Optimism Reigns As JFR Prepares For NHRA Opener
By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
A sense of optimism was apparent Wednesday as the drivers who will pursue NHRA Mello Yello championships this year for Ford and John Force Racing, including John Force himself, fielded questions posed by journalists on a national teleconference leading up to next week’s start of the 24-race season.
Force, who will be the defending Funny Car champion when racing begins in the season-opening 53rd annual O’Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., threw kudos to his drag racing daughters, Courtney and Brittany, as well as to son-in-law Robert Hight, but acknowledged that after two consecutive ninth-place finishes “I plan on getting back into the hunt for the championship.”
“I’m excited,” said the 15-time series champion. “I’ve made the transition back to Mike Neff” who returns to the crew chief role that netted the pair a Funny Car championship in 2010. “I want to prove to my daughters and to Robert that I can still play in this game.”
While there was obvious interest in a Funny Car category in which JFR has won the championship 17 of the last 23 years, there also were a number of questions directed to 26-year-old Brittany Force, who has put a possible teaching career on hold to go Top Fuel racing.
The second youngest of Force’s four daughters admitted that the canopy that encloses the cockpit on her Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster, the first Top Fuel car fielded by JFR, made her a little claustrophobic when first installed.
“I was nervous at first. I’m more comfortable with it (now). They had to pour a whole new seat. New head padding. A brand new car,” she said.
Brittany’s dragster is powered by the Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor developed at JFR in collaboration with Ford engineers. Her’s will be the first Ford-powered Top Fuel car to compete in the NHRA series in more than 40 years.
“I think we have a really strong team,” Brittany said of a Castrol EDGE unit anchored by crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli and assistant crew chief Eric Lane. “I’d like to qualify for every race (but) I’d really like to get my first win. I came close in Super Comp and A/Fuel.”
Hight pointed out that the last time NHRA had a new series sponsor, as it does this year, he won the championship. The year was 2009 and the sponsor was another Coca-Cola product, Full Throttle energy drink.
“To come out and be the first Mello Yello Champion, that’s my goal,” said the driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang who will be trying to win the season-opener for the fourth time in eight years. “We have three great Ford Mustangs and I’m anxious to see what the BOSS 500 can do in Top Fuel.”
As for Courtney, who was last year’s NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, she admitted to a new perspective after a debut season in which she drove the Traxxas Ford Mustang to victory in the Northwest Nationals at Seattle, Wash., and to a fifth place finish.
“Halfway to the end of the (2012) season, we began to realize that we had a pretty good race car,” said the 24-year-old phenom. “It’s built our confidence for this season. Now I have a different perspective. My crew chiefs, Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, gave me such a consistent race car.”