John Force

John Force, at 70-years old, won the Labor Day weekend classic, U.S. Nationals in his funny car this weekend.

CLERMONT, IND. — When the tire smoke had finally settled over the country-side surrounding the 65th annual National Hot Rod Association U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway, three prominent drag racing veterans and one promising rookie had survived the intense four days NHRA competition to garner the top four Professional Class titles.

The most emotional 2019 U.S. Nationals winner was the popular 70 year-old NHRA Funny Car champ John Force. Force was appearing in his ninth final round in 40 trips to the historic “Big Go”, but hadn’t won in 17 years going back to his last U.S. Nationals win in 2002.

Force seemed more focused that ever in the final round against No. 1 Funny Car qualifier “Fast” Jack Beckman. As the green light flashed Force overcame a slight early lead and drove past Beckman at the finish line to earn his record-tying fifth NHRA U.S. Nationals Funny Car title. Force’s hard charging 3.919 second run nipped Beckman’s 3.940 seconds quarter mile elapsed time to break the 17 year victory drought and earn a record-setting 151st career victory.

Force was very candid and somewhat philosophical when asked what about his latest U.S. Nationals title.

“After my accident (2007) , the doctor told me, ‘You’re done, you ain’t gonna race. You’re lucky to walk.’, but I’ve never allowed anyone to ever tell me anything, and I fought to get back,” Force said. “Then I started hearing , ‘You’re 70, this thing is over’, but it’s really how bad you want it. You do it because you love it. There are a lot of guys out there with more talent than me who don’t have the budget or right crew chief. I just happen to be one of the lucky ones. I know one day I’ll have to retire, and I said two things: It would be nice to win the another championship, and it would sure be nice to win Indy one more time. This race really meant a lot! I didn’t think I would ever get the chance again. Racing is what I love to do, and I love it so much. Winning Indy is the biggest thing on my bucket list. This (5th Nationals win) was a big moment for me.”

Ironically, Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta was making his 500th race day start when he won his first U.S. Nationals title. Kalitta defeated Top Fuel Dragster rival Billy Torrence in the final round turning the quarter mile in 4.144 seconds to Torrence’s 4.220 second run to earn his first U.S. Nationals title and 46th NHRA career win.

Calmly Kalitta reflected on his first win at the NHRA “Big Go”.

It’s incredible and I just can’t say enough for everyone working on my race car today,” Kalitta said. “It hasn’t quite settling in that I won this thing. It’s awesome.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle veteran Jerry “Gator Man” Savoie earned his second NHRA U.S. Nationals title over perennial favorite and current class points leader Andrew Hines when Hines uncharacteristically rolled backwards red-lighting away his chances. Savoie left quickly and never looked back turning a run of 6.851 seconds at 195.25 mph to earn his 2019 NHRA “Wally” trophy for his second U.S. Nationals win.

Savoie commented on his second Indy win, and 10th NHRA career victory.

“I held my composure,” Savoie said. “When Andrew (Hines) turned on the red light, you better thank God for it because that doesn’t happen very often. I didn’t know if I would ever win another one. It’s not easy. It’s an honor to get this second one (at Indy).”

In Pro Stock, young Alex Laughlin won for the first time in 2019 and earned his first NHRA U.S. Nationals trophy. Ironically, Laughlin had to beat his Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders in the final round. Enders launched first and appeared headed for the win, but her Camaro slowed at the end as Laughlin blew past for his first big win.

Laughlin commented on his first Nationals victory: “I just about choked up there to be honest. But at the end of the day we got it done. It’s unbelievable. I’ve never even made the Countdown before. It’s been a breakout season and I’m at a loss for words.”

In the popular, relatively new Factory Stock Showdown class which started with a 32-car field of Mustang GTs , Challengers, and Camaros, Indianapolis Auto Dealer Bill Skillman proved to be the best in the huge and competitive class driving his Ford Mustang GT to a thrilling win over the Camaro of Arthur Kohn.

The popular Factory Stock win was the second for Skillman’s fast Ford Mustang GT.

Other motorsports news: The annual NASCAR Brickyard 400 is set for Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 2019 Brickyard 400 is the last regular season race, and final chance for several drivers like Jimmie Johnson, and South Bend native Ryan Newman to make the field for this year’s Playoffs leading to the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Race Report by Harry C. Risher. Contact: racinghcr@aol.com

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