John Force

John Force's opening qualifying run at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Friday set a funny car track record, finishing the 1,000-foot race in 3.983 seconds. (Isaac Brekken for the Times / October 31, 2009)

The incomparable John Force isn't slowing down.

Force, who won a record 16th title in NHRA drag racing's funny car class last year at age 64, opened this year's season with a record run at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Force's opening pass in qualifying for this weekend's Circle K Winternationals was 3.983 seconds at 317.72 mph over the 1,000-foot distance.

That was the quickest time for funny cars at Pomona since the National Hot Rod Assn. in mid-2008 went to 1,000-foot races for funny cars and top-fuel dragsters, the other elite division in the sport's Mello Yello Series.

[Updated Friday, 6:05 p.m.: Force later ran even faster in the second round of qualifying Friday night with a pass of 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph.]

The races were shortened from the conventional quarter-mile, or 1,320 feet, on safety grounds so that the 7,000-horsepower dragsters would have a greater distance to slow down in case of an accident.

Force also owns his Yorba Linda-based team, which includes his daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight in funny cars and daughter Brittany in top fuel.

After his run, Force said he was glad to "give the fans a little bit of a show" and that he needs to run well to attract new sponsors. His team is scheduled to lose two major sponsors after this season.


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