Drag Illustrated Issue 182, May / June 2023 | Page 52


Hall of Fame Grand Slam

John Force leads list of 2023 International Drag Racing Hall of Fame inductees By Rob King

Ahead of the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway , 16- time NHRA world champion John Force , who drives the PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car , applied one more exclamation point to a career punctuated by superlatives when he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame as part of a 2023 class .

Longtime Englishtown announcer and “ stat guy ” Lewis Bloom ( right ) is joined by Richie ( left ) and David Napp , who accepted honors on behalf of their late fathers .
Honorees Shelly Anderson-Payne and Bob Frey with their awards .
Founded in 1990 by “ Big Daddy ” Don Garlits and his late wife , Pat , and housed at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in nearby Ocala , the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame recognizes the most accomplished straight-line racers in the world with inductees from North America , Europe , Asia , and Australia .
Along with Force , the 2023 inductees were multi-talented driver Shelly Anderson-Payne , hot rodder and chassis builder Ron Attebury , late alcohol Funny Car champion Carol “ Bunny ” Burkett , Australian drag racing pioneer Graeme Cowin , former Garlits crew member and museum contributor Sonny Messner , and the late Vinny and Richard Napp of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park fame . Linda Jones , who ’ s held numerous behind-the-scenes roles over the course of her decades-long career , was awarded the Pat Garlits Award , and legendary announcer Bob Frey was given the Founders Award .
“ All of the inductees , even in the past and those to come , I ’ m excited to be a part of it ,” said Force , who was introduced by his long-time friend , confidant , and former publicist David Densmore . “ When I got the call from Don , well , it made me emotional . To be included in the International
Drag Racing Hall of Fame , to be in Don Garlits ’ house here , it means a lot .”
Thursday ’ s induction at the Hilton Convention Center completed a Hall of Fame Grand Slam for the 73-year-old Force who was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega , Alabama , in 2008 , the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America , now housed at Daytona Beach , Florida , in 2012 , the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at Fort Worth in 2011 , the California Sports Hall of Fame at Alta Loma in 2017 , and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame at Darlington , South Carolina , in 2019 .
“ I didn ’ t race to make money , I raced because I loved it ,” Force said . “ Growing up in a trailer park , you found the first thing with wheels that could get you out of there . I fell in love with drag racing . Why am I still doing it , at this age ? Because I still love it . My kids and grandkids , they help me find the little kid inside , find the fire inside to compete , to be a part of it , to win .
“ I want to thank everybody , the people who got me here : Steve Plueger , my brother Louie , Austin Coil , Bernie Fedderly , I wouldn ’ t be standing
here without them because I was a real loser ,” Force continued . “ The people we have now , Robert Hight , Jimmy Prock , David Grubnic , Chris Cunningham , Joe Barlam , my son-in-law Danny Hood , Tim Fabrisi , and then my kids . My wife , Laurie , she ’ s stood by my side , and I really do love her and appreciate her . If it wasn ’ t for her , I ’ d be lost . She ’ s my Mother Teresa – God protects me because of her .”
The NHRA record holder in almost every imaginable professional category including championships ( 16 ), final rounds ( 264 ), race wins ( 155 ), round wins ( 1421 ) and No . 1 qualifying positions ( 165 ), Force has won at least once in 34 of the last 35 NHRA campaigns , a streak that includes a wire-to-wire triumph in last year ’ s 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte .
Voted No . 2 drag racer in the NHRA ’ s first 50 years behind only Garlits , Force won 10 straight Funny Car titles from 1993 through 2002 highlighted by a 1996 season in which he won 13 of 19 events and was named Driver of the Year for all American motorsports , the first drag racer ever so honored . DI
Force poses for a photo with daughter Brittany , wife Laurie , and publicist Sara Slaughter after the induction ceremony .
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