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Force Survives Explosion; Daughter Wins At Wild Wild Horse Event

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 26 2018

Sunday’s NHRA winners were Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock).

A weekend filled with raw emotion ended with tears of victory and relief Sunday for John Force Racing at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals. Courtney Force headed back to Yorba Linda, Calif., with the Funny Car Wally trophy while father/16-time world champion John Force exited another hospital after a violent accident.

“Brute” Force’s day at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park ended via an engine explosion during the second round of eliminations in Chandler, Ariz., outside Phoenix. Force won the round before the bullet in his Chevrolet Camaro SS detonated, shredding bodywork and sending the chassis out of control from the left lane.

Force’s chassis made contact with the retaining wall and then collided with opponent Jonnie Lindberg’s car and parachute in the opposite lane. Lindberg’s Toyota Camry bodywork also flew into the air and both chassis _ tangled together by their chutes _ came to rest against the left lane retaining wall.

Lindberg exited his car under his own power while the NHRA Safety Safari carefully helped Force out of his cockpit.  As a precaution, the 68-year-old legend was transported to Chandler Regional Hospital for further evaluation before being released Sunday evening. He returned to Wild Horse Pass after racing had ended to congratulate Courtney.

“My struggles continue, but I’m a big boy. I’ll fix it,” said Force, a 148-time tour winner. “Really glad to know that Jonnie Lindberg is OK. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I think I still have another championship in me. Depending on what the doctors say, I’m gonna come out and watch (JFR teammate) Robert Hight test his Auto Club Chevrolet (Monday) and then get ready for Gainesville.”

Historic Gainesville Raceway in Florida will play host to the 49th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals from March 15-18, the season’s traditional East Coast opener.

Force’s crash was eerily similar to an accident he rode-out during the 2007 NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Force won his second-round race at The Plex but as his car crossed the finish line, it blew a tire, moved into the opposite lane and collided with the flopper driven by the “King of Speed,” Kenny Bernstein.

Force cited the safety engineered into the cars since that crash in North Texas as the main reason he wasn’t more seriously injured Sunday. Force was airlifted out of the Motorplex to a Dallas hospital. He underwent six hours of reconstructive surgery on his feet and legs followed by several months of rehab before returning to competition. Significantly, Force won two of his record 16 NHRA titles after that accident.

Ironically, the elder Force’s crash occurred two weeks after Brittany Force, the reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion, escaped serious injury in a grinding first-round accident at the 58th annual Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. Brittany returned to the tour and her father’s team on Thursday after being medically cleared.

Meanwhile, pole-sitter Courtney Force powered to a victory that ended a 43-race Funny Car winless streak stretching to 2016. Force outran Tommy Johnson Jr. of rival Don Schumacher Racing in the final round with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.834-seconds at 337.16 mph. Her speed shattered the track record she set during qualifying. Johnson smoked the tires on his Dodge en route to numbers of 6.814 at 101.57.

“Every single one of my guys on the Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro has been working so hard. Today was a tough day,” said Courtney, who last won on May 1, 2016 at the NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas, near Houston. “We had a 40-minute turnaround in the semifinals and didn’t have lane-choice in the finals but we were able to go down there and lay down a killer number.

“Thanks to my guys. They helped give me the confidence to get in that car today. They make me feel safe in that car because of the amazing job they do on it. (Co-crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Dan Hood, they’ve been unbelievable, getting us the No. 1 qualifier hat and then to top it off get the Wally at the end of the weekend. Pretty incredible. Definitely a great start to our season. Been looking for a win for a long time now. Feels like forever. This one definitely feels good and I know it will make my dad feel better.”

Force’s ninth career victory left her second in the point standings behind two-time world champ Matt Hagan of DSR. Courtney defeated Hagan in the second round, just moments after witnessing her father’s wreck.

