Brittany Force To Drive JFR Top Fuel Entry

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 11 2013

Brittany Force will lead her father's NHRA team into Top Fuel in 2013.

Drag racing icon John Force has fired the sport’s first major shot of 2013, introducing daughter Brittany as driver of a new JFR-built Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster.

Brittany Force will contest the full NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule in a car prepared and maintained by crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli and assistant crew chief Eric Lane and powered by the Ford BOSS 500 nitro engine.

John Force, a 15-time NHRA Funny Car world champion, introduced his full team lineup during a press conference Thursday at the team’s headquarters in Yorba Linda, Calif. JFR has won a record 217 NHRA Funny Car races and 17 Winston, Powerade and Full Throttle Funny Car championships. Brittany’s foray into Top Fuel marks the first time in its 35-year NHRA history the team will field a Top Fuel dragster.

“It really is a big honor to be the first to drive a Top Fuel dragster at John Force Racing,” said 26-year-old Brittany, who will be the third Force daughter to turn pro. “This team has done so much over the years to evolve and adding a Top Fuel car into the mix, I believe, will help us continue to grow as a team.

“Being able to drive the first JFR Top Fuel dragster with my dad’s support and with Castrol EDGE as my sponsor is still very surreal to me, but I think it’s something we’re all excited about and I’m going to do the best job that I can.”

Additionally, John Force confirmed that he will be reunited this season with crew chief Mike Neff in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “Brut” Force will be joined by daughter Courtney who, after earning Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2012, will return in the Traxxas Ford Funny Car with crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dan Hood. Meanwhile, son-in-law Robert Hight will start his ninth season in the Auto Club Ford for Jimmy Prock and new assistant crew chief Danny DeGennaro.

The 2013 season, which will begin Feb. 14-17 with the 53rd edition of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., will be the first in which every JFR race car is driven by a member of John Force’s immediate family.

A graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, Brittany is the second-youngest of Force’s four daughters. She has opted put a potential teaching career on hold while learning the family business from the seat of a 330 mph Top Fueler.

“My plan from the very beginning was to go to college and earn a Bachelor’s degree before really pursuing racing,” Brittany said. “I earned my B.A. in English and then did an extra year to earn my teaching credential. I never had intentions to go right into teaching, I just wanted to get school finished because I knew that if I took a break from it, I would never go back to finish.

“I will always have teaching to fall back on if things change down the road, but I’m very happy with where I am and where things are heading. I have many goals for next year and can’t wait to get started in Pomona. One of my goals is to really get to know my guys so that we can become a strong team together. My other goal is to get my first win in my Top Fuel car as a rookie driver.”

Ironically, Brittany has more dragster experience than anyone assigned to the Castrol EDGE Team. While it is the first dragster assignment for both crew chief Antonelli and assistant crew chief Lane, Brittany never has driven anything else. After earning her Super Comp license under the tutelage of current NHRA Funny Car world champion Jack Beckman of rival Don Schumacher Racing, Brittany drove A/Fuel dragsters for Jerry Darien and spent last year testing in a Top Fuel dragster.

When the season begins at Pomona, Brittany will become the 15th different professional drag racer to compete for Team Castrol, the third to do so in the Top Fuel category in which the late Gary Ormsby won the championship for Castrol GTX in 1989.

“I’m so happy to be working with Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane,” Brittany said. Guido was the crew chief for my dad the last two years and before that he taught Ashley (Force) to drive a Funny Car. They were so successful together and I’m really excited to have him on-board with me.

“I spent the majority of my testing season working with Eric and Jimmy Prock from Robert Hight’s team. I get along with Eric very well. He has always been so patient with me. We always talk about the runs before and after, which helps prepare me for future passes. I think we’re a good match and we will teach each other so much next year. I think we’re all going to make a very strong team.”

Neff, whose driving resume includes 10 Full Throttle tour victories and NHRA title runs each of the last two seasons, is excited about reuniting with John Force, who will be chasing a record 16th championship at age 63. Neff, 47, spent last season as driver/crew chief on the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

“It was just such a long weekend (doing both jobs),” said Neff, a four-time winner last season. “Not only were you focusing on tuning, but you had to do the driving part and the media and you had to run here and there for sponsor appearances. There was no down time. After awhile, it got to be too much. It just wore me down. You could never seem to take five and focus. I just got pulled in a lot of different directions.

“Force was really good about it. When I first brought it up (in the middle of last season), he wanted me to really think about it. He didn’t want me to make any quick decisions. He basically said I could drive as long as I wanted to. He left it up to me (and) I just felt that it was time.”

