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Champ Force OK After Big Crash In Pomona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 11 2018

Brittany Force crashed big time in Pomona on Sunday.

Brittany Force’s defense of her NHRA Top Fuel world championship began _ and temporarily has ended _with a grinding, first-round crash Sunday during the season-opening 58th annual NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Force, 31, escaped serious injury at Auto Club Raceway when her Monster Energy dragster went out of control during a pass that started in the racetrack’s right lane opposite veteran Terry Haddock. Force’s 11,000-horsepower car smoked the tires off the starting line and when she attempted to “pedal” it to regain traction, the car took a hard left turn and eventually made contact with the concrete guard rails lining both sides of the track.

The sliding car slowed to an estimated 140 mph as it turned onto its right side and nearly made contact with the protective driver’s canopy with the right side wall before coming to rest upright just past the finish line.

Reached within seconds by NHRA’s Safety Safari, Force was responsive and speaking with medical personnel while being removed from the wreckage. She was placed on a backboard and transported by ambulance to a local hospital for evaluation.

John Force Racing’s media relations personnel reported that Force suffered no major internal injuries but did experience some bruising of the lungs. A CT Scan was negative and an MRI showed subtle findings likely from previous injuries. She was admitted overnight for observation simply as a precaution.

The crash was eerily similar to an engine explosion experienced by Brittany’s father/team-owner, 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force, during his second qualifying pass Friday evening. Nearing the finish line, Force’s PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS suffered an engine explosion that ripped the body off the chassis. Force exited the vehicle with assistance and walked to an ambulance under his own power. He was responsive and speaking with medical personnel and transported to a local hospital as a precaution.

John Force noted that Brittany’s Simpson safety gear, including her Steilo Helmet, R3 head-and-neck restraint, fire suit, neck collar and belts, kept her conscious and securely strapped into the driver’s seat.

A visibly shaken “Brute” Force also said during an interview on FOX Sports 1’s live telecast that his daughters, including sister and Funny Car driver Courtney, were well-aware of the dangers inherent with driving a nitromethane-fueled race car.

JFR lost rising star Eric Medlen _ whom Force called “the son I never had” _ to head injuries sustained during a crash while testing at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in March 2007. That tragedy led to a major safety initiative involving JFR overseen by Force and John Medlen, Eric’s father and a veteran Funny Car tuner, with assistance from Ford Motor Company.

“You look at how these cars evolved over 40-50 years,” John Force said. “We made a lot of changes after the loss of Eric. A lot came out of that. Building better chassis, safer. Want to thank Simpson safety for building helmets, equipment and everything to keep our drivers safe. The car giving way when it hit the wall head-on allowed it to take the impact and fold up (as it was designed to do).

“I want to thank Schumacher Racing for creating the canopy (over the driver’s compartment). When the car was upside down, you know that protects the driver’s head. Want to personally thank Don Schumacher for his investment (in the canopy program). Very important. Thanks, Don.

“Safety Safari was right on top of it, as always, that’s why they’re the best in the business. Finally, John Medlen (who now works at DSR), was one of the first to come to me and want to know if she was OK. I didn’t have an answer at the time. But he’s lived it. He knows what all of us go through _ owners, friends, parents and sponsors. End of the day, we keep addressing it to get it better.”

JFR issued no timetable for Brittany’s return to the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, which will resume with the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., outside Phoenix, in two weeks.

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), two-time world champion Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and reigning world champ Bo Butner (Pro Stock) emerged as winners of Sunday’s first national event on the 24-race schedule.

John Force suffered career-threatening foot, leg and upper body injuries in a crash in 2007 while competing in the NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Force’s injuries sidelined him for the rest of the season and prompted him to undertake a rigorous rehab program that allowed him to return, and win, in 2008.

Brittany Force qualified second at Pomona, covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.675-seconds at 322.04 mph on Saturday after failing to complete a full-pass during Friday’s two sessions of time trials. Ironically, Brittany clinched her first Top Fuel title at the same facility during the 2017 season-ending  Auto Club NHRA Finals on Nov. 12. She began defense of her title Friday by affixing the champion’s No. 1 decal to her car.

A native and resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., Brittany joined drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney as only the second woman champion in NHRA’s premier category _ and the first since 1982 _ on the strength of four wins in six final-round appearances and two pole positions in 2017.

Force’s dragster is tuned by Brian Husen, with Ronnie Thompson as assistant crew chief. Veteran tuner Alan Johnson also has returned as consultant to a team that set the national speed record of 333.67 mph in 2017. Johnson’s brother, Blaine, died from injuries suffered when the engine in his Top Fuel car exploded as it reached the finish line during the U.S. Nationals in Clermont, Ind., on Aug. 31, 1996.

