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Force Racing Set To Campaign Bulked-Up Camaros

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 4 2015

John Force Racing will campaign Camaros this season that are a tad on the flabby side. (Photos courtesy of John Force Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Funny Car icon John Force’s brand-switch from Ford to Chevrolet bodywork for the 2015 NHRA season has come gift-wrapped with a weight penalty that will have the 16-time world champion counting not only 60-foot times but also calories.

The Chevrolet Camaro hot rods Force, daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight will debut this weekend during the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at historic Pomona (Calif.) Raceway started their tours of duty as Ford Mustangs. John Force Racing’s partnership with Ford Motor Company ran its course at the end of the 2014 season, with Force and Hight announcing a multi-year deal with Chevrolet on Jan. 15.

Enter the “Hefty” Camaro. Minimum weight for an NHRA Funny Car is 2,555 pounds, with driver. A team spokesman said JFR’s cars typically weigh 40-to-50 pounds above the minimum because of extra cockpit safety equipment. Force said during a national teleconference the Camaro’s recently approved NHRA body modifications have added another 15-to-17 pounds to each shell. “We didn’t think it would be any better or any worse,” Force said. “My guys have already put me on a diet.”

During negotiations with General Motors, Force said Jim Campbell, vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports for Chevrolet, said he expected JFR to field competitive and safe race cars that looked like showroom Camaros.

“That was one of the issues,” said Force, the winner of 141 national events. “We knew financially where we stood with Chevrolet. I knew that four or five months ago. It was about could we deliver a car. Could we have a Camaro that looked like a Camaro and not just because of decals.

“We had to do a major redesign, and we had help in that. We worked with a group out of Indy that does the aero and stuff there in miniature scale. They’ve worked on this car, (crew chief) Mike Neff was on top of it, Robert Hight. We got the designs, we got them to NHRA, we showed them what we wanted to do, they wanted to see it. We had to go back. They (modifications) were about $8,000 a pop. My guys worked around the clock in the paint shops branding to get these cars painted, and it has been a rollercoaster ride. I didn’t think I was going to make it. But we got the cars done.”

Force scored his record seventh Winternationals victory last February at Pomona, where he has posted 16 career victories counting the season-ending Auto Club Finals. Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) also collected Winternationals Wally trophies last year. Mello Yello Drag Racing Series professional qualifying is scheduled to begin Friday with two sessions. The final two qualifying rounds will take place Saturday, with final eliminations starting on Sunday morning.

All three JFR Camaros completed successful testing debuts during a four-day session at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., in late January. The facility will play host to the 31st annual Carquest NHRA Nationals from Feb. 20-22, Round 2 of the 24-race schedule.

“Like I said, we redesigned what we had. That’s all we could do,” said Force, driver of the Peak Antifreeze Camaro SS. “We did get approval from Ford Motor Company and GM. We moved ahead, but GM wanted that car to have all the specs _ even though it’s a spec NHRA body and it’s got to get in a mold _ it had to have all of the characteristics of the Camaro, and it does. I was amazed when I saw it finished. I was really excited, and it looks good.

“Now you put paint on it, I’ve got a Camaro, NHRA approved it. Yeah, they drug us through the hot coals, but we made it right at the last day and we rolled. Yeah, the bodies are heavy…and we’ve just got to live with that. But sometimes it just works. And they ran good, so the proof is in the pudding.”

Courtney Force closed out her Arizona test with a track-record 1,000-foot run of 3.980-seconds at 326.16 mph in the Traxxas Camaro SS. Moments later, the elder Force lowered that record to 3.971-seconds at 322.50 mph. Hight, the 2009 world champion and president of JFR, finished the session with a 3.985-second run at 323.97 mph in his Auto Club Camaro.

“We’ve got a lot of work (remaining),” said Force, who is working with new crew chief Jon Schaffer. “We haven’t even started on the engine program, but we will, and in time we’ll change it. But we’re going to be OK. Right now just getting to race and we can be competitive. That don’t mean we’re going to run out and win a championship right off the bat, but we’ll be a contender, I’ll give you my word on that.”

Force said The General is deep into the planning and design of a dedicated Camaro SS body. “When we spoke with the group at Chevrolet, there’s a brand new car coming in 2016,” Force said. “We looked at what it really takes to build a car, you’re talking about an eight-to-12-month project to do it right, to get it approved, because you build a mold, you end up changing it. I know, I build the molds. I’ve been through this process and there was no way we could make it, and the truth is, they’re selling the 2015 Chevrolet SS Camaro right now. There was no reason for them to try to put out a 2016.

“They’ve got it under wraps. They won’t talk about it. I tried to get to a few insiders, and they said, ‘We don’t know.’ When it’s time, the bosses will tell me, ‘Time to start the process.’ We just got this thing signed, and so we’re going to be talking in the next few weeks, in the next month, but I guarantee you a new car by 2016. I hope before that but by then we’ll have it. That is in the plan.”

JFR drivers have won the prestigious Winternationals 13 times, including Force’s victory last year over eventual Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan of Don Schumacher Racing. The season-opening Funny Car event title has gone to the Yorba Linda, Calif.-based team seven of the last nine seasons _ Hight (2006, 2008 and 2011); Brute Force (2010, 2012 and 2014) and Courtney Force (2013).

ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of same-day qualifying coverage Saturday at 10 p.m. (EST). The network also will carry three hours of same-day eliminations coverage Sunday at 7:30 p.m. (EST). ESPN3’s live eliminations coverage begins Sunday at 2 p.m. (EST).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 4 2015
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