John Force Racing teleconference, part 3

Continued from part 2 JOHN FORCE: I hear what he's saying. I don't know if we want to get into all of this. The fact is, this wasn't a tire shake like we think when a race car leaves the start line. This was caused by -- whatever made the...

Continued from part 2

JOHN FORCE: I hear what he's saying. I don't know if we want to get into all of this. The fact is, this wasn't a tire shake like we think when a race car leaves the start line. This was caused by -- whatever made the tire fail, it ran over a nail, let's say. Half of the tire went away, which caused an imbalance in the car. Every time part of the tire that was still held onto the rim went around, it created an oscillation. Through that oscillation, the situation of the driver being moved back and forth was created.

I may not be explaining it, but it's not tire shake as we know it.

JOHN MELVIN: It's an imbalance really that's shaking it at a very high level of force.

JOHN FORCE: We're not talking about tire shake when the car goes out. It shakes the tire on a Fuel car or Funny Car. We're talking about part of the tire was gone, which caused the car to drop, lift, drop, lift, from one side to the other at such a huge -- and the numbers we got, what were they, John, like 45,000 pounds or 60,000? Do you know, John?

JOHN MELVIN: Basically what they're trying to explain is that a portion of the tire that came out caused the remaining tire to come apart radically. However, it stayed attached to the rim. When you have a section of the tire that is still connected to the rim and just immediately following that section of tire, there is no tire left on the rim. The radius or distance that piece of the tire was from the center line of the axle that velocity produced a force somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 60,000 pounds, that's 20 to 30 tons worth of force. That outer tread of the tire was still attached to the rim. As it went around, it was intersecting anything in its path and removing that from the race car. Every time the tire hit the ground, you had a force of somewhere over 40,000 pounds. Then the next immediate area of the rim that rotated went straight down to the racetrack surface.

You have approximately an 18-inch movement up and down with the force of about 40,000 or more pounds.

Q: Have you made a decision yet, John, about what you're going to do with Medlen's team? Has his dad decided what he wants to do there? Are you going to run that car later this season or have you not decided yet?

JOHN FORCE: That is an option. That's something that I will take up with John Medlen. We kept the whole team on board. Everyone has jobs. We may utilize his car as we get the data for stuff that we want to test.

But the truth is, Eric Medlen was my driver. Would take a special individual, if ever, to replace him in that seat. That car may go away, but that car may not. I think a lot of my decisions and John Medlen's decisions will be made how we feel this week at Vegas.

But we do know this: that to jump right back and race when there are so many issues, that needs an individual like John Medlen to address, we need to address this because it's personal to him. That's why the car is not a necessity right now. Like I said, we will keep the team intact. They will travel with us. We will work together as a team until we figure out the direction that we want to go.

Maybe kind of just waiting for a sign, you know what I mean?

Q: John, some of the drivers in Houston addressed the issue in a meeting about safety concerns on testing days after events, that they felt like maybe not enough was being done to ensure the track conditions were the same on a test day on Monday that they were on a race day on Sunday. What is your feeling on that?

JOHN FORCE: It ain't going to be a perfect world, guys. Even though the guys are out there, you know the ones working have already spent four days there working all night, grooming the tracks, working in the rain. These guys are out there doing their best like they always do. We've always had complaints and issues. We all do the best that we can.

Can anything be improved? Sure. I'm sure that after this, we'll look at things, try to make it better. But that's what it's all about.

We can't find anything -- there was only one car that ran down that racetrack ahead of us. That was Warren Johnson. We're not looking to point the finger, myself or John Medlen. We're wanting to fix what we can fix with the true data we have, not try to base everything off of just what we want to create, you know what I mean?

I ask each of my crew chiefs to give me a synopsis of everything they felt. I got three of those in. I have one I haven't. I want to compare what they think. They're all smart individuals. The racetrack on race day, because I'll never go to a racetrack again until I know, and I got to say, the workers that were there, NHRA's people, the helicopter from the local, they were unbelievable. They were there right on schedule. They did their job. But there are places that you might race where the hospital, even with a helicopter, can be an hour away. Well, we just can't quit racing.

But I'm sure going to address it, that if I got a situation I want to test, there's no helicopter on-site, you have to wait for it to get there, if it's 15 minutes away, I might go with it, but if it's an hour away, I'll choose not to test.

I have to make some decisions, too. We're going to address that. We're documenting all of this. So we don't just run around with a bunch of ideas. If we run out of time here, we're willing to keep going here, unless it goes on forever. We don't want to wear everybody out. But I would like the people that never got a chance to ask their questions.

Q: You're going to test at Vegas, when, tomorrow you said?

JOHN FORCE: Yes, tomorrow.

Q: If you find that the car is not drivable, you would not enter the race on Sunday, correct?

JOHN FORCE: If we've done a bunch of things that are wrong, we don't think we have, but we've gotten clearance from SFI to test these restraints with the R3 group from side-to-side impact. We're used to taking one whack against the wall. That's what we live with. Well, now in this situation of this imbalance, this oscillation, we're trying to build a cockpit so if you get 50 hits, you still got padding, you still got stuff around you that will protect you. That's what we're trying to address.

