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Disgruntled Tuner Austin Coil Splits With Force

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 17 2010

John Force picked up another Funny Car championship on Sunday but lost his longtime tuner on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Hall of Fame crew chief Austin Coil says his resignation from John Force Racing was largely a financial decision, augmented by “some animosities” lingering from Force’s winless 2009 NHRA Funny Car season.

“I had not been happy with the financial situation since the reorganization because of the economy,” Coil said during a phone interview on Wednesday, three days after Force won his record-setting 15th National Hot Rod Association world championship at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Coil said team-owner Force instituted across-the-board pay cuts following the 2009 season, one that saw son-in-law Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock win the organization’s 16th NHRA Funny Car championship in 20 years. But Force went winless in ‘09 during a Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season for the first time since 1986 – first year of the Force-Coil collaboration.

“There were a lot of hard feelings over 2009 because our performance was suffering,” said Coil, 65, who has tuned Force to all of his championships and 132 national event victories. “The end result created some animosities that won’t go away. I’m too old to be sat down and told ‘how it is’ every other day. Overall, there’s no real terrible issues going on. It was just time to go. Kind of like when you’ve been married for 26 years and heard all the bullshit.”

Prior to the start of the 2010 season, Force opted to fold Mike Neff’s Ford Mustang Funny Car team because of lack of corporate sponsorship. Neff immediately joined Coil and Bernie Fedderly as the tuning braintrust on Force’s Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford, a move Coil said he still endorses. But Coil said the accompanying pay cuts “took a way bigger percentage from the top employees,” including himself.

“I don’t care if there were three cars or four,” Coil said. “My concern was my share of the pie. We all took (a pay cut) as most everyone in the industry. In a way that’s not to be unexpected. But I wasn’t happy how mine was. I still think I was paid fair for the job I was doing, but it didn’t turn out…it was a considerable surprise from what my previous contract was.

“Kind of a sign of the times, but it still doesn’t make us happy. It’s a situation where we’re told

Austin Coil, longtime tuner for John Force, says he left his former boss with some hard feelings. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

we’ve got to tighten our belt buckles. Again, I’m not saying I was unfairly treated – the economy put everyone in a pinch. But if I still had a mortgage on the house and no investments, I would have had to deal with it. As a result I’ve been less than overly happy.”

As the 2010 season wound down, Coil said he began looking at various career options and met with his financial adviser.

“I’m convinced I’m (financially) secure, so I have no fear of that,” said Coil, who added he could return to drag racing as early as the 2012 season. “I’ve already received several job offers.  I know I can go back to work, but for now I’m going to fill up my bucket list. The only racing I might get involved in is if I find a situation with a team with proper funding and that will give my wife (Lisa) a chance to drive a nostalgia Funny Car…and I’d come along. I’ve had a few nibbles but not made any decision.”

Force was blindsided by Coil’s decision on Tuesday. Coil sent out the following email to selected friends and NHRA officials:  “Dear Friends, I have resigned from John Force Racing 11-16-10. I plan to spend some time with Lisa, my wife, as I have had very little for the last 26 years. I then plan to hang out my shingle to go racing again as I am nowhere’s near ready to retire. Regards, Austin Coil.”

Elon Werner, a public relations representative for JFR, said Force learned of the resignation approximately 15 minutes before he was scheduled to participate in the NHRA’s season-ending champion’s teleconference. Force did take his turn as the last of four professional champions to participate. At the end of his segment, Force remarked:  “I know the rumor mills are going crazy, and I have to address it.  But it’s part of what John Force does.  My heart’s pounding today over some things that have hurt me real bad, and I don’t understand.  I’ve got to go find out.”

Force undoubtedly will address the issue when he travels to Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-ending Ford 400 weekend, if not before.

“John Force Racing doesn’t have a comment at this time, but we’ve accepted it,” Werner said Wednesday. “We’re not going to stand in the way of a guy that wants to smell the roses. It’s hard to begrudge a guy who wants to take a year off.”

Coil said he waited until the morning after Monday night’s NHRA Full Throttle awards ceremony to break the news. “John runs his company a lot like an emperor runs a country,” said Coil, who attended the ceremony with his JFR teammates in Century City, Calif. “And if you tell John anything in advance, there is no delay in dealing with it. It’s immediate. I decided not to disturb anybody’s fun at the banquet. I don’t even know if I had made up my mind at that point.”

Force won his 15th title in dramatic fashion during Sunday’s 46th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, overcoming a 38-point deficit to Matt Hagan of Don Schumacher Racing. Hagan’s first-round upset loss to Bob Tasca III opened the door for Force to clinch the championship with a second-round victory over Bob Bode. Force also trailered Gary Densham, a former JFR teammate, and Melanie Troxel before defeating Jeff Arend for his sixth national event victory of 2010.

