KENT — Legendary driver John Force has won 16 Funny Car world championships, but he said fear is what drives him these days as he seeks to find enough corporate sponsors to have the money to continue racing.
Force, who is in his last season with major sponsors Ford and Castrol Oil, was the fastest qualifier at the O’Reilly Northwest Nationals on Friday, narrowly missing his own track record with a top speed of 308.07 mph.
At 65, Force is only getting faster but admits he is having trouble chasing down the major sponsors he needs. That is keeping him from signing a deal to have his family star in another reality television series, similar to the popular show “Driving Force” from a few years ago.
“I’ve got deals with reality TV, but I can’t sign until I get sponsors locked in,” Force said. “(The) reality (show) is about our family, but it’s also about racing. They’d just have a crying old man all the time if I wasn’t racing.”
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Force, the defending world champion who has won seven times here, came into the weekend second in the points standings.
Force’s team consists of son-in-law Robert Hight, who leads the Funny Car points standings, and daughters Courtney Force, fourth in Funny Car points and Brittany Force, seventh in the Top Fuel points standings.
“If anyone is not going to race, it’s going to be me,” Force said. “I signed a couple of deals recently, but nothing to get me where I’ve got to be. We’re still chasing it.”
Qualifying continues on Saturday with sessions at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Significant improvements have taken place at Pacific Raceways and the drivers have noticed. Track operator Jason Fiorito said approximately 1,000 new feet of asphalt has been installed since last year making it smoother, faster and more competitive in both lanes.
Tony Schumacher, who has won four Top Fuel championships here and is a seven-time world champion, used the improvements to have the fastest run of the day with a top speed of 320.28 mph.
Schumacher, in fact, had two good runs. His first, in the other lane, was 315.42 mph.
“What we as drivers hate most is going to a one-lane racetrack,” Schumacher said. “If we have the good lane and win, great, but you can’t count on having it all the time. Nobody wants to see that race. The track was smooth and they are trying to make it better.”
Schumacher, known as The Sarge because his dragster is sponsored by the U.S. Army, likes the direction his team is headed even though they are in fourth place in the national points race.
“We’re coming on at the right time,” Schumacher said. “We are as strong, if not stronger, than any team out here.”
A winner here in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, Schumacher can tie Joe Amato for the record of most Top Fuel wins here if he can get his fifth this weekend.
“It’s so close, I do hope we smoke the tires one time, (but) not on race day, because you’ve got to find the edge,” Schumacher said.
Allen Johnson, the 2006 champion here and fastest qualifier so far in Pro Stock, called the changes to the track “a big relief.”
“The track is awesome, it’s very smooth, there’s not a bump or anything in it. They’ve done a good job,” Johnson said. “Hat’s off to the track owner and the NHRA for making that happen.”
Johnson is second in points to Erica Enders-Stevens, but she is skipping this race and Johnson thinks he can be the new leader by the time this race is completed.
“To do that, I have to get all the little points and win the race,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal.”