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Topeka Represents New Beginning For Force

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 19 2016
John Force, flanked by daughter/teammate Courtney Force and teammate/team president Robert Hight, is looking forward to driving his brand new car this weekend. (Photos courtesy of John Force Racing)

John Force, flanked by daughter/teammate Courtney Force and teammate/team president Robert Hight, is looking forward to driving his brand new car this weekend. (Photos courtesy of John Force Racing)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Caesar salad which John Force was stabbing at with his fork Wednesday during lunch at a Kansas City barbecue joint was having a hard time making it into the superstar Funny Car driver’s mouth. His jaws were simply not up to the needed multi-tasking. Force was much nhra logomore interested in talking than chewing.

Probably because Force had something to talk about which was getting him more excited, more animated and more John Force-y than usual.

The subject at the table – of which casual lunchtime diners at surrounding tables became quite aware of as the volume rose – was the new car which Force will debut this weekend in the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

“When I first saw it (just hours before), I wanted to cry,” Force said of the Funny Car.

It’s branded a Chevrolet Camaro. It’s sleeker yet curvier and it exudes more attitude than the older cars that Force and his John Force Racing Funny Car teammates – Robert Hight and Courtney Force – have been tracking this year.

The new car is also lighter and is expected to produce more downforce. And when asked about wind tunnel numbers, Hight, who also serves as president of JFR and who played a significant role in working with Chevrolet on the new car, just smiled and raised his eyebrows during lunch Wednesday.

“Those,” Force said the models which Hight and Courtney Force will still use through the Topeka weekend before they, too, get new Camaros, “were dump trucks. They were Hudsons.”

No matter that Hight and Courtney Force have each won national events in them this year – Hight at the Gatornationals in Week Three and Courtney in Baytown, Texas two events ago – and that all

The Camaro that John Force has been racing all season will not race in Topeka this weekend.

The Camaro that John Force has been racing all season will not race in Topeka this weekend.

three JFR drivers have been piling up round-wins with impressive regularity.

The old cars are something else. They are symbols of a not-so-much-fun era in the history of the team owned by the NHRA’s winningest driver.

It was an era that began in mid summer of 2013. It’s when long-time JFR partner Ford, rather out of the blue, announced it was getting out of the nitro business. The news angered fans and came as a shock to Force the driver, and Force the team owner.

Just days after Ford’s kidney punch, long-time Force sponsor Castrol announced it was pulling out its support of the 16-time champion, as well.

“I was out of a job,” Force said, volume dropping. “And at my age (64 at the time), you don’t want to be out of a job.”

There was more bad news. In October of 2014, in the middle of the Countdown playoffs, Jimmy Prock, who had wrenched for both Hight and John Force, resigned to take a job with principal rival Don Schumacher Racing.

Force let his hurt feelings bleed into a press conference in which he said, “I’m about principle, camaraderie (and) loyalty. If a man’s heart is not here with me, his job is to protect his family, he has to do what he has to do and John Force has to do what he has to do.”

On Wednesday, Force said that he probably spread “too much doom and gloom” around the JFR team after the Ford and Castrol disasters and that that caused people like Prock to consider bailing.

“It was a total bummer,” Hight said of the dark days.

Force, quickly began to pull himself and his team together. First, he successfully took on the task of

Members of the John Force Racing team unveiled the new generation Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car on Tuesday in Brownsburg, Ind.

Members of the John Force Racing team unveiled the new generation Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car on Tuesday in Brownsburg, Ind.

shoring up the sponsorship gap that Castrol’s departure had left. He signed several new sponsors and had an old sponsor or two pick up more of the slack for the 2014 season.

But hooking up with a new manufacturer took more time and effort. It was not until January of 2015, that Force was able to finalize a deal with General Motors to run Camaros. The fact that Force, who began his career driving Chevrolets, was able to hook up with GM was the good news.

Then there was the knowledge that it takes time to design, engineer and build modern Funny Cars – JFR began building its own chassis in-house after team driver Eric Medlen died in a crash in 2007.

With the start of the 2015 just weeks away, Force, Hight and top JFR tuner Mike Neff sprinted into  production at their Brownsburg, Ind. shop.

For all of 2015 and up until now in 2016, the JFR Funny Car drivers used cars that were cobbled together from existing pieces. “Yes,” Force said in answer to a question, “like Frankensteins.”

“We didn’t put the Chevrolet deal together until January of ’15,” Hight said. “Usually, it takes a year and a half to build a body and we had never worked with these folks before and we just went to town. We had to modify an existing body. We had to do what we had to do. But we build all the parts ourselves and we were able to keep up with what we needed to do.”

But only kind of at first. A year ago, none of the JFR cars had won races when they arrived at Topeka. By the end of the year, the pace picked up as Hight and John Force each won twice, but no JFR ended the season in the top five in points.

Then came news this week that the a new Carmaro was ready to race and the excitement on Force’s part resulted in a very tasty looking Caesar’s salad going to waste.

Force climbed into the track-ready car earlier this week.

Gone were thoughts and memories of the recent bad times, and under him was not just a new flopper but a symbol of the future.

“I sat in there and this thing has a panoramic view,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a drive-in movie. I thought, ‘This car finally fits me.

“So now we’ve got this car that’s and it’s been built with a lot of love because we needed it.”

John Force has yet to win this season. That’s significant in itself. But is also means that he has not yet qualified for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout which is held during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis

John Force is now a Chevy guy. Castrol is gone, too. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

John Force is now a Chevy guy. Castrol is gone, too. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

in the summer and whose name comes from the sponsor of Courtney Force’s sponsor.

In addition, Force has been a first-round bump the last two times out.

It all adds up to an important weekend in Topeka.

Hight, who will get his new Camaro after Topeka, pointed out that Courtney Force will take to the Heartland strip as the points leader and the he also has led in points this year.

“But,” Hight said, “with this new body, I believe we will take it to the next level. Lot less drag. It ought to be really fast.”

Championship fast?

Hight just flashed a big, happy days are here again smile.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 19 2016
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