Brittany Force put together an incredible run during last year’s Countdown to the Championship, winning three of six playoff races and advancing to four finals. That effort was enough to push Force past outspoken Texan Steve Torrence, who ended 2017 with a class-best eight wins but fell 81 points/four rounds short of what would have been his first championship.

Getting off to a quick start in 2018 was Job One for Force, who didn’t win her first race last year until the ninth event of the season. She won her title in her fifth full season in Top Fuel.

“I’m OK with that because it just pushes you and motivates you,” Force said in an interview previewing the 2018 season. “Our plan is we want to win more races and we want to go after a championship again. I would love to double-up with my dad and Courtney. It would be great to share the winner’s circle with my sister. There’s still so many things left to accomplish and try to achieve. That’s just motivation and what pushes me.

“It feels good getting back in the car. It’s a new car and we’re trying to figure this thing to be ready. I’m always going to be learning and for me, I’m going to come out and start our season with a handful of goals in mind. I want to improve as a driver and there’s still things I need to work on. I want to better myself as a driver and always try to do that.”

Brittany’s sisters _ Ashley and Courtney _ both followed their dad into the Funny Car ranks. Ironically, the Top Fuel class produced the first championship among the racing daughters of John and Laurie Force. Brittany was accompanied to the hospital Sunday by her mother.

“You know, she’s just my biggest supporter,” said Brittany, who won the 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award as NHRA’s Rookie of the Year. “She’s had my back through everything. I mean, she watches us every single time I’m on the racetrack. She’s always right there. She always takes our side when it comes to battles between my dad and I, so that’s always very nice. But she’s just the greatest supporter. She watches us do it all.”

