“I'm Seabiscuit,” replied John Force, 63, when asked if his victory over Ron Capps in the $100,000 to win Traxxas Nitro Shootout showed he was a veteran gunslinger.
Force decided he was more like a horse thought to be a basic loser, who turned into a major winner. Seabiscuit was named American Horse of the Year in 1938, which included the defeat of famed Triple Crown winner War Admiral.
Seabiscuit, an undersized, knobby-kneed foal, was not exactly the prototype race horse of his era; just as Force was far from being a leading driver early in his career. Even as Seabiscuit grew older, he was often the butt of jokes by those tending to the stables and was never believed to have much of a future as a race horse. The same future Force admitted, many in the sport of drag racing had for him.
Like Force, in time Seabiscuit won prestigious races and appeared to be well into a successful career until he suffered a serious injury. The vet experts said Seabiscuit would never race again. However, with a steady regimen of training the written-off horse not only returned but also scored two major, big money victories.
Force’s personal Seabiscuit injury tale occurred five years ago and is one of a driver severely injury in a serious accident at the Texas Motorplex. Force was airlifted to a local hospital where he recovered and convalesced himself back into the cockpit.
On Saturday, during the special-race-within-a-race during the AAA Texas NHRA Nationals, Force showed determination and heart can go a long way toward success.
Force, in three rounds, outreacted all three of his opponents, beating both Jack Beckman and Jeff Arend before getting the best of a much quicker Ron Capps. Force beat him on both ends of the track with a .019 starting line advantage and 4.218 elapsed time.
“I’m beat up, tore up, but I’ve got a lot of heart,” said an emotionally drained Force, Saturday evening. “So was Seabiscuit. Sometimes when they tell you that you can’t win; you have to have heart. Sometimes if you believe hard enough the stuff happens.”
And sometimes, one must take matters in their own hands as did Force when he was the last man standing in his quartet of drivers.
One by one, Force watched this teammates fall from competition. First, eventual No. 1 qualifier Courtney lost to Capps. Then Mike Neff lost to Johnny Gray and Arend took Robert Hight out.
“We work together as one team, but when they go out, something happens to me,” Force admitted. “I’m so much into my team winning and I want to see them do good and I have to get my fight up. When I see them winning I’m okay. But, when they gave me the trophy that was the icing on the cake today.”
Almost. Hight then qualified for Sunday’s eliminations after struggling throughout qualifying.
“I almost knocked the two Traxxas girls out of the truck when they told me Robert finally qualified --- freaked me out,” explained Force. “I thought to myself, ‘what else can go right today?’
Force then reflected on his career, which he acknowledges isn’t your average underdog and pony show.
“I’ve won a lot of championships but I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” said Force. “I always got beat up in school. I couldn’t play baseball and lost every football game. It was always a fight just to get there. Yet I’ve been able to win 15 championships. But when my people go down, especially Courtney, that’s when the other person in me comes out.”
The victory marks nineteen times he’s reached the finals of a specialty race since joining the NHRA tour full-time in 1979. His total bonus winnings, including this weekend's check from Traxxas, add up to $1,160,500.
Not a small feat for a dreamer from Yorba Linda, Ca., who learned a long time ago channeling his inner Seabiscuit can pay off.
“Nobody knows this game better than me,” Force said. “And no one loves it as much as me.”
Spoken like a true thoroughbred.
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