The closest John Force ever came to getting all shook up was in
1992, when his funny car exploded into flames during a pass in
Memphis. Instead of hitting the brakes and bailing out, Force
rode on, slammed into a wall at 270 mph and barreled into a
sandpit at the end of the track. Crawling out of the wreckage
unhurt, fire suit smoking, he proclaimed, "I just saw him!"
"You saw God?" somebody said.
"God? No, the King! I saw Elvis at 1,000 feet."
In the years since emerging from that hunka-hunka-burnin' nitro,
this turbocharged motormouth has established himself as a Force
to be reckoned with. Although he lost in the first round of
Monday's eliminations at the National Hot Rod Association U.S.
Nationals in Indianapolis, Force has eight wins this year and 78
in his career, just seven shy of pro-stocker Bob Glidden's NHRA
record. With only six races left, Force has a commanding lead in
the standings and is poised to win his seventh straight Winston
Funny Car season championship, which would be his ninth in the
Owner of the funny car marks for speed (324.05 mph) and elapsed
time (4.787 seconds) for the standard quarter-mile drag strip,
the 50-year-old ex-trucker known as Brute Force is a figure in
motion. Perhaps because he subsists on coffee and
chocolate-peanut butter cups, he always seems to be hysterically
on. "I'm just regular folk," he says. "Other regular folk relate
Which explains why the Force field encircling his trailer is
often 10 fans deep. "I always wanted an Elvis following," says
Force, who has never met a hand he didn't shake. "When I leave
the building for good, I want my fans to drop by the funeral
home and see me."
Force never tires of telling folks how childhood polio left him
with one leg slightly shorter than the other; how the disability
kept him from joining the Los Angeles sheriff's department
("That and the fact that I flunked the inkblot test"); how his
first funny car was bought partly with cash raised by selling
the organ his first wife, Lana, had won on Let's Make a Deal;
and how, to make gas money, he did everything from dressing up
as a tree for a car dealership promotion to donning a gingham
dress and red wig in an appearance at a hamburger joint.
In those early days Force shared motel rooms with his mechanics,
sometimes six to a room. They lived strictly off prize money,
which wasn't much: In his first 12 years he never finished
better than second. Change came when he teamed with crew chief
Austin Coil in 1985. In '87 he won his first race; in '90, his
first title. Today, with a brisk collectibles business, a slick
newsletter and his own museum and retail store in Yorba Linda,
Calif., Force is a successful cottage industry. His next
project: Turn an eight-acre tract (purchased for $2 million)
next to the museum into "the Graceland of drag racing," complete
with a hotel, a steak house and maybe even a Krispy Kreme
doughnut shop. "We'll serve banana-and-peanut-butter
sandwiches," he says Forcefully. "That was Elvis's favorite."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH