Skip to content

Life’s a drag: NHRA kicks off 2014 season with this weekend’s Winternationals

Feb 6, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT

John Force and daughter Brittany are both chasing championships this season: John is seeking a record 17th Funny Car title, while Brittany wants her first career Top Fuel crown. AP

Like the swallows that return to nearby Capistrano every year, the early bird will likely catch the worm as the NHRA Mello Yello Series kicks off its 24-race 2014 season this weekend.

The Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., have traditionally been where championships begin.

Defending Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon is the perfect example of that: he began his quest for his first NHRA pro title by winning last year’s Winternationals.

And then, as if to add emphasis – if not to clinch the championship – Langdon returned to his home track (he grew up about 20 miles away in Mira Loma) last November to win the season-ending finals.

Judging by preseason testing, Langdon is prepared to maintain his stranglehold on that championship trophy in 2014, as well. Once you get a taste of being the best of the best, it grows on you, and that’s certainly the case with Langdon.

Even if you’ve won a record 16 championships, as Funny Car legend John Force has done, the hunger for No. 17 hasn’t changed one iota. If anything, Force may be more determined than ever to win yet another Funny Car crown for several different reasons.

First, he’ll turn 65 in May. He became the NHRA’s oldest champion across all pro classes when he won the Funny Car title last season, his first since 2010, but also his 16th in 24 seasons.

Even though he’s a senior citizen, Force is still driving like a 20-something. And that should be no different this season, which leads to the second reason why this year will be one of the most significant and poignant of his career.

Force will part ways at the end of the season with long-time sponsor Castrol GTX motor oil, as well as car manufacturer Ford. Both companies announced in the offseason that they would be ending sponsorship of Force’s car and will likely allocate those resources in other areas.

Given his fierce loyalty to Castrol and Ford, Force would like nothing better than to have them go out in style with yet another championship.

And, who knows, if his bid to find a new primary sponsor and new manufacturer doesn’t go as smoothly as he hopes – he said in a recent NHRA teleconference that his yearly racing budget for all the teams under the John Force Racing umbrella is $24 million – it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to think Force may also end his relationships with Ford and Castrol by also going out as a champion.

In other words, 2014 could potentially be Force’s last season as arguably the greatest drag racer the NHRA has ever known. He’s at a point in his life that watching daughters Brittany and Courtney build their own respective drag racing careers has become his top priority.

Brittany Force is coming off a Rookie of the Year season in Top Fuel.

There’s also a chance that John Force may switch rides with daughter Brittany next season: she would drive a Funny Car and he would compete in a Top Fuel dragster for the first time in his career.

It wouldn’t be the first time a driver has switched classes. Don “Snake” Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Gary Scelzi and Tommy Johnson Jr. (who returns to a full-time ride this season in Funny Car for the first time in five seasons) are among only 15 drivers that have won national events in both fuel categories.

Of all the things he’s done in his career, that’s one thing Force has not achieved, and could provide incentive – not to mention possibly start him writing yet another chapter of his life story – if business reasons (i.e., sponsorship) dictate such.

If Force foregoes a possible switch to Top Fuel – which he’s thought about off and on for more than 15 years – there is also the possibility (dare we even think it, let alone say it) that Force may not be at the 2015 Winternationals … as a participant, that is.

In the Pro Stock ranks, defending champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., is already on the hunt for his sixth championship. Winning two races in last year’s Countdown to the Championship clinched the title for the Ohio native, who amassed four wins overall in the season.

One driver Coughlin won’t have to worry about, at least early in the season, is four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who surprised the sport earlier this week when he announced he would miss the first three months of the season (likely six events) to undergo and recuperate from non-life threatening heart surgery.

The Winternationals kicked off Thursday and will continue with two rounds of qualifying for pro drivers on Friday and Saturday, with final eliminations set for Sunday.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Newgarden, Pagenaud went drifting at Long Beach

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:21 AM EDT

    Photo: Formula Drift Photo: Formula Drift

    Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud enjoy drifting rides with 2013 FD champion Michael Essa.

  2. IndyCar: Andretti adds fifth car for GP of Indy for Franck Montagny

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT

    Andretti Autosport driver Carlos Munoz of Colombia drives practice laps on the second day of qualifications in Indianapolis Reuters

    Andretti Autosport brings in a talented road-course ringer, Franck Montagny, for the inaugural GP of Indianapolis.

  3. Raikkonen: Yes, he’s still motivated, otherwise he wouldn’t be here

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT

    KimiChina Getty Images

    Kimi Raikkonen owns critics who are questioning his motivation in typical Kimi style.

  4. Compass360 adds CTF “Art Car” to PWC

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:41 AM EDT

    Photo: CTF Photo: CTF

    Compass360′s cars will have “Art Car” design as created by an NF hero.

  5. Mike Conway ready to double up on Long Beach IndyCar win this Sunday in Alabama

    Apr 22, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT

    ConwayLB2 AP

    Mike Conway’s come-from-behind IndyCar win at Long Beach nearly two weeks ago may have been a surprise to some. But it wasn’t a surprise to team owner Ed Carpenter or Conway himself. They both had confidence in each other for a strong run and a high finish – and the win was just an added bonus.

  6. After Shanghai letdown, McLaren’s Boullier tells team ‘don’t panic’

    Apr 22, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Previews Getty Images

    With McLaren’s podium-less 2013 in mind, the team’s racing director is doing all he can to keep the troops calm after a poor Chinese Grand Prix.

