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Brittany Force Says Her Wild Ride In Pomona Was A Blur

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 23 2018

Top Fuel driver Brittany Force will return to the cockpit this weekend in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Brittany Force says she has no recollection of the grinding crash that launched the defense of her NHRA Top Fuel world championship nearly two weeks ago. But what she does remember _ backed by video she reluctantly has reviewed _ is akin to an out-of-body experience.

Force crashed during her first-round match Feb. 11 at the season-opening 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. John Force Racing announced Thursday evening in a release that Brittany had been (medically) cleared and planned to drive during this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. First-round qualifying is scheduled for Friday afternoon at the facility in Chandler, Ariz., outside Phoenix.

“I don’t remember any of the crash. The last thing I remember is staging the car,” said Force, 31, a daughter of 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force. “The next piece I remember is the (NHRA) Safety Safari helping me out of the car. I remember looking down at this mangled mess and thinking someone had wrecked. Then I realized the mess was my car. After that I remember bits and pieces but I do remember my whole family in the hospital with me. My first question was, ‘What happened?’ My next question was, ‘What about Terry Haddock in the lane next to me?’ ”

Force qualified No. 2 on a 14-car ladder for NHRA’s traditional season-opener in Southern California. Force’s Monster Energy dragster went out of control during a pass that started in the racetrack’s right lane opposite veteran Haddock. Force’s car smoked its rear tires off the starting line and when she attempted to “pedal” it to regain traction, the car took a hard left turn and 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 the 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. A CT Scan was negative and an MRI showed subtle findings likely from previous injuries.

She was admitted overnight for observation as a precaution and released the following afternoon after showing no lingering effects with the exception of “some upper body soreness.” Force has been recuperating at home in Yorba Linda, Calif.

“I got banged-up pretty good but I’m getting better each day,” Force said. “I’ve been taking it easy and resting up at home. There’s not much else for me to do. It’s all just a matter of time.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to racetrack to meet up with my team. I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season. It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car (Friday) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

Force said she has watched part of the crash on the cell phone of sister Courtney, who drives a Funny Car for the team owned by their father.

“It (the crash) was much worse than I expected,” Brittany said. “My biggest concern is being trapped in the car while it’s on fire. So, after seeing in the video that the car tipped over and caught on fire, I made the decision not to watch it again until getting back in the car and making some runs. I don’t need those images in my head before making another pass.

“For how horrific that crash was, the fact that I came out of it just a little banged-up is incredible. That just shows the safety that we put in these cars. I have to thank Don Schumacher Racing for the design of the canopy and thank you, Simpson, for all your gear that kept me safe.”

Force was the Top Fuel runnerup last February at Wild Horse Pass and set the track speed record of 330.39 mph. Force has piloted her dragster to three runnerup finishes out of five starts at the facility, including consecutive finals in 2016 and 2017. Force went on to post another second-place finish and four victories en route to becoming the first female competitor in 35 years _ and second overall alongside NHRA legend Shirley Muldowney _ to claim the Top Fuel championship.

Force began her weekend in Pomona by affixing the champion’s No. 1 decal to the rear wing of her new dragster before the opening round of time trials on Friday. Ironically, Force received her 2017 championship ring and jacket during a ceremony approximately one hour before her opening-round run.

“Honestly, that whole day is kind of a blur,” Force said. “But standing on that stage at driver introductions and receiving my championship ring and jacket was something that I had been looking forward to. Seeing that championship ring only gives me and my team more motivation going into the rest of the season. It proves that we did it once and we’re going to fight to do it again.”

Along those lines, Force said the support from her family was augmented by fellow-competitors and drag racing fans. “I’ve always said drag racing truly is the greatest sport,” Force said. “Thank you to all my fans and NHRA family for sending thoughts and prayers. I received all of your flowers and cards and I appreciate all your support on social media. I’m so blessed to be in a sport where fans are so loyal. Thank you again to the greatest fans on Earth.”

As noted, Force will drive her 2017 championship-winning car at Wild Horse Pass. JFR has begun manufacturing another dragster at its Brownsburg, Ind., facility for use down the road. The 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals is the second of 24 events on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. (EST) on Sunday. Two rounds of qualifying are scheduled for Friday and Saturday afternoons leading into Sunday’s eliminations.  FSI will air one hour of live qualifying Friday at 7 p.m. (EST).

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Steve Torrence has added a Top Fuel teammate this weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Torrence, who wheeled his Capco Contractors dragster to a career-best speed of 333 miles per hour before bowing out of the Winternationals, will be joined by his father, Billy, in a second car.

Billy Torrence is an accomplished Sportsman racer who most recently was Super Comp champion at the 2016 NHRA Southern Nationals at Commerce, Ga. But he will be making his first Top Fuel appearance since being beaten in the second round of the 2015 Auto Club Finals by Doug Kalitta.

