By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
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In his 34th year in NHRA, he's become the pre-eminent personality of his sport. Over the last 20 years, he's won 16 championships—14 as driver and two as owner.
"I want a 15th championship," he said between autographs. "First of all because I like to win. Secondly because I like to eat. I've got three daughters, ya know, and they ain't cheap."
One of those daughters, Ashley, drives dragsters and sometimes beats the old man. The others, Britney and Courtney, starred with John in the A&E reality show Driving Force. He also earned a cartoon cameo in Fox's King of the Hill.
On this day Force has been to Valley Ranch, where he hit it off with Dallas Cowboys' strength and conditioning coach, Joe Juraszek. Force will return and give a motivational speech next week before the team heads to Houston to play the Texans.
"I've been a Cowboys fan since I first laid eyes on cheerleaders," said Force, 61 going on 21. "I love their weight room out there. Back in the day I'd spend two hours a night in the bar. Now it's two hours a day in the gym. But I love winning and I love driving. You see those flames out the back of the dragster at night and, I tell you, it's better than sex. I guess I better not say that here in the Bible Belt. Too late, huh? I already said it. Oh what the heck, let's have some fun."
Serious for only a second, Force recalls the crash at Texas Motorplex that almost killed him in 2007. Entangled with legendary driver Kenny Bernstein's car at the finish line, he flipped, hit a wall and suffered a collapsed lung, broken ankle, mangled fingers and toes and a dislocated wrist.
His enthusiasm—despite the arrival of NASCAR, the departure of the SSC and his close call with death—endures along with Texas Motorplex.
"This is the place," Force said. "Billy built us the first all-concrete track and here we are 25 years still coming back. I can't stay away."