AP Auto Racing Writer
As he lined up for the final round at Las Vegas two weeks ago, John Force refused to look over at his competitor.
Force had a shot to wrap up a record 16th Funny Car title and couldn't let the emotions of racing his daughter affect the outcome.
"I turned the switch on, I didn't even want to know that was Courtney next door to me," Force recalled.
He avoided Courtney after they both advanced out of the semifinals at the NHRA Toyota Nationals, and told his youngest daughter after the event that he loved her, always wants her to do her best -- but he just couldn't be around her that day.
"I didn't need the emotion to take over that that's my little girl, or I would have choked. I needed that round. Probably the worst that I've ever needed to win a round to win a championship," Force said. "I needed it in my whole career more than my first championship. This is the one that's going to keep John Force in business."
Force went on to beat Courtney, wrapping up the title in the penultimate event of the NHRA season. It's made this weekend's finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., a coronation for the 64-year-old drag racer.
The championship comes at a crossroads for the larger-than-life Force, who won't pick up his AARP card and slide quietly into some blissful life of retirement. He wants to keep racing and he wants his team to stay in business, so he's fighting hard to do so despite losing his two biggest sponsors in a brutal 1-2 punch earlier this year.
In separate and unrelated decisions, both Ford and Castrol motor oil said they are pulling their support of John Force Racing after the 2014 season in what both companies said were pure business decisions.
Force has is working hard to find replacement money, but learned from the late Dale Earnhardt that winning is the ultimate selling point.
"Earnhardt made the statement, he told his people in the boardroom, I was there, 'I'll do the winning, you guys sell me,' " Force said. "Well, I'm not exactly Dale Earnhardt. I don't try to kid nobody. He had confidence like you couldn't believe. But so do I."
Force has hired motorsports agency Just Marketing Inc. to lead his sponsorship search. He's also using Octagon Entertainment, publicist Rogers and Cowan and is bringing back the reality show that features Force and his family, including drag racing daughters Brittany and Courtney.
"I was on my toes wanting to close this thing out. I didn't want to have to go to Pomona," Force said. "I like the excitement, you know what I mean, the hype. But I wanted to close it. I couldn't take any chances. I'm trying to sell corporate America. I needed to deliver and show that I could win. I've got to find new partners for 2015. I needed to have that championship as part of it."
He delivered on the track, and continues to deliver off of it through John Force Racing and its offshoot companies.
John Force Entertainment has released a 30-second commercial with the family that was done for sponsor System 51. It will air during this weekend's NHRA season finale. A behind-the-scenes blooper video was also recently released, and both were done entirely by JFE.
"My dad can be such a ham at times, and this was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of that," said Ashley Force Hood, President of JFE. "The first thing that came to mind when we thought waxes and polishes was obviously John Force looking sexy while detailing his car. There was really no question in my mind that this was the perfect choice for a commercial. It's not every day you get to tell your dad to look more seductive."
Force, after this 16th title and the loss of two big sponsors, is finally learning to leave those projects to Ashley and other members of his empire.
"The one thing I did wrong is my company has grown so big, I got too big for my britches," Force said. "I'm trying to micromanage everything. I'm sitting on the end of the bed telling my wife, 'If I don't get the money, my racing's done.' She said, 'Well, why don't you focus on winning. You don't get into the winning mode 'til you get to the racetrack.'
"That was the one mistake I did. I called in my company, I said, 'Nobody talks to me about business until this championship's over.'"
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