Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just 4 Months Later, John Force is Back !!

14-Time Champ Makes Dramatic Return to Cockpit of Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

CHANDLER, Ariz. – For John Force, drag racing’s most prolific winner, and four months of intensive rehabilitation following the most serious crash of his pro career culminated Monday in an unexpected and spectacular 4.782 second, 327.51 mile per hour sprint down a resurfaced quarter mile at Firebird Raceway.

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 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 last 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 aforementioned 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 (climbed in an out) at the shop. Like I said, ‘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. Daughter Ashley will make her first runs on 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 Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.).

“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. 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, No. 2 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 on 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 own 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 Fedderly, John Medlen, Ford and Murf McKinney – to get these cars done in three months was unbelievable.”

Video of Crash Sept 23 2007

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