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Season Has Been ‘Scary’ For Force Racing

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 27 2018

The 2018 season has been kind of crazy for John Force Racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Having grown up in drag racing, sisters Brittany and Courtney Force are well aware of the sport’s dangers, but this season’s beginning has been gut wrenching for their family’s NHRA organization – John Force Racing.

In the 2018 season’s first five events, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John and his daughter Top Fuel champion Brittany have each made a trip to the hospital following accidents. Brittany was kept overnight and remains in physical therapy.

John experienced three massive engine explosions in the season’s first three events and failed to qualify for this year’s fifth event at Houston. It was the first time John had missed an event since the 29-year-old Courtney was a child.

On the bright side, Courtney secured the Funny Car track record at Chandler, Ariz., en route to her first victory this year, while Brittany finally won at Houston. Still, the season has been emotionally draining.

“It’s definitely been a scary start to the season,” Courtney said as she prepared for this weekend’s NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

“When you’re in a sport like this anything can happen, you’re aware of that as a driver, you know it’s a dangerous sport, but it is hard to see things like that happen to family members.”

John Force Racing entered the season on a high with Brittany as the 2017 Top Fuel champion and Courtney having produced her best-ever finish in the Funny Car standings with a third. Disaster, however, struck quickly in the season opener at Pomona, Calif.

In the second qualifying round, John’s Funny Car suffered a huge engine explosion near the finish line and most of the Camaro’s body flew into the air. He escaped injury. Then, in the first round of eliminations, Brittany endured a horrendous crash. It began when her car turned sideways. She attempted to return it to her lane, but with her Top Fuel dragster balanced on one rear tire, she sped across the track and slammed into the wall. The car bounced off the wall, traveled back across the track, rolled onto its side and then slammed into the other wall. The front end broke off and the car returned to an upright position, skidding down the track with fire from the fuel tank trailing behind. Brittany was conscious after the crash, but she spent the night in the hospital.

“I knew one day I was going to wreck,” said Brittany, who won at Houston with her third car this year. “I’ve been out here for six, seven years so you expect it in this sport.”

Brittany admitted it was “tough” getting back in her car two weeks later for the NHRA Arizona Nationals and her team knew it.

“For me, I didn’t care about winning the race,” Brittany said. “For me, it was about getting back in that car, getting comfortable, making runs. That’s all I cared about.”

Three weeks later in Gainesville, Fla., at the Gatornationals, Brittany felt Pomona was behind her and it was “game on.” She said the Houston win truly put the season opening crash behind her, but she admitted she’s not yet 100 percent. Still, Courtney believes the victory restored her confidence.

While the sisters each have a victory this year, their 68-year-old father has struggled. Courtney actually produced her victory after talking with her father before he was transported to the hospital following a horrendous accident that involved Jonnie Lindberg.

The incident occurred at the finish line when the engine in Force’s car exploded, destroying its body. With debris flying in the air, John’s car veered into Lindberg’s lane and hit the wall in front of him. Lindberg attempted to pass John, but the rear of John’s car was in the air and hit Lindberg’s windshield. John’s car became tangled in Lindberg’s parachute as they slid down the track. They hit the right wall again and the body flew off of Lindberg’s car. They then slide across the track and tagged the left wall before stopping. Both men were conscious.

“Obviously, I was pretty emotional because I had just seen him do that in Pomona and the same with my sister Brittany, but I got to talk with him before he left for the hospital and it gave me that confidence to get back in my race car,” said Courtney, who won the event.

“It was one of those times where I’m very thankful to have the team and the crew chiefs that I have. They obviously knew what I was going through. My crew chief (Brian Corradi) stopped me … and told me I didn’t have to get back in the race car. He said, ‘We’re not in the Countdown. It’s only the second race of the season. We’ll fully understand if you don’t want to get back in the car because they’re taking your dad to the hospital.’

“Just knowing they supported me no matter what my decision was made my decision that much easier, especially after talking with my dad. That gave me the confidence to get back in it. It wasn’t easy, but you have to mentally block it. You don’t want your head to be somewhere else when you’re in one of these race cars because that’s dangerous.”

Courtney noted her mother, whom she described as “the rock” of the family, accompanied her father to the hospital, while Brittany remained with her at the track. Their mother constantly sent them updates from the hospital.  

“My dad has always said the monster is out there,” Courtney continued. “I think that’s why he wasn’t overly supportive about us following in his footsteps … because it is so dangerous. It’s nice to have him as a boss and team owner, but he still will take on the fatherly role. It’s hard for him seeing his kids taken to the hospital, but we all are aware of the danger. It’s just what comes with driving a 330-mph car. It’s not going to be perfect and in one piece going down the race track. These cars are very unpredictable.”   

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 27 2018
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