The younger Torrence, 34, was Top Fuel point-leader after 10 races last year before finishing second to Brittany Force during the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs.  Torrence won a category-best eight national events, including the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals outside Indianapolis, won the Traxxas Shootout bonus race and was either first or second in points from mid-June until season’s end.

“We’ve made a few cosmetic changes this year but really it’s the same core group,” Torrence said. “It’s the same Morgan Lucas Racing chassis, the same Richard Hogan tune-up, the same family group that carried us to second and third-place finishes the last two years.  All that’s left is to win the thing.”

A promising start to the Winternationals evaporated via a second-round foul start against close friend and three-time world champion Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing.

“We’re going for a do-over at Phoenix,” Torrence said. “These Capco guys gave me a car that could win (at the opener) and I screwed it up.  All I can do is get back on my game and try to make it up to them this week.”

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Legendary Pro Stock drag racer Bob Glidden compiled an impressive resume featuring 85 NHRA victories, 10 NHRA world championships, 122 final-round appearances and nine U.S. Nationals titles.

Indeed, the Ford racing icon was perhaps best known for his work ethic _ the grit and determination that made the Glidden Family Racing team including his wife, Etta, and sons Bill and Rusty, among the most popular with “Factory Hot Rod” fans.

Starting this December, Ford drag racers displaying that same spirit will be honored with the Bob Glidden “85/10” Award each year at the Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis. The award, to be presented by Ford Performance Parts and overseen by a panel of experts, comes just a few months after Glidden passed away on Dec. 17, 2017. Glidden, 73, had battled heart issues since 1994, when he underwent six-way bypass surgery.

The “85/10” recognizes Glidden’s Pro Stock victory and championship totals in NHRA competition.  

“Bob Glidden represented a great era in the sport of drag racing,” said Edsel B. Ford II, member, Ford Motor Company Board of Directors.  “And that era featured hard-working racers who often had nothing but a great desire to succeed.  Bob was a former Ford dealership mechanic from a small town in Indiana (Whiteland) who, along with his wife and sons, took the family racing and through sheer determination, innovation and hard work, changed the face of Pro Stock racing.

 “Even with all the wins and records, Bob never forgot his Indiana roots and the grit and determination it took for him to succeed.  He was a Ford racing legend, and we will always be grateful for the way he represented us in the sport.”

The panel of experts, including Glidden’s son, Bill, and race series leaders will review Ford drag racers each year with final nominees announced at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show at Las Vegas in November, and an award winner selected and announced at the PRI Show in December.

“We’re proud to introduce this new Glidden ‘85/10’ Award to help honor Ford drag racers who have the same spirit, determination and grit that Bob had,” said Doug White, global performance parts manager, Ford Performance.  “There are hundreds of Ford drag racers competing every weekend all over this country and we want to help recognize their efforts, especially those who are long-time competitors like Bob was.  This award will help us do that.”

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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver at NASCAR’s inaugural Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Brown will wheel a 2018 Toyota Camry Pace Car to lead the field to the green flag for the 267-lapper on Sunday, March 4.

“It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just-super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry Pace Car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way,” said Brown, of Don Schumacher Racing. “Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Although it will be Brown’s first time driving a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pace car, he has enjoyed a long and successful history in Vegas. Brown has posted four event wins and five poles at The Strip at LVMS, which sits adjacent to the 1.5-mile oval.

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In addition to resurfacing its track and return roads, Royal Purple Raceway management has announced a spectator enhancement for the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals set for April 20-22 in Baytown, Texas, east of Houston.

RPR is adding a first-of-its-kind “Staging Lane Terrace” RV park, where spectators spending the weekend at the SpringNationals in recreational vehicles or buses can get an up-close view of their favorite drivers and teams as they make final preparations for each qualifying and elimination run. The staging lanes also serve as the winner’s circle at the conclusion of each event, further entertaining the “Staging Lane Terrace” crowd.

The track also completely paved and expanded the existing Nitro Village area, providing more top-flight parking spaces for families and groups using RVs or buses. The Nitro Village is located on the west side of the grandstands.

“We definitely heard the call for more RV parking and by paving the Nitro Village and adding the Staging Lane Terrace around the famous old oak tree in the staging lanes, we feel we’ll be able to better meet the demand,” RPR General Manager Seth Angel said. “Having said that, we still strongly urge fans entertaining clients, friends and family in an RV to reserve those spots as soon as possible so they are guaranteed a position, as space is limited.”

Royal Purple Raceway is scheduled to re-open March 2. The facility ceased all activities after Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston in late August to serve as a staging lot for vehicles damaged by the catastrophic storm. Tens of thousands of flooded vehicles were housed on-site during the last five months.

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NHRA point standings (top-10) following the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, first of 24 events on the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule:

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 Jr., 32, Steve Graham, 32, Tanner Gray, 32.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 23 2018
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