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John Force clinches 15th funny car title at Pomona

MOTOR SPORTS

First-round upsets help the 61-year-old funny car legend surpass Matt Hagan. Larry Dixon clinches top-fuel title.

November 14, 2010|By Larry Stewart

A first-round eliminations shocker opened the door for John Force to raise his National Hot Rod Assn. record to 15 national championships Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona.

And Force, a 61-year-old funny car legend, completed the deal with a thrilling second-round victory over Bob Bode. That gave Force enough points to pass 27-year-old Matt Hagan, who came into the eliminations with a 38-point lead.

The stage was set for Force by a bevy of upsets in the first round. The biggest came when Hagan, seeded fourth after three days of qualifying, was eliminated by 13th-seeded Bob Tasca III.

Force, who was seeded second, and his daughter, top-seeded Ashley Force Hood, were the only drivers among those seeded in the top five to survive the first round. Force Hood was eliminated in the second round after she had turned in the best time in the first -- 4.113 seconds with a speed of 307.02 mph. Her father was second-best at 4.116 and 307.23.

In his win over Bode, Force clocked 4.162 seconds with a speed of 304.60 mph. Bode came in at 4.225 seconds and 295.34.

The dramatics in the first round of funny car competition followed a true-to-form first round of top-fuel eliminations, in which Larry Dixon, as expected, wrapped up his third national title and first since two in a row in 2002-03. Tony Schumacher, this year's runner-up, had won the previous six.

Dixon, 44, who grew up in Northridge and graduated from Van Nuys High, followed his father into drag racing. Larry Dixon Sr. won the top-fuel title at the 1970 Winternationals at Pomona when his son was 4.

Greg Johnson had clinched the pro stock title Saturday, and LE Tonglet came out on top in pro stock motorcycle Sunday. At 20, Tonglet is the youngest champion in an NHRA professional class, and Force is the oldest.

After Dixon clinched his top-fuel title on another picture-perfect day, the attention was focused on the funny cars.

The upsets started right away, with 14th-seeded Melanie Troxel eliminating third-seeded Robert Hight, Force's son-in-law. Bode, seeded 10th, eliminated seventh-seeded Jack Beckman.

Tasca turned in the third-fastest time of the first round -- 4.190 seconds with a speed of 290.38 mph -- to just nip Hagan, whose time and speed were thrown out because of a new penalty for spilling oil on the track. Hagan's team will also be fined $2,500.

Although it was a tough loss for Hagan, it was a sweet win for Tasca, whose family has been close to the Force family going back to Tasca's late grandfather, the original Bob Tasca, who owned a number of Rhode Island Ford dealerships.

Force surpassed Warren Johnson in becoming the oldest driver to win a major NHRA division. Johnson, who drives in pro stock, won his sixth title at age 58 in 2001.

"I'm 40 again," Force told a cheering crowd of nearly 35,000. "I'm still ugly, but I'm 40."

Force topped off the day by nipping Jeff Arend of nearby San Dimas in the final round by .02 of a second with a time of 4.085 and speed of 310.41 mph.

In the top-fuel final round, Antron Brown successfully defended the title he won at Pomona last year by defeating Shawn Langdon with a run of 3.840 seconds and 311.99 mph.

Force also established that he has come all the way back from an devastating crash in 2007 when he suffered two broken legs and a mangled arm.

Force likes to say the crash was the "best thing that could have happened," which seems more than a little odd.

He explains by saying he is closer to his family and his team and is in the best shape of his life. He regularly works out in a gym, going on the treadmill and lifting weights.

With Sunday's championship, he has lifted a weight off himself.

sports@latimes.com

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