NHRA’s John Force chasing ‘gremlin’ after engine explosions
John Force’s first two NHRA events have included two on-track explosions, two hospital visits and a trip to the winners’ circle.
For Force, it’s part of life in racing’s fastest lane.
“That’s what we do,” the 68-year-old Force said two days after blowing an engine at the finish line, slamming into a retaining wall and colliding with another dragster at the Arizona Nationals. “Now, sometimes things go wrong out here. But it’s a sport; we’re in the entertainment business and we drive at high speeds. But the real truth is we don’t expect this kind of stuff to happen.”
It’s been an all-too-familiar feeling for Force to start 2018.
The 16-time Funny Car champion endured the first blown engine during a qualifying run at season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, California, in early February. As he neared the finish line, his engine erupted so violently that it sent the car body flying through the air in pieces. Force walked away unscathed.
One of his two racing daughters, Brittany, wasn’t as lucky two days later.
The 31-year-old Force was hospitalized overnight following a hard crash in an elimination race.
The 2017 Top Fuel champion veered right just off the starting line, shot the other direction and slammed into the left wall. It spun with the tangled parachute catching the nose and hit backward into the right wall, flipping on its side. It ended up back on what was left of the wheels when it finally skidded to a stop.
She escaped internal injuries and sustained only “upper-body soreness.”
Brittany Force was back in the car two weeks later in Chandler, Arizona. She qualified 14th and was beaten in the second round of eliminations.
“It’s what we do, like the people in the circus, the ones that swing from the ceilings, the trapeze,” John Force said, already looking ahead to the next event, the Gatornationals, in Gainesville, Florida, in mid-March. “It’s what you do. It’s your living. ... I told Brittany, ‘You know, you’re the champion, you won 2017 Top Fuel championship, you can walk away right now.’ She goes, ‘I can’t even believe you’re saying that, Dad. Walk away? This is what we do.’
“We’re not like the military or the police department; we don’t go every day at this knowing it can go wrong. Every now and then, something does go wrong and you live with it.”
John Force found more trouble in Arizona.
He blew another engine at the finish line during an elimination run Sunday and ended up crashing into fellow driver Jonnie Lindberg.
Force tried to keep his Chevrolet Camaro straight following the fiery explosion, but he drifted across the track in front of Lindberg and whacked the right wall so hard that his rear tires came off the ground. They landed on Lindberg’s windshield.
The wreck was far from over. The front of Force’s car got tangled in Lindberg’s parachute. Lindberg dragged Force into the right wall again and then pulled him back across the track. They tagged the left wall before slowing to a stop.
Lindberg walked away without assistance. Force was conscious and alert as he was transported to a local hospital.
“Without a doubt, we’ve got a gremlin in our cockpit,” Force said. “A lot of racers are having the same problems. It just seems to be biting me the worst. We’ll figure it out.”
Force has watched the replay “over and over and over” in hopes of figuring out what went wrong and has meetings set up with parts suppliers this week to make sure nothing failed.
His weekend, though, wasn’t a total bust.
His other racing daughter, Courtney Force, won the Funny Car class while John Force was being evaluated at Chandler Regional Hospital. He was released just in time to get to see his daughter finishing up in the winners’ circle.
“She came over and said, ‘Dad, all you said to me from the hospital was go kick their butts,’” John Force said. “Nothing personal. These are all good guys, but you want to win. So on a day when everything goes wrong, we came out with a win. We got lucky and we came out with a win. That’s what it’s all about. She did her job.
“She got that (trophy) and got that paycheck, and, boy, we can use that paycheck to buy some parts.”
More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org //