Force’s Emotional Week Rolls On
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
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 Force4 Comments