“Hagan actually came up to me when I had to race him and told me, ‘You’re a great driver, you know how to do this, just clear your head,’^” said Force, who earned her first Arizona Nats win. “I know he didn’t want me to beat him but it was really nice of him as a competitor to tell me you know what to do out here and just remember that. It’s great to have competitors out here that are so amazing and so supportive even when you have to race them.”

Force also scored a win against two-time world champion Del Worsham before facing Hagan. She would have raced her father in the semifinals but instead made a solo run.

“Coming from Pomona trying to get our heads on straight and focus on putting that behind us and have a fresh start when we come to Phoenix and then dad goes up and has a huge explosion in the lights,” said Courtney, recapping her family’s early-season mishaps. “That’s one of the things that’s out of your control. I’m glad to see that Lindberg’s OK. You have to just switch your focus and get back in your car. My dad and my crew chiefs are the ones that gave me the confidence to get back in my race car and battle it out all day long. These cars are unpredictable. We know that as drivers. You just have to go out there and fight hard.”

Johnson overcame JFR’s Hight, the two-time/reigning Funny Car world champion, Richard Townsend and Shawn Langdon en route to his first final round of 2018.

“We had maybe a little luck the first two rounds, but everyone was smoking the tires,” said Johnson, driver of the Dodge Charger R/T. “We kept working hard and got those round wins and laid down a nice solid run in the semis, so I was confident going into the finals. I thought we had something for Courtney. But I’m just happy the performance of the car is kind of coming back to us. We’re still new to the six-disc (clutch) and learning it. I think the guys made big strides this weekend.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) also emerged as winners in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA schedule.

Torrence powered his Torrence Racing dragster to the Top Fuel victory with a 1,000-foot run of 3.729-seconds at 330.72 mph to take down Scott Palmer in the final. After scoring a career-best eight victories in 2017, Torrence recorded his first win at Wild Horse Pass.

“There is no easy round in this Top Fuel class anymore. You can’t take anybody lightly but it was a heck of a day with some pretty great races,” Torrence said. “The round against my dad (Billy) is one that ranks up there that you remember as a high note of your career.” Torrence qualified second and defeated Steve Chrisman, Blake Alexander and father Billy Torrence in the semifinals.

Palmer secured the No. 12 qualifying spot Saturday and defeated Richie Crampton, Leah Pritchett and Greg Carrillo as he reached the first final round of his Top Fuel career.

Brittany Force piloted her dragster to a second-round finish just two weeks after her crash at the Winternationals. Force ran 4.661-seconds at 156.12 mph in falling to Billy Torrence’s 3.723-second pass at 320.74 mph.

“Overall, looking at our weekend, I’m happy with it. I’m not disappointed in anything,” Brittany said. “Coming back from a wreck like we did in Pomona, that first run, climbing back in that car, it’s not easy. It’s definitely tough. And especially also doing it again in that first round. It takes you back. I think it’s a work in progress. It’s going to take some time.

“I’m happy with our Monster Energy team. We pulled out our old car, didn’t have time to test it, just took it down there and made some pretty good passes. I pulled my foot out of it on that first run. It moved around a little bit and I clicked it a little bit early. But I’d rather play it safe than end up like we did last weekend.”

Force, who posted a first-round win against Clay Millican, is eighth in the Top Fuel point standings.

In Pro Stock, McGaha drove to the winner’s circle after covering the traditional quarter-mile in 6.529-seconds at 211.59 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro SS to defeat three-time world champion Jason Line in the final. McGaha secured his sixth career victory and first since winning the Four-Wide Nationals last season in Concord, N.C., outside Charlotte.

“We picked up some power this offseason that we’ve been looking for,” McGaha said, “but when we went No. 1 in the first round of qualifying we knew we had something that could compete. It’s really satisfying to do this as a one-car team, and it’s really special to get our first win of the year.”

McGaha was the No. 7 qualifier en route to wins against Tanner Gray, two-time world champion Erica Enders and fellow-Texan Alex Laughlin.

Line qualified his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro SS fifth and beat Vincent Nobile, Ken Black Racing teammate/four-time world champ Greg Anderson and No. 1 qualifier/KBR teammate Deric Kramer. Line notched his second consecutive runnerup finish to open the season and lead the “Factory Hot Rod” point standings.

