This upcoming weekend, both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NHRA will begin their respective title runs. NASCAR has their Chase for the Cup happening at the Chicagoland Speedway, while the NHRA Countdown to the Championship hits the zMAX Dragway in North Carolina.
The Charlotte area is a hub for both sports, as NASCAR has two weekends at the big speedway, while NHRA kicks off their title hunt at Charlotte, along with the now must-see 4-Wide drags from early in the season.
It is not often that the two sports get to combine in one area, or much less have a connection on one track.
When the Countdown begins, legendary NHRA Funny Car driver, and 2015 Countdown competitor, John Force, is bringing NASCAR to the drag strip. The way this happens is because of the car that Force will pilot.
Force is running a special Chevrolet Camaro that is painted in honor of NASCAR champion, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon. His car will carry the flame paint scheme that Gordon ran on his car from 2001 through 2008, the same paint scheme he ran when he won his fourth championship in 2001.
“I got the idea for the flames from Jeff telling me years ago he was a fan because I was always on fire. He was right; when I got started, we were on fire from here to Australia. I always enjoyed seeing Jeff at races and award banquets. The guy was just so polite and professional, but you knew he had the eye of the tiger, too. You don’t win all those championships on your good looks,” Force said at the special reveal of the car on Tuesday. “This special Funny Car is just a way for me, my family, my team, my sponsors, NHRA, and the fans to say thank you for being a great champion and being such a great driver in NASCAR.
“I put as many flames as my designer Brandon [Baker] could fit on my hot rod in Jeff’s honor.”
The relationship between Force and Gordon began in the early 1990’s, when the two were seated next to each other at a banquet. Force gave Gordon advice about speaking to a big crowd, advice that was more on the humorous side. The two would meet up again at the Auto Club Speedway, all because of some hamburgers. It was Force who insisted in getting burgers for a group of drivers including Gordon and Rusty Wallace.
Force’s insistence came at the expense of his limo. His usual driver was not at the track due to a mix-up, so it was Force who drove his own vehicle to In-and-Out to get burgers. In the end, the limo ran out of gas, and in the end gave everyone a good laugh.
The 16-time champion is not yet willing to call it a career, even with his daughters Brittany and Courtney competing on the circuit. Gordon, after a 23-year career in NASCAR, has decided to hang up the fire suit and helmet at the end of 2015. He will step out of the seat and into the broadcast booth for FOX.
FOX has signed on to take over broadcasting the NHRA season beginning in 2016, taking over the rights from ESPN.
For Force, being able to run a car that carries both the paint scheme and number of Gordon is gratifying, because he’s not just saluting a driver, but also a friend and a competitor.
“I loved being around the NASCAR guys. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was my hero, and I learned a lot from him. Getting to know Gordon over the years has been a lot of fun. We see each other at NASCAR races, and I know his kids love coming to the drag races at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. He is just a great guy, and I am proud to run this Chevrolet Camaro to thank him for everything he has done for motorsports,” Force said of Gordon.
Gordon enters the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup as the 13th seed in the standings, with zero victories to his credit thus far this season. Force enters the Countdown to the Championship in the fifth position, 60 points behind Jack Beckman.
The Chase begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with the myAfibRisk.com 400. The Carolina Nationals runs from Friday to Sunday in Charlotte.