  7. ‘Rookie’ Kurt Busch, 1995 champ Jacques Villeneuve, three more to undergo Indy 500 orientation/refresher

    Apr 22, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT

    Jacques Villeneuve will be making his first return trip to Indianapolis since winning there in 1995 -- and only his third race ever there -- for this year's Indy 500. AP

    It’s been 14 years since Kurt Busch was last called a rookie. And even though Busch has a Sprint Cup championship trophy at home, he’s still a rookie open-wheel driver as far as the Indianapolis 500 is concerned.

  8. Red Bull tweaks Mercedes over attempt to increase ‘Fuelgate’ punishment

    Apr 22, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of China Getty Images

    Red Bull’s anonymous “Spy” says that their main rivals are getting “rattled and sweating a bit.”

  9. NASCAR AMERICA: Scan All 43 – Kurt Busch breaks winless streak, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon still without wins

    Apr 22, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR AMERICA, Leigh Diffey and Wally Dallenbach took a look back at the March 30th STP 500 at Martinsville Raceway and Kurt Busch’s win, which snapped an 83-race winless streak. We also look back at the rain-postponed Duck Commander 500 at Texas on April 7, as well as how Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who have 10 Sprint Cup championships between them, but neither driver has visited victory lane yet in 2014.

  10. Veteran pit crew coach Lance Munksgard leaves Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR

    Apr 22, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT

    Lance Munksgard, pit crew coach for the teams of Jimmie Johnson (above) and Dale Earnhardt Jr., has left Hendrick Motorsports to work in his family's business in Texas. (Photo courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) Lance Munksgard, pit crew coach for the teams of Jimmie Johnson (above) and Dale Earnhardt Jr., has left Hendrick Motorsports to work in his family's business in Texas. (Photo courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    One of the most effective and successful pit crew coaches in the business has not only left Hendrick Motorsports, he’s also left NASCAR. Lance Munksgard, who had served as coach for the pit crews of both Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. since November 2011, has returned to his native Texas to work in his family’s business, according to MRN.com.

  11. IndyCar: Helio Castroneves on probation for social media policy violation

    Apr 22, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Pocono INDYCAR 400 Getty Images

    A critical tweet from the three-time Indy 500 champion’s account – which he says came from his sister – has put him on probation through June 30.

  12. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET

    Apr 22, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    nascar america

    It’s another “Scan All 43″ showcase today, as Races 5-8 of this year’s Sprint Cup championship are profiled.

  13. Excited to join Ed Carpenter Racing, J.R. Hildebrand has unfinished business at Indy 500

    Apr 22, 2014, 4:23 PM EDT

    Indianapolis 500 - Practice Getty Images

    If he had his way, J.R. Hildebrand would run the Indianapolis 500 tomorrow. The 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year is looking forward to returning to the fabled Brickyard for this year’s edition of the 500 on May 25 for three primary reasons.

  14. Richmond’s personal for Daniel Knost, Kurt Busch’s crew chief

    Apr 22, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    STP 500 - Practice Getty Images

    He believes that a win last fall at Richmond was taken away from him and his SHR crewmates.

  15. Former CART championship and Indy 500 winning owner Steve Horne putting the ‘Super’ in V8 Supercars

    Apr 22, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy V8Supercars.com.Au) (Photo courtesy V8Supercars.com.Au)

    After winning an Indianapolis 500 win (1986, with Bobby Rahal behind the wheel), two CART championships and five Indy Lights titles – Steve Horne went back to his native New Zealand two years ago. But Horne isn’t the retiring type. Nor is he part of a “Where Are They Now?” question. If anything, Horne is as busy as he’s ever been, both running his own team as well as serving as chairman of the V8 Supercars Commission in New Zealand and Australia.

  16. Alex Zanardi finishes 13th in Blancpain GT Sprint debut

    Apr 22, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Indianapolis 500 Getty Images

    Late clutch problems force the former CART champion and F1 pilot out of a likely Top-10 finish.

  17. See what it’s like to race Long Beach through a driver’s eyes (VIDEO)

    Apr 22, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy MikeSkeen.com/Ben Carufel) (Photo courtesy MikeSkeen.com/Ben Carufel)

    Whether it be NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA or sports car racing, it’s become fairly routine for TV broadcasts to give in-car action during the course of a race. But it’s rare to actually see an entire race on video from the driver’s seat. That’s why we really enjoyed Mike Skeen’s video from last week’s Pirelli World Challenge GT race in Long Beach.

  18. NNS: JR Motorsports adding Super Late Model driver Austin Theriault for 3 races

    Apr 22, 2014, 2:01 PM EDT

    Drive To Stop Diabetes 300 - Practice Getty Images

    The 20-year-old has been competing for Brad Keselowski’s Super Late Model team for the past two seasons.

  19. Scratch Clint Bowyer from the ranks of NASCAR’s most eligible bachelors

    Apr 22, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT

    If Clint Bowyer is smiling more often than normal these days, it's because he's now a married man. Getty Images

    If Clint Bowyer is your heartthrob, it’s time to start looking for another as the Emporia, Kansas, native spent last weekend’s Easter break getting hitched to long time girlfriend Lorra Podsiadilo. In the Bahamas, no less.

  20. Red Bull GRC: F1/NASCAR vet Nelson Piquet Jr. to drive for SH Racing

    Apr 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Credit: SH Racing Rallycross Credit: SH Racing Rallycross

    The son of the three-time F1 champion is shifting gears once again.

Today on NASCAR AMERICA

More from NASCAR America

Why Gordon, Johnson haven't won yet
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. B. Myers (1417)
  2. T. Hessert (1398)
  3. J. Boston (1373)
  4. P. Kligerman (1334)
  5. A. Seuss (1330)
  1. J. Myers (1304)
  2. B. Jones (1286)
  3. C. Whitt (1268)
  4. L. Fleming (1223)
  5. B. Loftin (1164)

Featured video

Lewis Hamilton thanks his 'angels'