Force finished 42 points ahead of Hagan, 28, who was denied his first world championship in his second full season in DSR’s DieHard Dodge Charger R/T. Force is the oldest champion in all of motorsports at the age of 61 years and six months, outdistancing NHRA Pro Stock legend Warren “The Professor” Johnson, who was 58 years and four months old when he won his sixth championship in 2001.

Force posted his first world championship in 1990 by winning seven of 19 races en route to a 43-point advantage over fellow-Californian Ed “The Ace” McCulloch. Force repeated as champion in 1991, then strung together a 10-year stretch of titles between 1993-2002. He posted separate titles in 2004 and 2006.

Asked if he would have resigned had Force not won the championship Sunday, Coil said, “Yeah, probably. But there’s no real problem in the workplace at JFR. I really like all the guys I worked with. We had such an exceptional team and two or three guys doing the hard work will become crew chiefs one day, like Guido (Dean Antonelli). It was a pleasure to race with those guys.”

Coil reiterated he did not feel crowded by the addition of Neff to Force’s tuning team. “I hope to consider them best friends for life,” Coil said. “I don’t have a problem with nobody. They’re good people. But there needs to be a cooling off period, because I deserted them.”

A native of Chicago, Coil has racked up 17 Funny Car titles, including back-to-back crowns in 1982-83 in the famed Chi-Town Hustler driven by Frank Hawley. The Chi-Town Hustler, a car in which Coil was partnered with fellow-Chicagoans John Farkonas and Pat Minick, was one of the dominant Funny Cars on the barnstorming match-race circuit during the 1970s. When sponsorship for that team disappeared in 1985, Force hired Coil and brought him to Southern California.

Coil, who won seven races with Hawley, finished the 2010 season with 139 victories on his resume. He has been selected Car Craft Magazine Funny Car Crew Chief of the Year 12 times.

Force’s latest title marked closure following the devastating foot and leg injuries he suffered in a crash at Texas Motorplex during eliminations in September 2007. Force put himself through a rigorous rehabilitation program to return to the cockpit for the start of the 2008 season, when he recorded a single national event victory and a 23-19 win-loss mark.

Force’s 0-for-24 season followed in 2009, a campaign that saw him post a 23-24 win-loss record _ his first losing effort since going 5-8 in 1984. While those numbers had some observers questioning the wisdom of “Brut Force” continuing in the cockpit, Coil was not among them.

“Ya know…at times it was kind of inspiring,” said Coil, referring to John’s post-Motorplex crash effort. “He’d come back and go to the gym every day and work out for two hours to try to get into shape. He’s probably in the best shape since I’ve known him. That old fart can do 100 chin-ups. He was determined to get back. His lights (reaction times) have never been better and he’s been a good guy to deal with this year. That’s how it is when you’re winning your fair share. That’s part of the game of racing.”

Coil said his home in Yorba Linda, Calif., is about four miles from the JFR facility. “I think I’m not that interested in hanging out there if I’m not actively involved,” Coil said. “Don’t make a very good spectator.

“Right now, I’m going on vacation for the first time in 26 years with the idea of not being on any schedule to come back. In a few days we’ll be heading up the coast of California. I’ve done that on vacation a couple of times and it seemed it was too soon before I had to go home. I’m thinking I’d like to fill my bucket list.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 17 2010


  • Mark Wirth, Sr. says:

    Good Luck to you and your family Austin. I have to tell you, I don’t know how you could stay on the raod for as long as you did. You definately have a very, very understanding wife and she deserves all the time you can spend with her. With your knowledge and reputation, I’ll bet you could get NHRA to run the Nostagia classes at all of the NHRA National events & give the fans a double shot of Nitro at all the races.

  • Brian says:

    You made the right call. It’s time to spend time with your wife and hopefully land a deal so you folks can do the nostalgia funny car tour. It’s time you had fun racing, instead of it being a business. Good luck.

  • pete says:

    Seems to me that after ALL the ups and downs JFR has been through, especially the last 2-5 years, it was just time for a change for all of them. The hard work and all the hours take their toll..It damn near killed Bob Glidden. And this is a business. So maybe Coil just saw the chance and took it. And with all the emotions that go with that, some things were said that will fade away with a little time.

  • Mike N says:

    Coil is truly a class act! always has been. John is known to be a hot head from time to time, 2009 was one of the very….very few bad years JF has ever had. It is interesting to me that the people that leave JFR never really say much…..Gary D, Tony P, John M, all of this talent has left for a reason! and I am sure it has very little to do with pay! Look under the hood and I am sure there is a lot more to this story…JFR is no paradise.

