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NHRA Tour de Force Storms Detroit

Legendary hot-rodder and storyteller John Force wants a major drag racing strip in the Detroit area, and he’s willing to invest time and money to make it happen. Force, the king of funny cars and one-liners, was in town last week for the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress at Cobo Center, in Detroit. His job: to chat with engineers and shake hands with backers, including Ford Motor Co. executives, who support his passion to go fast over a quarter-mile.

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From Detroit Free Press

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DETROIT — Legendary hot-rodder and storyteller John Force wants a major drag racing strip in the Detroit area, and he’s willing to invest time and money to make it happen.

Force, the king of funny cars and one-liners, was in town last week for the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress at Cobo Center, in Detroit. His job: to chat with engineers and shake hands with backers, including Ford Motor Co. executives, who support his passion to go fast over a quarter-mile.

In between, Force took time to talk about his involvement in Sunday night’s upcoming episode of “King of the Hill” on Fox and his brand of humor, which might offend some sensitivities. He also volunteered to front any serious effort to build a drag racing facility in the Detroit area, one that could host an NHRA-type event.

“Detroit is the hub of the automotive business,” said Force, a 12-time funny car champion and team owner. “There should be a first-class drag strip somewhere near the city. I’d be willing to be the front man and even put some money into a racetrack in the area.”

Milan Dragway, which will host an IHRA event July 16-18, is the closest major drag strip to Detroit. US-131 Motorsports Park in Grand Rapids will promote an IHRA event Aug. 12-14. The IHRA is sometimes a stepping stone to the NHRA.

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Force believes there are groups looking to finance a drag strip somewhere near the city. “In a couple of years, you might see a track,” Force said. “Without a doubt, there should be one.”

Force, who has been racing for more than 30 years, won a 10th consecutive funny car title in 2002. Last year, he helped teammate Tony Pedregon win a championship and finished third himself in the series.

The first two events this season have been tough for Force, who has been eliminated in the early rounds in each. But Force, who has 109 NHRA victories, isn’t backing off the gas.

“Ford wants winners — and that’s what I’ve got to produce,” said Force, who drives the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “I’ll produce another championship. I’ll be back in the game.”

This past weekend, Force had a rare break from competition. The NHRA Powerade series resumes March 18-21 in Gainesville, Fla. Force will flew back to California on Sunday morning and hopes to catch Texan Hank Hill and the “King of the Hill” gang on TV later in the day.

In Sunday’s episode of the popular animated series, Hank, a noted gearhead, and friends take a trip to Arlen Speedway, where they encounter Force and his Hall of Fame crew chief, Austin Coil.

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“I had a lot of fun doing the voice-over for the show,” Force said. “I’ve already seen the program. I think drag racing fans will like it.”

Force used the special “King of the Hill” body when he set a national record of 4.721 seconds at the 2003 O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.

“I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I think you’ll get a laugh out of it,” Force said.

Laughing is something Force is good at — and telling jokes.

“My ma was a storyteller, one of the best,” said Force, whose mother was a cook. “I learned from her. I love to tell a good story, and I love to tell the truth.”

Force is comfortable with his blue-collar approach to life. He thinks his fans are, too.

“If you win a race, you eat and get to tell another story,” he said. “I’m just another working-class person, and that’s why people like me.”

Force admits he’s eating pretty well these days, however.

“I’ve made big money in racing,” said Force, who owns a 50,000-square-foot race shop. “But I’ve worked hard to do it.”

With a book in the works and negotiations in progress on a movie based on his life, Force, the father of four girls, wants to race at least four or five more years before concentrating full-time on running his team.

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“Things are going pretty good,” said Force, whose second-oldest daughter, Ashley, is running a top-alcohol dragster. “They tell me Gary Busey might play me in the movie. I think I look a lot more like Tom Cruise. Put me on a diet and splash a bit of makeup on me, and I think we can hide the double chin.”

Copyright 2004 Detroit Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

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