What does 64-year-old John Force do for an encore after winning his record 16th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2013?
After collecting some prestigious offseason hardware -- his 16th election to the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasting Association All-American team as well as the Jerry Titus Award for a record fifth time -- the drag racing legend amped up his efforts to pass the Force family torch to his daughters, successful drag racers in their own right.
Force has kept busy searching for a primary sponsor to replace Castrol and a manufacturer affiliation to take over from Ford, as those companies will end long associations with John Force Racing at the end of the 2014 campaign. But given JFR's track record and the popularity and marketability of daughters Courtney (a Funny Car race winner) and Brittany (a rising star in Top Fuel), nobody expects the Force cars to remain unadorned by the time 2015 rolls up to the start line.
"If you don't focus, if you take winning for granted, you go back to the same process and mindset you had last year and go after it," Force said on a recent media teleconference. "Only difference is now, because of the economy and where we're looking at the future of chasing corporate America, we've got to find some major sponsorship, and that's why we've been living on the road, working with Just Marketing and trying to replace sponsorships that are going to be leaving."
Force gave credit to his wife, Laurie, for convincing him to focus on his racing during the 2013 Countdown to the Championship, resulting in a three-race win streak that allowed him to clinch the crown one round early at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
His daughters Adria Force Hight and Ashley Force Hood play key business roles in JFR, and Force knows that the future of his company lies with the younger generation.
"I've always said if somebody's got to sit out 2015, it will be me," Force said. "My daughter, I've set her on fire; I've crashed her. I'm not going to tell Brittany, 'You can't race that dragster.' I may have to move her into a Funny Car. That's why we switched around the crew chiefs last year. Jimmy [Prock] was struggling when I went over there. I didn't think the car was going to get hot. I did it to team up with Jimmy in case I had to go to Top Fuel.
"Like I said before, to drive a race car, I don't care if it's Pro Stock, Pro Bike -- I don't care what it is -- a Fuel Dragster, I want to be able to race and be with my family and be with the fans. If corporate America says, 'Here's where we want you,' I find a way to go there."
But there's far more to Funny Car than the Force family. Don Schumacher Racing is expanding to four cars, adding a Dodge Charger R/T for Tommy Johnson Jr. to the potent carryover lineup of Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps.
Hagan and Beckman finished second and third in the 2013 Funny Car standings, edging JFR's Robert Hight and Courtney Force, while Beckman was right there behind them in sixth place.
Hagan led the Funny Car points for most of the season until John Force went on the three-race win streak during the Countdown that delivered him the title.
Hagan finished the season strongly with a victory in the finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, which is also the site of the 2014 season-opening Circle K Winternationals.
"2013 was a great year for all of us," Hagan said. "We won more races than anybody [in Funny Car, with five titles] and finished really strong with a win at Pomona in the end. We're going to go out there to Pomona with the same setup we had there last year. It's proven, and we know it works."
Beckman starts 2014 with a new crew chief (Rob Flynn) and is hoping for the same kind of boost he got in 2012, when a crew chief change propelled him to the Funny Car championship. Beckman and assistant crew chief Terry Snyder are the only returning members for the Valvoline MaxLife entry.
"Except for 2006 when I came into DSR, this is the most personnel change I've ever had," Beckman said. "The downside is you develop a bond with all of these people and develop a chemistry and then there's these big changes. The upside is new faces come in and it's a chance to mold the team chemistry, and I'm actually super excited."
Capps is back for his 20th season of NHRA competition, but he is still in search of his first season title after four second-place finishes. He'll be working with crew chief Rahn Tobler for the first time.
"Time just flies by -- too fast," Capps said. "It's been fun. I've been able to race against all the great ones, and it's been fun to watch the sport to grow where it is today.
"You still want to have a championship on your résumé; that's always the goal," he added. "My elders always told me just keep your head down, keep focused on race wins because when race wins come the points come along with them. If you keep doing that, you might look up at the end of the season and have a championship."
Capps ran the fastest time of winter testing, notching a 4.003-second/320.28 mph pass at Palm Beach International Raceway. That narrowly eclipsed John Force's 4.013-second/318.84 mph effort.
"Up until today we've all struggled down here, but we figured a few things out," said Capps. "We still don't race in these conditions, but this tells you what kind of a mentality that Tobler has. He wasn't going to give up until we had this figured out. It's just nice to put a couple decent runs in the bank."
Other top test runs included Del Worsham in the Kalitta Motorsports Toyota (4.014/318.17), Hight (John Force Racing Ford, 4.019/316.97), Hagan (Don Schumacher Racing Dodge, 4.041/321.81) and Courtney Force (John Force Racing Ford, 4.067/320.51).
ESPN2 will broadcast highlights from qualifications at the Winternationals from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET Saturday, while eliminations can be viewed from 8-11 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. Also, ESPN3 will stream live qualifying beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday, with eliminations coverage scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET Sunday.