  • John Hadley says:

    I cannot believe you are complaining about a paycut. I am with these others. Walk a mile in my shoes. Some people do not even have food to eat. You got to be kidding me Coil. Very sad in my opinion. you should be ashamed for saying that.

  • chris goodnight says:

    Coils gone. . .so is the tire smoke at the 400 ft mark,hopefully. Best wishes to Neff.

  • Clayton says:

    John wears his emotions on his sleeve and he the front guy for the whole organization. That’s not an enviable place to be sometimes, however it takes a lot of energy and know how to not only create a successful program but to keep it together after all these years! John has done a remarkable job to hold it all together for so long. He’s done it with great people surrounding him and guts! It’s easy to throw stones but he doesn’t have to make excuses to anyone for his history of winning. When you look at recent history Coil wasn’t getting it done, and neither was Medlen and he hasn’t got it done at DSR. Maybe it time to get some new blood in? I would like to see if Coil run a team like John Force or Alan Johnson and deal with sponsors and employees and all the egos involved. Say what you may but John Force is a winner even with all of his faults!

  • deepsky says:

    Coil is a class act. He always has been. The writing was on the wall. Mike Neff brought the edge that Force needed to win again. I respect Coil for stepping away to spend more time with his wife. Look for them both to resurface on the nostalgia circuit and dominate. They will enjoy life while still racing and be better off because of it.

  • Dan Stitt says:

    Hey Guys
    Chill out!!!

  • Jerry Gallagher says:

    Great teams are just that-John and Austin are the ‘faces’ but every TEAM member has a hand in the success( or failure) of any team.These team members all excel at their jobs.Thanks to all for doing a great job and being gracious in victory as well as defeat.God bless America!

  • billygunn says:

    Coil is whining about a pay cut when the unemployment rate is 14.3% in my town , You make more in a year than I will probably make in my lifetime. Everyone in any kind of professional sports needs a pay cut, maybe then they can lower the ticket prices to get in , 75 bucks a ticket at the Gatornationals is crazy.With my family of 4 thats 300 for tickets another 100 or so for food, 30 bucks a tshirt for the kids, gas to and from and you want to whine? Walk a mile , HELL walk ten feet in my shoes and you will never bitch again

    • John Sturbin says:

      billygunn: I have no idea what Austin Coil made this year, but it’s good to have a paycheck of any kind to take to the bank in this economy. Believe me when I say many of the staffers on this website understand your frustration with the nation’s stagnant unemployment rate, the cost of staffing motorsports events on our own dime and professional athletes _ most in stick-and-ball sports _ who are living in a fantasy world.

    • gr8raoul says:

      It wasn’t a money thing. Read his comments. He knew that there was going to be a money cut. He knew that economic times were tough. He didn’t mind Neff. Hell, he loved Neff. What it reads to me is that Force ragged on him one too many times when the car wasn’t working in 2009. Coil is an old guy. He’s 65. He doesn’t look too healthy. Maybe he wants to do something other than chase racercars across the country. He looked at his money in the bank, saw it was OK, talked it over with his wife and said, “Fuck this shit. I’m outta here.” He’s not going to show up at DSR or anywhere else except maybe a NFC with his wife.

  • Fast says:

    I agree that some tough changes had to be made I remember John saying (in an off camera bottom-end interview that was supposed to be done) to Shoemacher, he knew Don was trying to hire Coil away from him and Don will do anything to Piss John off, cause he is a jealous prick that will NEVER have anywhere the fans that John has!!! If you people think Don doesn’t throw races Just ask Scelzi when he had to thro the race against Bazemore, and Don said that because both had good reaction times they were really racing??

    • Craig says:

      You forgot to say that Don ( DSR) and his son Tony would be no where if not for Alan Jonkson.
      Just think how many wins Blain would have if he was still here driving for his brother.
      Austin is good, but as they say, he’s no alan johnson

  • gr8raoul says:

    Not surprised that Coil left. Personally, I’ve been worried about Coil’s health. In the last three or four years, he’s gotten older quickly. He’s maybe 30-40 pounds heavier than in earlier years and, to me, he just doesn’t look very good.

    I imagine the Coil/Force combination had a lot of tension over the years. Both are kind of hard headed and Force doesn’t know when to shut up. There could come a day when a fella just doesn’t want to be around that and, if he has enough dough for the future, he’ll call it quits.

    JFR is in good shape right now. All three of the cars have a good tuning team and, I’m sure, there are capable people in the wings. If Bernie is able to teach Danny Hood to take over his job, then maybe Bernie can relax a bit, too.

