With 16 world champions winning 154 races, and more than 160 low-profile qualifying trophies – numbers no one will ever surpass – you might think Force’s legacy as the GOAT of the sport – perhaps the greatest in all motorsports – would be safe in his mind, but it isn’t.
“I’m just going to be a bull to myself and not go there,” he insisted. “I don’t think about it. People have said, ‘Go behind [stock-car great Richard Petty’s record 200 wins], but I didn’t race with a trifle. So why do I even say that?
They said the same about [passing Pro Stock great Bob] Glidden,” Force continued, noting the day he beat Glidden’s NHRA record by 85 wins. “Glidden was standing there with me, and he said, ‘Okay, good luck. You could break my own record, and I said, “You’re the greatest out there ever, but I’ve never raced you. Why would I chase your record? None of that makes sense.”
“But the point is, I still chase Don Prudhoms and my reign heroes. I still haunt them in my mind. That’s what motivates me. I’ll never be ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits. And I’ll never be Shirley [Muldowney]. But I don’t want to be that. I just want to be John Force rider who does what he loves. I don’t want to compare anymore. I don’t want to go this way.
“I know what you’ve accomplished. But take it away [longtime crew chief] Austin Coyle wouldn’t look at a 16-time champion. If you want to give credit, I’ve given it to Austin Coyle, Bernie Federley and John Medellin.”
Even with his four times and four times the championships that Prudhomme has ever won in Funny Car, the Force still feels like he’s falling short.
“They were all I lived for,” he said, becoming emotional, a gesture in his voice. “You don’t understand. I was a kid, I left school with this dream, I stood at the fence when I couldn’t afford to get into the racetrack in Pomona and said one day, ‘I’ll be there.'”
And then, sometimes, despite everything that got you in, you’re at a crossroads, like, ‘This is over. You can not do that. You are broke.’ I remember sitting in Memphis at a crossroads. I’m broke, the crew wants to beat me up. You get to a point where you say, “It’s over,” and then you go, “Is that what the Garlits are going to say?” What did he say when he lost? [half of] his feet [in a 1970 transmission explosion]? What did Prudhomme say when he crossed the wall in Montreal? [after a 1990 Top Fuel blowover]? ‘ I was there. I watched him crawl over the wall. It was like, “Oh my God, this guy is a god.” He should be dead, crawling back over the wall.
“I love to drive beautiful cars. It makes me young. It puts me in a place with these kids, and I’ve come through generations of drivers. Cheryl Greer, who before me was just a champ, then Prudhomme and [Kenny] Bernstein and [Raymond] Beadle and “Jungle Jim” [Liberman]and go to the next era of [Whit] Bazmore and [Al] Hoffmann, and now it has been developed. We got those kids and half the time I get out of the car trying to figure out who I just raced. I said it [Bobby] Body Kid Last Week – Was in [Houston] Finally, it was working fine, this thing blew up, it looked like it covered Hagan–and I went and said, “Well, at least I get that,” and baby, he said, “I blew up all my things.” You may have lost the race, I said, but you stole the whole TV. This is how it really works. I just want to race with these kids, because I see the heart in them.”
He turns 73 next Wednesday and Force knows he can’t race forever and that one day he will actually have to hang up his helmet, but he knows his legacy will live on through his family. Daughters Ashley, Kourtney and Brittany have expanded the family’s legacy, and grandchildren Autumn, Noah and Jacob have already demonstrated their skills at Junior Dragsters.
“If I always notice, I disappear when [Brittany] He wins the race because I’m far from hiding and crying somewhere because [with her out there] He said, “That means I will never die. They will go on with me, you know what I’m saying? And just to think that you accomplished something like that, that’s really who I am.”
“I thank God every day that I’m here. Next week is my birthday, but I’m going to be a little kid in that race car. And that’s what I do to the end. I just keep going. And I’m going to keep chasing these guys.”