"Holy Toledo!"

January 31, 2008

John Force Make Triumphant Return!

Filed under: NHRA — Bill @ 12:50 am

Given the terrible news we received on Saturday, it’s nice to report some good news from Phoenix. You’d better look out Funny Car guys ‘cuz Force is baaaaack!

For John Force, drag racing’s most prolific winner, four months of intensive rehabilitation following the most serious crash of his Pro career culminated
Monday in an unexpected and spectacular 4.782, 327.51 sprint down a resurfaced quarter-mile at Firebird Int’l Raceway in Phoenix.

It was the quickest run recorded during a National Time Trials test session extended by Sunday’s rain, and it all but ended speculation about Force’s
ability to rally from injuries that included a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken bones in both hands, broken toes, and ligament and tendon damage.

With many of his peers looking on, the 58-year-old icon fired the engine on a race car on which daughter Ashley’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang body had been mounted and, on his first effort since Sept. 23, successfully executed a burnout and launch before shutting off at half-track.

That done, the 125-time tour winner came back hours later and laid down the 4.782 that moved him to the top of the performance list ahead of veteran Ron Capps, whose 4.786 in the NAPA Dodge had been the previous best.

Walking with a noticeable limp, Force passed the first phase of his comeback test on Saturday when he was able to get in and out of the cockpit and exit through the roof hatch, thereby satisfying NHRA safety concerns.

“I had to get in my firesuit and do the drill for them,” Force said, “but I knew it wasn’t going to be a problem because I already had done it. I climbed in an out] at the shop. It ain’t pretty, but I can do it.”

For Force, it was important that he was the first member of his team to take one of the new-generation, Murf McKinney-built chassis down the track. He was followed by Robert Hight and Mike Neff. Ashley will make her first runs Tuesday.

“I’ve been down the road more than anybody out here,” he said. “If there was a problem, I wanted to be the one to deal with it before I sent Robert,
Ashley, and Mike Neff out there.

“We didn’t know what we had [with the new car],” Force said. “We thought it would be good, but we didn’t know. We still have a lot of work to do, but
that [4.78] was a good boost for this team. That’ll give ’em motivation. Everybody’s worked so hard since the end of the season, and to run down
through there like that was something.”

Force, who missed the last three races of the season and finished seventh in points, his worst showing since 1984, will return to competition Feb. 7-10 at the 48th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

“I wouldn’t be here without the doctors in Dallas [at Baylor University Medical Center] who put me back together and without Robert Ortmayer, my
physical therapist in California, who’s kept me motivated,” Force said. “He understood why I needed to get back in the car and what I had to do to make it happen.”

Neither of the JFR Mustangs made it to the starting line during the first two days of testing because of mechanical issues. They were denied again Sunday by rain.

Hight, second in the world the last two seasons, and rookie Neff both aborted their first attempts Monday at half-track, as planned. They’ll try to follow Force’s lead Tuesday.

“Right now, it looks like we’ll try to test here through Wednesday,” Force said. “We need to make some laps. We’re behind right now, but we’re
scrambling to catch up.”

After the death of team driver Eric Medlen in a testing accident last March and after his crash in September, Force scrapped eight cars and started over with a controversial new design that hadn’t been tested competitively before Monday.

“That’s the first lap on these cars,” Force said. “That’s a credit to Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderley, John Medlen, Ford, and Murf McKinney – to get these cars done in three months was unbelievable.”

From NHRA.com
Contributed by Dave Densmore
1/29/2008

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