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Force Hood To Become Mom; Will Skip 2011

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 25 2011

Ashley Force Hood will start a family, not races, in 2011. (File Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

John Force Racing announced Tuesday that his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, and her husband are expecting a child and she will not drive a Funny Car for the JFR NHRA team this coming season.

Headed back to the cockpit for the team will be Mike Neff, a former driver for JFR who last season served as a crew member for team-owner Force’s car.

Force announced that instead of climbing into the seat of the Mustang being vacated by Force Hood, Neff will drive the car in which Force himself won the 2010 championship – and he’ll tune it, too.

Neff, the 2008 NHRA rookie of the year, was a top-10 finisher in both 2008 and 2009. He won the season-ending 2009 Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona to become the first driver in 40 years to win an NHRA tour event in an all-Ford Funny Car – a Mustang powered by the JFR-developed BOSS 500 Ford engine.

He went from cockpit to crew when economics forced JFR to eliminate one of his four teams.

The announcement was made during a teleconference.

Force Hood has finished in the top three in Funny Car points the last two seasons. She is a two-time winner of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

Her father won his 15th Funny Car championship in 2010.

“This past November,” Force Hood said, “after watching my dad clinch his 15th championship, Dan (Hood, her husband) and I decided we would try to start a family.

“Dan and I know there is always a risk at the beginning of a pregnancy so we waited as long as possible to say anything to make sure everything was all right and there were no problems.”

Force Hood, 28 and a graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, said that during her time off, she will work with younger sister Courtney, who also has plans to make her way to the NHRA Funny Car series.

Force won his first race with Neff at the helm, then sealed the championship by winning the last two

Mike Neff in a Funny Car in 2009.

events of the 2010 season, giving Neff the unusual distinction of becoming the first to win a Funny Car race (the Auto Club Finals) one year as a driver and the next as a crew chief.

“Neff showed me that he could do double-duty two years ago,” Force said.  “When John Medlen had to step back for his health, that team never missed a beat with Neff tuning it and driving it.  That’s how it used to be, back in the match race days.  You did everything.  You financed it, you tuned it, you drove it and then you drove the truck to the next race.  Neff has that mentality.  If anybody can wear both hats, it’s him.”

Neff’s new driver-tuner designation means that the team that directed Force to six 2010 victories and a record 15th individual championship essentially will remain intact with primary sponsorship from Castrol GTX and Ford.  The only significant change will be Dan Hood’s new responsibilities in assisting with the tune-up, the first step in his development as a Next Generation crew chief.

Force, meanwhile, will move over one pit spot to drive for crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas and the team that sent Force Hood to consecutive victories in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and second and third place finishes in Full Throttle points in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Force also announced Tuesday that effective immediately, he is promoting his son-in-law, 2009 NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight, to president of the Yorba Linda-based drag racing dynasty that has won 17 of the last 21 NHRA Funny Car titles.

Hight, who started his career at John Force Racing as a crewman in 1995, steadily assumed more

Robert Hight has a new role at John Force Racing. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

responsibilities including Facility Manager of the Yorba Linda shop, test driver and, finally, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang in which he has won 18 NHRA tour events.

“Robert and my daughter Adria (Hight’s wife and current JFR CFO) will run this company long after I am gone,” Force said.   “Adria has been with this company her whole life.  She used to sit in my lap and steer my truck.  She had been running the business side with my brother-in-law David Arritt for over a decade.

“Robert is a strong leader and he understands every side of this company.  He lives it just like I do every day of the year.  At Thanksgiving, he and I always wind up going off in a corner and talking about business,” said Force.

“I have the highest respect for John. He never stops thinking about how to make this company better for everyone – from the crew guys to the crew chiefs to the sponsors to the fans.  There is no way I could ever replace him and, trust me he isn’t going anywhere.  I am excited to continue learning from him.  This is an exciting day for me and Adria,” said Hight.

Hight won his first race as a crewman at John Force Racing (Denver, 1995) and his third race as a driver (Houston, 2005).  He is the first driver in NHRA history to win multiple events in each of his first six pro seasons.  He was NHRA Rookie of the Year in 2005, Full Throttle Champion in 2009 and owns the quickest times at both the quarter mile (4.636 seconds) and 1,000 foot (4.005 seconds) distances.

In addition to the new position for Hight, Force also announced that long-time JFR crewman and

John Force made major announcements about his NHRA operation Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

current crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli will take over as General Manager of the John Force Racing Brownsburg, Ind., facility.   Antonelli has been instrumental in overseeing and managing the 150,000 square foot shop since it was opened in 2005.

“‘Guido’ has been running the Brownsburg shop with his wife, Kelly (JFR’s marketing director) for me for a couple of years now,” said Force.   “I am just making it official. This is about moving the Next Generation of leaders up in my organization. We will still work as a team but every team needs a leader.  ‘Guido’ used to be the team leader on my Funny Car and now he has his own team as crew chief.   Having him run the Brownsburg shop was a natural fit.”

Antonelli was Team Leader on Force’s car for 12 seasons and in nine of those seasons Force won the championship.  In four seasons as co-crew chief to Ashley Force Hood, along with partner Ron Douglas, he sent the second generation driver to 16 final rounds, four wins and 15 No. 1 starts culminating in back-to-back wins at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and Top 3 finishes in 2009 and 2010.

“Having John give me this opportunity is a real honor,” Antonelli said.  “He is one of the best drivers I have ever seen and his passion for growing the sport is unmatched.  When you look at what he has created in Brownsburg with our shop and The Eric Medlen Project, it is just amazing.  My goal is to continue the positive momentum John has started and to build and expand our business model for both our own success and the success of our partners.”

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 25 2011
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