“We didn’t come out of here with what we wanted, but we still had a decent weekend,” said Line, who lost in his fifth Phoenix final round and 96th final of his career. “We certainly learned some things, and going forward, that’s going to help us. We’ll be better in Gainesville, no question. I’ve said it before, but the next win will be my 50th and this is Summit Racing’s 50th anniversary year. That will be really special, and I’m super-motivated to make that happen. I’ve let two slip away already but it’s a tough game. It’s not easy, that’s what makes it special when you do win. When I finally get it, it’s going to feel good.”

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Final finishing order (1-16) at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz. The race is the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence; 2. Scott Palmer; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Greg Carrillo; 5. Blake Alexander; 6. Brittany Force; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Leah Pritchett; 9. Mike Salinas; 10. Troy Buff; 11. Tony Schumacher; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Clay Millican; 14. Doug Kalitta; 15. Terry McMillen; 16. Steven Chrisman.

Funny Car _1. Courtney Force; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3. Shawn Langdon; 4. John Force; 5. Matt Hagan; 6. Ron Capps; 7. Richard Townsend; 8. Jonnie Lindberg; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Tim Wilkerson; 11. Robert Hight; 12. Bob Tasca III; 13. Del Worsham; 14. Cruz Pedregon; 15. Jeff Diehl; 16. Jack Beckman.

Pro Stock _1. Chris McGaha; 2. Jason Line; 3. Alex Laughlin; 4. Deric Kramer; 5. Greg Anderson; 6. Drew Skillman; 7. Erica Enders; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Val Smeland; 11. Kenny Delco; 12. Tanner Gray; 13. Alan Prusiensky; 14. Steve Graham; 15. Matt Hartford; 16. Vincent Nobile.

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Sunday’s final results from the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals:

Top Fuel  _Steve Torrence, 3.729-seconds, 330.72 mph def. Scott Palmer, 6.449-seconds, 102.70 mph.

Funny Car _ Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.834, 337.16 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 6.814, 101.57.

Pro Stock _ Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.529, 211.59 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.538, 210.14.

Top Fuel Harley _ Tii Tharpe, Harley, 6.337, 217.39 def. Jay Turner, Harley, Broke.

Super Stock _ Justin Lamb, Chevy Cobalt, 8.513, 149.02 def. Mike Cotten, Plymouth Barracuda, 10.025, 130.99.

Stock Eliminator _ Jody Lang, Chevy Malibu Wagon, 12.328, 94.78 def. Brian McClanahan, Chevy Camaro, Foul /Red Light.

Super Comp _ Trevor Harkema, Dragster, 8.968, 172.08 def. Glenn Kern, Dragster, 8.927, 170.79.

Super Gas _ Todd Barton, Chevy Bel Air, 9.905, 151.56 def. Val Torres, Chevy Corvette, 9.899, 159.63.

Super Street _ David Kiesel, Chevy Vega, 10.895, 133.17 def. Chris Borges, Chevy Chevelle, 10.890, 137.37.

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com _ Paul Nero, Dragster, 6.760, 195.62 def. Rodger Comstock, Dragster, 6.817, 198.50.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com _ Bryan Warr, Chevy Corvette, 6.978, 196.22 def. Bud Preuss, Chevy Camaro, 6.851, 202.55.

