Sometimes it feels like rooting for John Force is like rooting for the New York Yankees. Force is the king of drag racing, a larger-than-life personality who spews caffeinated non sequiturs (including on his A&E reality show, "Driving Force") and has the track record (he's won 13 NHRA funny car titles in 16 years) to back up his big mouth.
Here's a typical slice from Force, who went to high school in Bell Gardens and now lives in the O.C., talking about the difference between drag racing and stock car racing: "It's not like NASCAR. You don't have to drive for three hours. I always said if I was in NASCAR, they'd have to put in some rest stops. But in drag racing, you just have to focus for five seconds. As long as I've got my health and as long as I've got my vision, I can do this. It's what I love."
But the 57-year-old Force remains utterly real: he's a blue-collar hero for many throwback fans of the Drags (those who fondly recall the famous quarter-mile at the Lions Strip in Long Beach). Last year, Force held the points lead going into the final two races (at Las Vegas and Pomona), but couldn't hold on. (Gary Scelzi won the title.) This season, he again has a slim lead (over Ron Capps and teammate Robert Hight) with two competitions left, this weekend in Vegas and the traditional season-ender at Pomona. The smart money's on Force, but it's likely that the title won't be determined until they all duel on the historic Pomona strip Nov 9-12.
Just down the street from the Pomona strip, on the edge of the L.A. County Fairplex, is the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum (named for the 93-year-old founder – and still active board member -- of the NHRA). The Museum houses an amazing collection of cars, but the real treat these days is a photo exhibit entitled "Faster: 1960s Photographs of Pomona Drag Racing," featuring a series of black-and-white images from the library of National Dragster magazine. Curated by photographer Douglas McCulloh, the show "examines the parallel growth of two technologies that helped shape the Southern California psyche: cars and cameras.
"Before auto focus lenses and high-speed motor drive cameras simplified taking pictures of speeding objects, photographers, using still-photo cameras, chronicled the gritty origins of the planet’s fastest cars in the 1960s. These photographers . . . also battled smoke, flying rubber, loud engines and unpredictable aerodynamics to capture the birth of professional drag racing in Pomona – all while working just feet from the action."
The exhibit debuted last year at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography (with support from the NHRA and the Auto Club); it'll be on display in Pomona through August of next year, so there's no need to, um, race over.