Writing Portfolio

John Force making up for lost time

Published October 16, 2014 on Sporting News

Somewhere in Virginia on the night of June 4, 1995, soon-to-be 7-year-old Courtney Force was celebrating.

Her father, John Force, had hours earlier beaten K.C. “Hollywood” Spurlock to win the Funny Car final of the inaugural Virginia is for Lovers Nationals in Richmond, just one more of Force’s now-141 career wins.

To top it off, Courtney had her father all to herself. Having missed a recent father-daughter dance because of the NHRA schedule and with her birthday a couple of weeks away, Force was making it up to her, taking her with him on the road while her two sisters and mother were back home in Yorba Linda, Calif.

They were . . .

“OK, tell the truth.”

The story, being told 19 years later by a 26-year-old Courtney, is interrupted by John, now 65. The two sit at a dais in the media center at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., site of the Carolina Nationals.

“Tell the truth. Where we ended up that night,” John says from behind dark sunglasses. “I shouldn’t tell this, but go ahead.”

After laughter subsides, the microphone Courtney holds barely registers her response.

“You really want me to tell?”

More laughter. Courtney, a seven-time winner on the NHRA Funny Car circuit and daughter to the most successful driver in drag racing history, turns back to her captive audience.

“We were in a bar.”

At a bar somewhere in Virginia, a soon-to-be 7-year-old Courtney danced, though it’s disputed whether it was by the jukebox or on the bar itself.

From that jukebox the sounds of “The Sign” by Ace of Base emerged, on repeat, courtesy of the quarters John kept feeding Courtney.

“. . . I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign . . .”

While John was celebrating, he was also doing what he could to make up for lost time.

IndyCar Meet-and-Greet: James Hinchcliffe

Published May 20, 2014 on indianapolismonthly.com

The driver being loaded into the back of the ambulance could remember a few things. What’s your name?“James Hinchcliffe.” When’s your birthday? “December 5, 1986.” Who is the President of the United States? “Barack Obama—that’s pretty good, because I’m Canadian.”

Hinchcliffe’s girlfriend of two years, Kirsten Dee, was standing close by, crying. The driver reached up from the gurney and grabbed her hand.

“Don’t worry, I remember you,” he said.

Hinchliffe had just been struck in the head by debris from Justin Wilson’s car during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It knocked him unconscious and gave him a concussion.

Hinchcliffe is hanging out in a suite at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, attending a promotional event for the launch of Hammer Down, a new beer made in his honor by Flat12 Bierwerks. He recounts the touch-and-go aftermath of his recent injury.

What’s your phone number? Hinchcliffe rattled off a few digits. Dee and members of Hinchcliffe’s family who were there looked at each other, befuddled. None of them knew his number by heart. “They had to ask somebody what my phone number was,” he says. “But apparently I nailed it.”

Hunter-Reay edges Castroneves by .0600 seconds for first Indy 500 win

Published May 25, 2014 on sportsjournalism.org

INDIANAPOLIS — Helio Castroneves strolled into the press conference room, still wearing his yellow Pennzoil fire suit, head phones around his neck, sun glasses in hand.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner walked behind the podium. He stopped short of two televisions hanging to right rear of the stage.

The screen on the right showed the final timing and scoring information for the 98th running of the 500. The one on the left showed Ryan Hunter-Reay as the embodiment of the numbers, adorned in the ceremonial Borg-Warner Victory Lane wreath.

The moderator of the press conference approached the Brazilian.

“Do you want me to turn this off for you?” he asked, a mixture of humor and genuine sympathy in his voice.

Castroneves waved him off, smiling a bit, and turned to the assembled media.

“That was close, wasn’t it?”

2014 Big Ten Tournament: ‘Great day’ for Michigan despite title game loss

Published March 14, 2014 on sportsjournalism.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan Head Coach John Beilein walked through the bowels of Bankers Life Fieldhouse Sunday evening, a smile on his face and energy in his voice.

“It’s a great day!” Beilein proclaimed, as he gave a conference official a low five. “It’s a great day!”

He was on the way back to the Michigan locker room, having just given his postgame press conference as the losing head coach in the Big Ten Tournament championship game. An innocent bystander would never have guessed Beilein had just led his top-seeded Wolverines (25-8) through a 69-55 loss to third-seeded Michigan State (26-8) in its first appearance in the conference final since its NCAA-vacated Big Ten title of 1998.

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