Indy ORP: John Force preview

JONE YEAR LATER, FORCE HAS NEW PERSPECTIVE Funny Car Icon Tries to Bounce Back at Indy INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Last year, John Force, the most prolific winner in drag racing history, stumbled and fell on his sport's biggest stage, failing to ...

JONE YEAR LATER, FORCE HAS NEW PERSPECTIVE
Funny Car Icon Tries to Bounce Back at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Last year, John Force, the most prolific winner in drag racing history, stumbled and fell on his sport's biggest stage, failing to qualify his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang for the 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park.

Having grown accustomed to starting the world's oldest, richest and most prestigious race from No. 1, his qualifying position in 11 of his previous 17 appearances at ORP, Force believed it was the worst moment of his professional career. He was wrong.

Three weeks later, while racing in the second round of a POWERade tour event in Dallas, Texas, he suffered career-threatening injuries when his Mustang broke apart and, at 300 miles per hour, collided with the Dodge of friend and rival Kenny Bernstein

After walking away from literally dozens of other accidents with nothing more than the occasional singed eyebrow, Force suffered broken bones in his arms, legs, fingers and toes including a compound fracture of the left ankle. He underwent six hours of reconstructive surgery after which he spent 27 days in a Dallas hospital and months more in physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Despite the injuries, which for two months left him unable to do almost anything on his own, the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection vowed not only to return to competition this year, but to compete for the championship.

"I didn't want that to be my last Indy -- not qualifying," Force said. "I still have that fire and if (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) can figure out this race car, I think we can still be competitive."

Force took a major step in his comeback when he won last June at Topeka, Kan. That enabled him to extend to 22 the number of consecutive years in which he has won an NHRA tour event, tying Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson's record. Nevertheless, Force has more lofty goals.

"I want to win another championship," he said. "This Countdown, I didn't know whether I would like it, but it's given me a chance to win again even at my age. If we can get on a roll, we've got the same shot as everybody else."

After his crash last fall and the earlier testing accident that claimed the life of rising young star Eric Medlen, Force focused on making the sport safer. His creation of the Eric Medlen Project adjacent to the team's Brownsburg satellite shop created a clearing house for ideas and information designed to create a safer competitive environment.

He wants the safety initiative to be his legacy but not his only one.

"At the end of the day, I want to be safe," he said, "but I still want to win. That's what it's all about."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , John Force , Eric Medlen