Three years after a crash almost ended his career, drag-racing legend John Force won his 15th NHRA Full Throttle Series Funny Car championship in improbable fashion on Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif.
"I've got to give it to my great group of guys," Force said. "I just believe in magic. This old guy has used up all of his talent and luck."
Force trailed points leader Matt Hagan by just less than two rounds' worth of competition heading into Sunday's final day of racing. To sew up the title, all Hagan needed to do was reach the semifinals.
Unfortunately for Hagan, Bob Tasca III delivered a first-round knockout blow. Tasca and the Motocraft Ford Mustang put in a run of 4.148 seconds at 303.57 mph as Hagan's DieHard Dodge Charger sputtered and smoked its way to the finish line.
All Hagan could do was watch and hope Force would trip up.
"Sometimes you just can't control the outcome," Hagan said. "It's a team sport, and we all have to do our part. I feel like all my guys stepped up and did a really good job. To finish second, we're a little bummed out about that, it hurts inside. We had a legitimate shot at this thing. To be out here as little as we have, it's pretty cool."
Force and the Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang would not be denied. Force smashed former teammate Gary Densham with a pass of 4.116 seconds at 307.23 mph to Densham's 5.498 at 135.96 mph in the first round.
The 61-year-old followed up that run with a 4.162 at 304.60 mph to beat Bob Bode's 4.225 at 295.34 mph in the second round to become the oldest NHRA champion in history.
"We ran all year with the lead and lost it at Reading [Pa.] when the clutch pedal fell off," Force said. "We had meetings two or three times a week saying, 'We can't make mistakes.' We opened the door for Hagan, and he took advantage of it.
"Hagan is a class act. He's got many championships ahead of him. But we got it here, and the shot heard around the world came from Bobby Tasca and his Ford Mustang. We couldn't count on Hagan to stumble. If we [would have had to race] Hagan in the final, it would be too late [to take the title]."
To show just how fired up Force was, he went ahead and won the Auto Club Finals Sunday night, beating Jeff Arend for his sixth win of the season. Force ran down the track in 4.085 seconds at 310.41 mph to Arend's 4.109 at 307.65 mph.
In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon had a less perilous path to his third championship. He needed only to defeat Mike Strasburg in the first round to break Tony Schumacher's streak of six consecutive NHRA championships.
Schumacher, in the U.S. Army dragster, put the pressure on Dixon by dispatching Dominic Lagana in the pairing ahead of Dixon.
Dixon and the Al-Anabi Racing team did not fold under the pressure. Dixon blistered the track with a pass of 3.854 seconds at 318.92 mph, which humbled Strasburg's 4.620 at 168.66 mph.
The Pro Stock running on Sunday was less dramatic, as Greg Anderson and his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP already wrapped up the championship on Saturday. As for the racing on Sunday, Shane Gray beat Jeg Coughlin Jr. for the Pro Stock trophy, and Antron Brown beat Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel.
Gray's Big O Tires Pontiac GXP ran 6.566 seconds at 209.20 mph, as Coughlin--who announced earlier this weekend that he will step aside from Pro Stock racing in 2011--ran a 6.568 at 210.18 mph in the Jegs.com Chevrolet Cobalt.
Top Fuel racer Brown's Matco Tools Dragster won with a final-round pass of 3.840 seconds at 311.99 mph, as Langdon's Lucas Oil/Speedco dragster clocked in with a 4.185 at 306.46 mph.
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