capps with a 4.218-second pass at 296.57 mph in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to top Capps' 4.223 / 296.50 in the Don Schumacher-owned NAPA Dodge Charger.


The specialty race features eight Funny Car winners from the 17-race regular season.

Force said he'll deliver the winnings to his John Force Racing employees at both the Brownsburg, Ind., shop and the Yorba Linda, Calif., administrative offices.

"The 100-grand goes to my employees. I don't take any money. It's not about that for me," the 15-time champions said. "It's about winning for them and the fans and the sponsors.

"Traxxas putting up that 100-grand, it's good for our sport," Force said of the Plano, Texas-based maker of radio-controlled vehicles that sponsors daughter Courtney Force's Mustang. "It's good to have money out here that can subsidize teams, that can help teams, and anybody can win it, and I won it."

Force beat Jack Beckman and Jeff Arend for the right to take on Capps in the showdown.

After Courtney Force lost in the opening round (as did their JFR teammates Mike Neff and Robert Hight), she encouraged her dad. He said she kept telling him, "Go get that trophy," and he said he kept responding, "Don't put all this on me. I'm just hanging on."

But the truth is, he loved being there, carrying the ball for the cheering team and in front of the fans in the grandstands, scoring the touchdown.

He didn't get much of that glory in high school. He was the quarterback of his high-school football team in Southern California, and the team lost every game.

"I've won a lot of championships, but I've been an underdog my whole life," Force said. "I got beat up all the time in school. I couldn’t play baseball. I lost every football game. But it's like destiny. It just falls on me.

"I haven't won the race, but I've won the race-within-a race," he said. "and 100-grand is pretty nice."

How he would love to triumph at this race, for it would be a statement that nothing can keep him down. It was at the Texas Motorplex in 2007, as he raced down the quarter-mile against Kenny Bernstein, that his car broke apart and left him with devastating injuries that threatened to end his career, his mobility, the livelihood he loves so much.

He stunned doctors -- and probably even fans who expect nothing less than the impossible from Force all the time -- by being ready to race again at preseason testing at Phoenix the following February.

He harbors no ill will toward the facility. "The track wasn't personal to me. It's just one of those things that happen," he said of the crash that came six months after he lost protégé Eric Medlen to injuries from a testing accident half a continent away, in Florida. But to win Sunday's Funny Car race would be a profound proclamation that daughter Brittany, who's practicing to make her Top Fuel debut next season, made when she was just a grade-schooler, that her daddy "never, ever, ever gives up."

He can't predict Sunday's out come any more than he could have seen the accident coming. So he focused on what he knew for sure Saturday: "It's a great day and we won."

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