It is a measure of John Force Racing’s domination of professional drag racing that, over the last 16 seasons, its Ford Funny Cars have won 41.4 percent of all the events contested in the NHRA national series (153 of 367).
However, this year, with the assistance of Ford engineering, drag racing’s ultimate dynasty is expanding its scope beyond the Funny Car division with the debut of a new Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster powered by the Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor.
The BOSS 500, developed by JFR in a collaboration with Ford Racing, is the first Ford to power a Top Fuel dragster since Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Conrad Kalitta won NHRA tour events with Ford power in the 1960s.
Driven by rookie Brittany Force, the Top Fuel hybrid provides a new challenge for a team that for almost a quarter century has been synonymous with success.
Seventeen times a JFR driver has claimed the NHRA Funny Car hardware that comes with a championship-winning season. That equals the number of championships earned by what most pundits consider to be the No. 1 dynasty of all time, the Boston Celtics of the NBA. The difference is that it took Boston 54 years to accumulate all its hardware; JFR has done it in just 23.
By sheer numbers, the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball and the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League are the unchallenged leaders with 27 and 22 world titles, respectively. However, for the Yankees, the span from first championship to most recent was 88 years; for the Canadiens, it was 82.
In auto racing, much has been made of Hendrick Motorsports and its 10 NASCAR championships. Nevertheless, while 10 is an impressive number, it pales when compared to the 12 championships JFR drivers won in succession from 1993 through 2004. Jimmie Johnson’s five straight Sprint Cup championships? Noteworthy, for sure, although Force himself won 10 straight NHRA titles from 1993 through 2002.
In fact, JFR’s championship total exceeds that of any other motor racing team including Ferrari (15 driver titles in Formula 1), Karl Kinser Racing (16 World of Outlaws titles), Don Schumacher Racing (11 NHRA championships in Top Fuel and Funny Car) Richard Childress Racing (seven NASCAR titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr.) and Petty Enterprises (also with seven titles in NASCAR’s principal series).
That record is the more remarkable because of the fact that the team had to literally re-invent itself following a catastrophic 2007 season that claimed the life of rising JFR star Eric Medlen in a testing accident and almost ended Force’s own driving career in a 300 mile-an-hour crash at Dallas.
Faced with the realization that there had not been a major change in the basic Funny Car chassis since the 1970s, Force’s crew chiefs, aided by Ford engineers and chassis designer Murf McKinney, completed a total re-design that insured greater structural support while enhancing the “cocoon” around the driver.
If that task wasn’t sufficiently daunting, at about the same time, Force’s mechanical “brain trust” began developing the BOSS 500, which now powers every vehicle in JFR’s Ford Funny Car fleet as well as the Top Fuel dragster.
The Funny Car juggernaut that has dominated the NHRA series for more than two decades owes its resilience to a strict adherence to the motto that appears on one of its most popular T-shirts: “Never Give Up; Never Back Down; Never Lose Faith.”
While Force’s individual contributions have been significant, two other drivers have won championships for the four-car team that now races out of a 180,000-square-foot shop in Brownsburg, Ind.
Tony Pedregon won the 2003 NHRA Funny Car title in a JFR Mustang and Robert “Top Gun” Hight prevailed in 2009 in another JFR Ford sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California. In addition, five other drivers including 2012 Rookie of the Year Courtney Force have contributed to the JFR and Ford victory total.
In addition to Force’s NHRA record 134 victories (71 of them in Mustangs), Pedregon and Hight both won 27 times, Mike Neff 10 times, Gary Densham eight, Medlen six, Ashley Force Hood four and Courtney one.
The only driver to have won two or more races in each of his first eight pro seasons, Hight claimed the 2009 series championship with a dramatic worst-to-first drive that made him the first and only driver in any class to win from the 10th, and final, starting position in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs.
Inspired by Hight’s performance, Force returned to the top of the order in 2010 when he drove his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford to six wins, thereby applying an exclamation point to his 25th season with Castrol sponsorship.
Even though Force is now 63, there is no indication that the team he created is losing any of its traction. That’s because, over the last several seasons, more-and-more attention has been focused on a new generation of drivers and mechanics charged with the responsibility of keeping the team in the Full Throttle winners’ circle not just for years, but for decades to come.
“It’s the changing of the guard,” Force said. “I know I can’t go on forever and I want this team to continue to compete at the same high level in the future.”
Nevertheless, while the focus is the future, the present doesn’t look that bad, either. Over the last eight seasons, four different JFR drivers have earned the Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award that designates the NHRA tour Rookie-of-the-Year.
That, too, is the stuff of dynasties.