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Final round-by-round results from the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Antron Brown, 8.756, 79.76 def. Mike Salinas, Foul/Red Light; Blake Alexander, 3.848, 322.27 def. Terry McMillen, 11.728, 65.81; Brittany Force, 3.724, 293.66 def. Clay Millican, 5.154, 135.70; Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 333.08 def. Troy Buff, 3.823, 314.75; Greg Carrillo, 4.223, 221.27 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.858, 189.66; Steve Torrence, 3.705, 330.07 def. Steven Chrisman, 14.505, 71.18; Scott Palmer, 3.768, 325.45 def. Richie Crampton, 5.061, 144.95; Billy Torrence, 6.570, 138.34 def. Doug Kalitta, 6.714, 154.46;

QUARTERFINALS _ Carrillo, 4.054, 284.21 def. Brown, 6.793, 120.75; B. Torrence, 3.723, 320.74 def. Force, 4.661, 156.12; S. Torrence, 3.690, 331.36 def. Alexander, 3.784, 306.19; Palmer, 3.844, 325.85 def. Pritchett, 7.962, 86.85;

SEMIFINALS _ Palmer, 3.853, 322.11 def. Carrillo, 4.999, 147.25; S. Torrence, 3.722, 328.86 def. B. Torrence, 3.726, 328.54;

FINAL _ S. Torrence, 3.729, 330.72 def. Palmer, 6.449, 102.70.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _Jonnie Lindberg, Toyota Camry, 4.618, 283.67 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.862, 225.03; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.908, 325.30 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.091, 256.89; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.334, 228.61 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 5.084, 167.47; Richard Townsend, Camry, 5.503, 179.90 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, Broke; John Force, Camaro, 5.715, 224.51 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 7.620, 124.46; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.715, 225.60 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.806, 273.44; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.965, 328.22 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.112, 152.95; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.910, 331.85 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.017, 320.66;

QUARTERFINALS _ Langdon, 3.927, 328.14 def. Capps, 4.651, 182.30; J. Force, 4.139, 278.75 def. Lindberg, No Time Recorded; Johnson Jr., 4.454, 244.74 def. Townsend, 5.174, 144.52; C. Force, 3.965, 319.14 def. Hagan, 4.480, 192.19;

SEMIFINALS _ C. Force, 3.938, 327.90 def. J. Force, Broke/No Show; Johnson Jr., 3.916, 328.46 def. Langdon, 3.958, 325.77;

FINAL _ C. Force, 3.834, 337.16 def. Johnson Jr., 6.814, 101.57.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.536, 210.34 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 16.184, 50.25; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.553, 211.73 def. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.642, 209.82; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.574, 209.49 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.555, 211.03; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.552, 210.08 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, Broke; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.676, 202.58 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 8.557, 112.00; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.628, 208.88 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.609, 203.06; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.561, 209.92 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 9.567, 96.49; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.552, 211.46 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.622, 207.94;

QUARTERFINALS _ Laughlin, 6.577, 209.92 def. Coughlin, 6.590, 209.69; McGaha, 6.561, 211.93 def. Enders, 6.549, 210.14; Line, 6.548, 210.37 def. Anderson, 6.541, 211.00; Kramer, 6.542, 210.67 def. Skillman, 6.548, 210.54;

SEMIFINALS _ McGaha, 6.562, 211.83 def. Laughlin, 6.574, 210.21; Line, 6.552, 210.41 def. Kramer, Foul/Red Light;

FINAL _ McGaha, 6.529, 211.59 def. Line, 6.538, 210.14.

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Point standings (top-10) following the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 183; 2. Doug Kalitta, 144; 3. Tony Schumacher, 140; 4. Scott Palmer, 139; 5. Antron Brown, 133; 6. Clay Millican, 122; 7. Leah Pritchett, 90; 8. Brittany Force, 86; 9. Billy Torrence, 71; 10. Greg Carrillo, 66.

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, 179; 2. Courtney Force, 160; 3. Ron Capps, 139; 4. Robert Hight, 133; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 128; 6. Jack Beckman, 122; 7. Jonnie Lindberg, 107; 8. Shawn Langdon, 104; 9. J.R. Todd, 83; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 82.

Pro Stock _1. Jason Line, 195; 2. Deric Kramer, 154; 3. Chris McGaha, 152; 4. Bo Butner, 149; 5. Alex Laughlin, 136; 6. Erica Enders, 134; 7. Greg Anderson, 119; 8. Drew Skillman, 117; 9. Vincent Nobile, 95; 10. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 84.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 26 2018
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