Home » NHRA

Force’s Emotional Week Rolls On

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 21 2010

The emotions continued to flow for John Force this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

John Force’s emotional wringer-of-a-week continued Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the recently crowned 15-time NHRA Funny Car world champion was presented with Ford Motor Company’s highest honor.

But a simple letter from drag racing icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits did more to boost Force’s spirits, following the unexpected resignation of longtime friend and crew chief Austin Coil earlier this week.

Force, who captured his record 15th Funny Car title with a come-from-behind victory last weekend in Pomona, Calif., was presented the prestigious Spirit of Ford Award during a surprise ceremony in the HMS media center.

Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang, was guest of the manufacturer as part of activities associated with Ford Championship Weekend and Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-ending Ford 400.

The Spirit of Ford Award is the highest honor Ford Motor Company bestows for lifetime achievement in auto racing, on and off the racetrack. Force became the 24th recipient, joining an international list of honorees from various forms of racing and the motorsports media.

Force, 61, received the award from Edsel B. Ford II, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford and a member of the company’s board of directors.

“ ‘Legend’ is a word often used in sports,” Ford said. “But there truly are legends in auto racing and John Force is one of them. We decided to present this award to John not just because of his record on the track – which is Hall of Fame worthy – but also for what he has done off the track to help move forward the sport of drag racing.”

Force returned to championship form this season after suffering career-threatening injuries in a crash at Texas Motorplex in Ennis in September 2007. Last Sunday, Force overcame a 38-point deficit to Matt Hagan of archrival Don Schumacher Racing en route to winning his title and the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

In addition to his 15 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series personal championships, Force has logged a record 132 national event victories while leading John Force Racing to 17 championships in the last 21 years. That is a record unmatched in any form of sport.

The celebration at JFR in Yorba Linda, Calif., was short-lived, however, after Hall of Fame crew chief Coil informed Force on Tuesday morning he was resigning. Coil told RacinToday.com he was leaving JFR over a combination of salary and personal issues concerning “Brut” Force.

Force addressed the 65-year-old Coil’s resignation in a statement issued Saturday.

“There are highs and lows in life,” Force said. “Winning my 15th Funny Car championship was a high and I received a letter from Austin Coil two days later that was a low in my life. It hurt me. I tried to call him, but he didn’t want to talk. I told him I would respect that. We had 26 great seasons together and that is what I will remember.

“I also got a letter of congratulations this week from Don Garlits that I am carrying with me. It means a lot because it recognizes what my team, my sponsors and I accomplished this season. Life goes on. All I can do is thank Austin Coil for his contributions to JFR and get my team ready to chase another championship in 2011.”

Among Force’s offseason priorities will be continuation of The Eric Medlen Project in Brownsburg, Ind.

Medlen, Force’s teammate and protégé, died as a result of head injuries suffered in a crash during testing at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in March 2007. After a period of mourning, Force was motivated to turn that tragedy into something positive for drag racing. Force and tuner John Medlen, Eric’s father, began collaborating with Ford Motor Company engineers on the design of a safer cockpit for Nitro cars.

During a teleconference wrapping up the National Hot Rod Association season earlier this week, Force reiterated that the re-designed safety cell likely saved his life in his violent crash during eliminations against Kenny Bernstein in Ennis.

“I might not be alive today if it wasn’t for Eric’s crash,” Force said. “Because, when Eric had the head –  the brain injuries – his dad, everybody went to work with Ford Motor Company’s engineers and the military and they talked about helicopter crashes and people that had damage. And this was something new that we had never seen.

“And all of a sudden, they put roll cages on my car, and I crashed, identical crash (to Medlen’s), and my car was shattered. I had no head damage, but yet my arms and legs were broke. Then we went on with the Ford guys to build the three-rail chassis.

“And then The Eric Medlen Project , my guys in Indy, built the cars we all drive now, that Bobby Tasca drives. Nobody chose to drive the three-rails. I don’t know why. They all have the technology. We gave it to everybody.”

Force’s six victories during the 23-race regular season in 2010 _ including the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoff _confirmed the competitiveness of the latest design.

“John has tirelessly promoted the sport of motor racing far-and-wide, with his entertaining stories and his friendship with racers from all forms of the sport,” Ford said. “It’s because of what he has done, and the way he has honored the sport, his fellow competitors, and the fans, that he is truly deserving of the Spirit of Ford.”

Spirit of Ford Award Winners

1988 Bill Stroppe

1989 Bob Glidden

1990 Chris Economaki

1992 Richard Petty

1993 Bob Bondurant

1994 Mario Andretti and Jackie Stewart

1995 Bud Moore

1996 Parnelli Jones

1997 Jim Clark

1998 Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr., Phil Hill, Sir Stirling Moss

1999 Junie Donlavey Jr., Dan Gurney, Glen Wood and Leonard Wood

2000 Bill Elliott and Denise McCluggage

2001 Carroll Shelby and Wally Parks

2003 Ned Jarrett

2005 Mose Nowland

2006 Jack Roush

2010 John Force

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 21 2010
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • wayne newhouse says:

    That’s all understood what you both had to say.(Brenda, & dbt94gt) Things change, and time moves on, and you need young new talent to lead the way. If they do their job, take care of them. My point is, when John called Austin he wouldn’t even talk to him, so there is something deeper going on that none of us can speculate on. Although Austin might have done a little less the past couple years, don’t forget how long he was there, and a lot of John’s lifetime successes might not have been without Austin.

  • Brenda Kaye says:

    I doubt it was too much of anything..but since Neff took over getting John ready to race each round, it seemed to me Neff did a much better job. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s my thought. Austin probably hated to leave JFR but then again, he might come back and be employed at a different team….I have my idea…bet others do too. Another on left, which I never thought would and here it goes again.
    Whatever the problem with Austin and the other one, it’s their choice and I hope John moves on and let be what will be. He can win without the one that left and that’s been proven and he’ll win without Austin too.
    What an honor for John to be in the great company of the other Spirit of Ford winners….John, you are the best but yet you are humble and your fans admire you for being YOU!!!! Keep it going John, we all love you!!!

  • dbt94gt says:

    I live Force and I love Coil. Whatever Coil’s reasons, I think he had not contributed so much the last couple years. They needed Zippy to take them to the championship this year.

  • wayne newhouse says:

    I have been a John Force fan forever, and always will be, but I can’t understand what he did to make Austin Coil so upset with him. That’s one guy John should take care of even long after retirement.
    Austin is a MAJOR factor in John’s success.