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POMONA, Calif. — Final finish order (1-16) at the 58th annual NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The race is the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
TOP FUEL:
1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Antron Brown; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Terry Haddock; 8. Terry McMillen; 9. Richie Crampton; 10. Steven Chrisman; 11. Steve Faria; 12. Mike Salinas; 13. Leah Pritchett; 14. Brittany Force.
FUNNY CAR:
1. Matt Hagan; 2. Robert Hight; 3. Ron Capps; 4. Jack Beckman; 5. J.R. Todd; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jonnie Lindberg; 9. Bob Tasca III; 10. Jim Campbell; 11. John Force; 12. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 13. Courtney Force; 14. Del Worsham; 15. Jeff Diehl; 16. Shawn Langdon.
PRO STOCK:
1. Bo Butner; 2. Jason Line; 3. Erica Enders; 4. Deric Kramer; 5. Drew Skillman; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Greg Anderson; 9. Chris McGaha; 10. Jeg Coughlin; 11. Kenny Delco; 12. Steve Graham; 13. Val Smeland; 14. Joey Grose; 15. Tanner Gray; 16. Alan Prusiensky.
###
Sunday’s final results: 
Top Fuel — Doug Kalitta, 3.779 seconds, 324.28 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 4.715 seconds, 145.93 mph.
Funny Car — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.823, 335.90 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.866, 336.99.
Pro Stock — Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.549, 209.62 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.568, 209.59.
Top Fuel Harley — Doug Vancil, Harley, 6.333, 220.01 def. Rickey House, Harley, 10.322, 89.15.
Top Alcohol Dragster — Shawn Cowie, 5.333, 277.03 def. Garrett Bateman, 15.835, 55.97.
Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.425, 269.67 def. Ulf Leanders, Camaro, 5.508, 268.33.
Competition Eliminator — Dan Fletcher, Chevy Cobalt, 8.344, 132.86 def. Clint Neff, Roadster, Foul – Red Light.
Super Stock — Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 9.579, 133.55 def. Adam Emmer, Olds Cutlass, 10.120, 125.89.
Stock Eliminator — Larry Gilley, Dodge Dart, 10.627, 121.27 def. Ryan Mangus, Chevy Camaro, 10.664, 122.73.
Super Comp — Gabriel Torres, Dragster, 8.922, 165.46 def. Val Torres Jr., Dragster, 8.941, 176.26.
Super Gas — Kevin McClelland, ’27-T Ford, 9.924, 149.22 def. Phil Unruh, Chevy Cobalt, 9.899, 159.29.
Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com — Steve Will, Dragster, 6.043, 234.13 def. Kyle Seipel, Dragster, 6.862, 197.74.
Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com — Paul Mitsos, Dodge Stratus, 7.098, 191.21 def. Don Meziere, Chevy Cobalt, Foul – Red Light.
###
Final round-by-round results:
TOP FUEL:
ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.696, 332.18 def. Terry McMillen, 3.752, 328.06; Scott Palmer, 6.489, 117.35 def. Leah Pritchett, Broke; Clay Millican, 3.709, 332.10 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.258, 210.80; Terry Haddock, No Time Recorded def. Brittany Force, Foul – Centerline; Steve Torrence, 3.717, 333.00 def. Steve Faria, 4.667, 166.29; Doug Kalitta, 4.121, 217.56 def. Richie Crampton, 4.234, no speed; Antron Brown, 4.333, 183.22 def. Mike Salinas, 9.881, 82.53;
QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.717, 331.85 def. Haddock, 9.851, 84.16; Millican, 9.978, 74.77 was unopposed; Kalitta, 3.760, 329.18 def. Palmer, 3.832, 323.27; Brown, 3.758, 330.07 def. Torrence, Foul – Red Light;
SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.711, 331.45 def. Brown, 3.737, 330.72; Kalitta, 3.866, 307.58 def. Millican, 4.860, 145.02;
FINAL — Kalitta, 3.779, 324.28 def. Schumacher, 4.715, 145.93.
FUNNY CAR:
ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.833, 167.53 def. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 10.060, 79.68; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.865, 325.30 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.902, 331.53 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.387, 213.77; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.907, 333.00 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.016, 324.12; Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 4.433, 262.54 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.525, 241.71; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.036, 304.12 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.751, 191.95; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.997, 323.58 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.465, 202.76; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.363, 246.17 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.504, 267.69;
QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 3.901, 330.23 def. Wilkerson, 4.253, 220.51; Hight, 3.937, 329.10 def. Todd, 3.969, 324.36; Hagan, 3.954, 329.34 def. Pedregon, 4.006, 322.11; Capps, 4.001, 324.75 def. Lindberg, Foul – Red Light;
SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.899, 329.10 def. Beckman, Broke; Hagan, 3.938, 330.07 def. Capps, 3.968, 320.81;
FINAL — Hagan, 3.823, 335.90 def. Hight, 3.866, 336.99.
PRO STOCK:
ROUND ONE — Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.565, 210.50 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.584, 210.73; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.592, 209.79 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.595, 209.17; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.557, 210.21 def. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 12.982, 71.74; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.572, 210.21 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.677, 208.81; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.546, 209.88 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.617, 209.20; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.568, 211.06 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.752, 206.32; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.585, 210.18 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, Foul – Centerline; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.561, 211.23 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.716, 206.35;
QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.592, 209.49 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Kramer, 6.586, 209.69 def. Nobile, 6.598, 210.14; Butner, 6.568, 210.05 def. Anderson, 6.622, 210.54; Line, 6.588, 208.42 def. Laughlin, Foul – Red Light;
SEMIFINALS — Line, 16.795, 101.77 def. Kramer, Foul – Red Light; Butner, 6.592, 209.52 def. Enders, Foul – Red Light;
FINAL — Butner, 6.549, 209.62 def. Line, 6.568, 209.59.
###
Point standings (top 10) following Winternationals:
Top Fuel
1. Doug Kalitta, 112; 2. Tony Schumacher, 95; 3. Clay Millican, 84; 4. Antron Brown, 78; 5. Steve Torrence, 60; 6. Scott Palmer, 47; 7. Brittany Force, 35; 8. (tie) Steve Faria, 32; Leah Pritchett, 32; Mike Salinas, 32.
Funny Car
1. Matt Hagan, 127; 2. Robert Hight, 101; 3. Jack Beckman, 81; 4. Ron Capps, 78; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, 51; 6. (tie) J.R. Todd, 49; Tim Wilkerson, 49; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 48; 9. Courtney Force, 36; 10. (tie) Tommy Johnson Jr., 32, Shawn Langdon, 32, Del Worsham, 32.
Pro Stock
1. Bo Butner, 115; 2. Jason Line, 98; 3. Erica Enders, 74; 4. Deric Kramer, 73; 5.  Drew Skillman, 65; 6. Vincent Nobile, 63; 7. Greg Anderson, 61; 8. Alex Laughlin, 54; 9. Chris McGaha, 33; 10. (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 32, Steve Graham, 32, Tanner Gray, 32.
| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 11 2018
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • what does colon cancer pain feel like says:

    Scary, I don’t follow drag racing well enough to know how well they cage up the drivers, but given the horsepower and speed of the top fuel cars it has to be pretty dangerous regardless. Have seen crashes drivers should have walked away from but didn’t (Senna, Earnhardt) so always scary. Hope she really is OK.

    • John S Sturbin says:

      Brittany was released from the hospital Monday…sore and yet to be medically cleared for a return to competition. She benefitted from the canopy on her dragster’s cockpit, and the titanium shield in the back of her helmet. Both kept shrapnel from entering the cockpit during the crash. The shield was mandated by NHRA officials after the fatal Top Fuel crash involving Darrell Russell in June 2004.