    If Coil still wants to tune a car, a Chi-town Hustler NFC would get a great response from the fans and Coil could get his mechanical jollies and his wife Lisa can have a good time driving it. NFCs are a lot cheaper than FCs because they are not wound up as tight. In the old days, guys would run essentially the same motor all year, sometimes with little major rebuild but usually just a change of plugs, a look at the mains and off to the next track.

    So, good luck Austin Coil. He doesn’t need to prove anything to any one. He’s still two championships ahead of Force. ;)


  • force fan says:

    Hey Jeremy you sound like a real class act? The war was over and they were champs again. It appears that Force made a decision to use money as an incentive to motivate his team to win again and Coil decided not to bend over and take it. I have to respect His decision not to play the Force game anymore. We have seen the Force team manipulate races to get a championship more than one time. I believe this may be the beginning of bigger problems on the horizon for the Force dynasty first John Medlen now Austin two honest and talented long term crew chiefs leave without any notice??? There is more to this story so before you start commenting on things you don’t have a clue about check your facts. For Austin to actually tell the truth in this politically correct media manipulated world is amazing I bet Force will not be as honest, but without Coil Force would be dead from crashing or bankrupt from never winning a race that is a fact a big mouth only gets you so far in the world.

    • Hotrod2223 says:

      Wow, you must realy be a Force fan. The article I read was inspiring, Coil has always been a class act, at least for the 30 years I’ve known him. Your correct on one point; Force isn’t perfect but he’s way more than a big mouth. Sounds like you should be pulling for Schumacher instead?

      • forcefan says:

        Now Force is more than a big mouth, but when he hired Austin he was winless blowing up constantly check around for some of the stories when he and Densham were match racing in the 80s. As for Schumacher those teams race heads up no BS to win the championship and it has cost them championships, ask Whit Bazemore. I have met Force more than once and I think he is a nice guy and a good driver and I have been a fan for a long time I loved the days when he and Big Al were battling to win the Championship, but then when the 2 car team started at least some of those titles were won by throwing races, just ask Tony Pedregon. When Gary Scelzi is back in a DSR car this season I will be pulling for him to win it all. You have to admit something is wrong at JFR for the defections that have happened this year.

  • Rich Wilcox says:

    Congratulations on the Championship, and on this decision. This time to yourself is long overdue. As the Motel6 adds say … “We’ll leave the light on for ya!”

    See you at the races,

  • Keith Schultz says:

    I have to add to the force story I can relate to Austin Coils feelings
    I recently retired and I went thru the old school comments from
    young up and comers Im not saying that was the case with Coil but as you grow older and you are at the peak of your income ability
    you start to realize that these young guys want your job and the
    big money they know that you are making. it is a lot of pressure
    to think about as you grow older but im sure Austin will get his feelings sorted out with his time off. its kind of like when sports people come to the end of there career and have to deal trying to compete with the younger players. I like the way Austin went about
    getting out on his own terms.

  • Dan hix says:

    Best wishes to Austin and Lisa. I’ve got a NFC with all the right stuff that I’d love to share with the coils.

  • Big Ed says:

    Agree Tony. Gosh, Force and Coil and Fedderly were JFR. Tough to believe the split is final. Add John Medlen, too. Best of luck to all in this story.

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    Without the Fedderly-Coil-Force Marraige, which has now met Divorceville, it be hard for the Force to win 18 Titles as an Organization and 16 as a Driver.

  • Carl Fiorletta says:

    Congratulations to Austin Coil.
    I’m happy that you’ve won another championship and happy to see that
    you’re taking some time off to travel and enjoy some time with Lisa.

    Here’s my hope for you. Come back with good funding so you
    can be the team owner, or at least have a more silent team owner
    than J. Force. I like Alan Johnson’s model and means of coming
    back to top-fuel as a team owner and manager, with adequate funding from a team owner who doesn’t have to be in front of the camera. I’m tired of John’s rhetoric. Austin, we know that you’re the enabler for John’s success. We want to see Austin Coil as the team owner, tuner and spokesman.

    Enjoy your time off, we look forward to the day you come back.

    Best regards,


    • Jeremy says:

      Hey Carl…you really know everything about John Force Racing…don’t you idiot?? For one…John’s championships are a team effort…not just his, and not just Coil’s….John can’t tune…and Coil can’t drive….so before you go saying that he’s the enabler to John’s championships….study your facts first. Number two…John Force always acknowledges everybody..the team, and the sponsors…Number three….Austin Coil was paid very very well by Force. The economy went down the drain…changes had to be made. For Austin Coil to leave JFR like he did is akin to a soldier walking away from a battlefield in the middle of a war. It’s idiots like you that make sports figures hated…because you cannot keep your stupid, dumb opinions to yourselves. IDIOT