Neff led the driver points after 15 of 23 races in 2011, claiming the regular season championship before stumbling during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs and finishing fifth. In 2012, he again led the points, won the U.S. Nationals at Clermont, Ind., for the second consecutive year and finished third as the highest-ranked JFR/Ford driver. Beckman, driver of the Valvoline NexGen Dodge Charger RT, edged DSR teammate Ron Capps for the world championship by two points (2,610-2,608).

“Now, I’m looking forward to racing with John Force again,” Neff said. “He’s the most exciting guy out there. I enjoy being around him. He’s funny and intense. He’s a legend and to be a part of that and be the guy running his car is an honor. There are only a couple people that will ever be able to say they tuned John Force’s Funny Car.

“You look at what Austin Coil did for him (during a 25-year collaboration); all their success. John Force is a winner. He deserves to go out on top. I’m hoping we can give him a good car and get him back into contention and win some races.”

John Force believes that reducing his team’s Funny Car inventory actually will make his team better overall. “With four cars, you’re always running into each other,” said Force, a 134-time tour winner, including one in 2012. “I think we’ll be better with three cars. Courtney and Neff ran great last year and we’ve worked really hard to make sure we have three Fords that can run for the Mello Yello championship this year.” Force finished ninth in points in 2012.

Hight, JFR president and the 2009 world champion, is the biggest winner in the Funny Car category over his eight seasons (27 victories). He will try to keep alive a trio of streaks in a car on which his crew chief will be assisted this year by veteran DeGennaro. Hight, 43, has won at least two races in every one of his eight pro seasons, has started No. 1 at least once every year and has led the Funny Car points every year _ a performance without precedent. Hight won four races en route to a seventh-place point finish in 2012.

Courtney Force, 24, is aiming to maintain the momentum generated during her Rookie-of-the-Year season. “I’m really looking forward to the new season,” said Courtney, a spokeswoman for Ford’s Driving Skills for Life initiative. “Hopefully, we can just pick up where we left off. We finished in the fifth spot and I really couldn’t have asked for a better first year. I still plan to focus on the basics of driving but, at the same time, I’m looking forward to pushing myself, learning new things and improving my driving skills.

“Having my sister Brittany out there racing in the Top Fuel category for the first time is just going to make the 2013 season that much more exciting. I know she is really pumped-up and ready to race. I can’t wait to kick-off the season at Pomona.”

John Force also is pleased with his return to Castrol GTX colors after years promoting other Castrol brands including Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE, Castrol EDGE, Castrol SYNTEC, Castrol START UP and others.

“We started with the Castrol GTX brand and after 26 years, they’re still with us,” Force said. “I’ve still got some racing in me and this year is special because I have Robert and two of my girls racing with me. When you’re a dad, you want your kids to be involved in the things you do and to have all four of my girls working in the business is really something that’s hard to believe. Ashley’s running John Force entertainment and Adria, my oldest, who’s married to Robert, has always handled the financials as CFO of John Force Racing, Inc.”

Team Castrol Top Fuel Summary (1987-1995)

*Gary Ormsby, Castrol GTX dragster, 1987-1991, 19 final rounds, 11 No. 1 qualifiers, 13 wins, last on Sept. 16, 1990 over Gene Snow at Reading, Pa.

*Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, 1991-1995, eight final rounds, three No. 1 qualifiers, five wins, last on May 22, 1994 over Don “The Snake” Prudhomme at Englishtown, N.J.

*Castrol Top Fuel totals _ 27 final rounds, 14 No. 1 qualifiers, 18 wins, one championship

Team Castrol Top Fuel Stats

*Last race _ Oct. 29, 1995, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, at Pomona, Calif.

*Last round-win _ Oct. 1, 1995, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, over Blaine Johnson at Topeka, Kan.

*Last semifinal _ Oct. 1, 1995, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, lost to Mike Dunn at Topeka, Kan.

*Last final-round appearance _ July 30, 1995, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, lost to Mike Dunn at Sonoma, Calif.

*Last NHRA tour victory _ May 22, 1994, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, over Don “The Snake” Prudhomme at Englishtown, N.J.

*Last No. 1 qualifier _ Aug. 9, 1992, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, at Seattle, Wash.

*Last series championship _ 1989, Gary Ormsby, Castrol GTX dragster, over Joe Amato by 77 points

*Last national ET record _ Jan. 31, 1992, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, at Pomona, Calif. (4.893)

*Last national speed record _ April 25, 1993, Pat Austin, Castrol GTX dragster, at Atlanta, Ga. (303.64 mph)

John Force Racing Team Stats

Funny Car races _ 599

Funny Car final rounds _ 370

Funny Car rounds won _ 2,115

Funny Car victories _ 217

Funny Car No. 1 starts _ 246

Funny Car Championships _ 17

Races in other pro categories _ 0

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 11 2013