Force May Turn To Top Fuel, Another Daughter
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
John Force Racing will chase the NHRA Funny Car world championship with a four-car Ford Mustang lineup in 2012, a season featuring Courtney Force’s highly anticipated nitro debut.
But team-owner John Force, a 15-time Funny Car world champion, says as many as two Top Fuel cars – driven by daughters Brittany and perhaps Ashley – could be rolling out of the team’s Brownsburg, Ind., shop in the near future.
JFR’s Robert Hight, the 2009 Funny Car world champion and driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford, won a class-leading five national events and finished fourth in the final 2011 point standings. Mike Neff, driver and crew chief of the Castrol GTX Mustang, also won five events and finished fifth in the final standings. Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford, posted a single victory en route to a ninth-place finish, one year after earning his record-setting 15th title.
Matt Hagan won two national events and his first NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championship last season in his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T, while teammate Jack Beckman gave Don Schumacher Racing a 1-2 sweep at the conclusion of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
Backed by sponsorship from Traxxas radio-controlled cars, Courtney Force will attempt to qualify her Mustang for the season-opening 52nd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at
Pomona, Calif., Feb. 9-12. Courtney, 23, effectively replaces older sister Ashley Force Hood, who did not compete last season while awaiting the birth of her first child, Jacob John Hood. Ashley told “National Dragster” in December that “2013 is in the back of my mind” for a return to racing.
John Force previously announced that Brittany would test the Top Fuel ranks this season while he continues to search for sponsorship. “Well, the budget’s really tight,” Force said during a Ford Racing teleconference on Tuesday. “I was lucky to get the Traxxas program. The money’s gotten thin. The gravy’s gone. Endorsements that we used to make…a lot of that has changed in this economy. I look at a number of things, because Ashley, you know, hasn’t said she’s coming back. But it’s clear to me that within a year to two, she’ll be back in the seat.
“Now, you got to look at what racing allows. We’re only allowed four Funny Cars. And now we’ve got Bobby Tasca III with his own (Shelby Mustang) team and (Tim) Wilkerson, that’s six Fords. So what my game plan is in the future, is probably not to stay with four Funny Cars. What I’ll do is pick up a dragster, that’s why I’m moving ahead with the dragster. Because we get too many of us running into each other.
“Winning is why we came, so if I was in a perfect world – and I’ve talked this over with Robert and the braintrust – that I would drop a Funny Car team in the future and I would bring in two dragsters. That’s why we started the process with the dragster. That way you’d have three Funny Cars and two dragsters, because they need to be able to share technology. That’s why you need an extra dragster. And the Funny Cars, with three of them we’ve got plenty.
“But it is about money and it’s about Brittany, where she wants to go in the future. She really wanted another year or two in A Fuel (dragster), to sharpen her skills and try to run for a championship. But we just didn’t have the budget. So what we did was put her in part of the safety program, to where
some of the money that could go to the development of safety, through our sponsors headed by Ford, that we would enable to test it through her car while she sharpens her driving skills, so to speak. That was the direction for the dragster. That’s why Dickie Venables was brought into the loop to lead that dragster charge. But also so he could help the other Funny Cars if we had a man down or a man sick.”
In addition to Venables, Force has welcomed back John Medlen in the position of Director of Technology and Safety. Medlen won a Funny Car championship at JFR as crew chief to Tony Pedregon, helped design and develop the BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor and served as the “safety conscience” for drag racing after the tragic death of his son, Eric, in a crash while testing in March 2007. Appropriately, Medlen will work from within The Eric Medlen Project, a research and safety initiative founded by Force. Medlen not only spearheaded the BOSS 500 engine program but also was instrumental in developing the three-rail chassis to which the team converted its Mustangs in 2008.
“I’m excited because safety is priority, and that’s the first thing John started talking about,” John Force said. “He said, ‘I know you ran the new three-rail dragster that Murf McKinney built that the Ford engineers worked on. I really want to take a look at that. I want to get involved with that again,’ because my daughter (Brittany) is driving it and he wants to make sure that it’s safe. It’s giving her a year to test her driving skills.
“We don’t want to just build safety for the Fuel Funny Car ranks. We want to build it…we’ve got Brandon Bernstein, Morgan Lucas…all them kids over there driving these hot rods and rules have been changed and we want to continue to stay after it. John Medlen will lead that charge. And Dickie Venables has come back to John Force Racing. He left because he had the opportunity to have a lead crew chief job and we never had that opportunity when he went with Tony (Pedregon). Now we have the chance for him to overlook the Top Fuel dragster. But I told him safety is priority.”
Force said Brittany’s crew will focus solely on her Top Fuel car during its test sessions, rather than take away from JFR’s list of accomplished Funny Car crew chiefs.
“I got a team for her (Brittany),” John Force said. “It’s got a skeleton crew, and we’ve even got guys on the Road Show – when they’re not working, they’ll be out working on the dragster and its test sessions. We’ll show the dragster at all the NHRA national events carrying the Brand Source logos and on top of that, with Brittany out there at every race signing autographs, to go through the same process as Courtney in the Funny Car.
“If we can find a sponsor, definitely. Traxxas give us hope in this economy that NHRA is a great place to race and a great place to invest your money. I’ve already gone into savings again to make a lot of this happen, but you’ve got to spend money to make money and that’s what we’re doing.”
– John Sturbin can be reached by email@example.comOne Comment