The problem is the cockpit is so tight that I want to see that it's even feasible. I mean, I put on the belts that are seven-way. They are so tight, I can't hardly move. That's what John Melvin says you need to not move. We'll only know when we test it tomorrow.

Q: The main changes to the cockpit, the bigger roll cage padding, and you're also going to use a different head restraint?

JOHN FORCE: We had to cut the roll cages off of six cars, actually seven, and we widened them. We were able to put mountings in to triple the head protection on both sides of the driver. We changed the seat belts not only to the seven belts but also in the locations that we mounted them. We used to mount them around the chassis, which meant they could slide during impact up and down the bar. We made 'em permanent where they couldn't slide. We have the R3 neck restraints that not only will protect you in frontal motion and reverse motion, but side-to-side.

These are things that are untested that SFI, we worked with Arnie down there, with NHRA to get approval to do this. I'm kind of doing this because I believe it, my crew chiefs, and these vendors believe that it's better. That's why we're going to test it. The problem is going to be, are you going to be so tied down that you can't drive your car the way that you're used to driving it? It will take some time.

Q: The head injury was caused by a side-to-side shaking, not actually when he hit the wall, correct?

JOHN FORCE: John, do you want to answer that?

JOHN MEDLEN: That's correct. Actually, it was more of an oscillating occurrence. Something that's pretty interesting, while we were in the hospital with Eric, the rest of the crew chiefs were back at the shop, each one of the crew chiefs independently observed the race car chassis, the body, all the things that took place at the crash. They wrote down a synopsis of what each one of them independently saw and what they believe took place.

When I got back from the hospital, with what the neurosurgeons told us about diffuse neuroaxial injury, I explained it to the guys, who created the synopsis of what happened. Without reading any one of those reports, it was identical to what they viewed as the occurrence of the roll cage activity that caused the brain damage.

That is it oscillated in a manner that was so violent, the head just -- it just oscillated back and forth from one side to the other. There wasn't a single-point impact involved. It was a relatively high-frequency attack to the brain.

Q: The injuries you described almost sound similar to shaken baby syndrome. Would that be a fair comparison?

JOHN MELVIN: It's somewhat like it, but much more violent. Normally shaken baby is front to back, not side-to-side. This is side-to-side, which involves the brain in a different way. It's still not well-understood exactly all the things that went on inside the head. But that side-to-side shaking is just not good for the adult head.

Q: John and/or Ashley, what is the status now of your television program? Has that been suspended with what you're going through right now?

JOHN FORCE: You know, our TV show had addressed racing and things that can go wrong. One of the shows was actually pulled off because it was about addressing this very issue. The TV show A&E has dedicated the season to Eric Medlen out of respect for the family, and well-deserved, and his dad. We talked about where we go because the show was based on a lot of this, and then this happened.

But right now they will be up at Vegas because they have to finish out so many shows. They've given us room, they're standing back, they're letting us work. They know that Ashley has a lot on her plate as well as Robert and myself, and that the show can take you away from your focus. They know that we need to focus to get back in the game and to correct these issues.

But the show will continue. I know they will do a tribute to Eric Medlen and all of this with John Medlen's blessing.

Q: John, how many runs are you anticipating making tomorrow?

JOHN FORCE: Well, they're going to try to create tire shake. If we can accomplish that, you know, as little as possible because it don't take me long -- I've driven these cars for 30 years, and no one knows 'em better than me. It won't take me long to know if it's drivable. One will be the seat belt restraints, the head attachment, to the shoulder, to the body with the R3 and the roll cage stuffing. They put my head in a big bag of marshmallows.

If I can tell on one run, it goes out there, shakes hard, I know what happens during that shake period. But if it takes two or three -- in other words, if the car just goes and tries to move, I shut it off, back it up, do it again. This ain't about an ET slip, trust me.

I know those issues, a lot of people think, we don't want any data, we're not going to be looking at any data. We're strictly working with Dan Olson with NHRA. It's going to be there till we create this deal and give them the answers. Kenny Bernstein is coming with the same car. When he gets there, I want to be able to tell him your padding should have this much clearance. That is going to be the big issue, the clearance, because it's a wrap-around in the roll cage.

Q: Graham, have you considered the installation of SAFER barriers on some of our tracks?

GRAHAM LIGHT: Well, we certainly look at what NASCAR is doing and so on. Their application is primarily in the corners, not the straightaways. In discussion with NASCAR, also the IRL, they were designed under a total different criteria than what our cars are, the speeds, the size of the car, so on. They don't think their exact application would work in our environment. But we are looking at that. We're looking at the possibility. Continue to look at everything. This particular incident was not -- soft walls wouldn't have changed the outcome unfortunately of this incident.

JOHN FORCE: This car hit the wall at about 120 miles an hour at such an angle that it just brushed the wall and went right down the wall. The problem wasn't there, trust me. It happened way before that.

Q: How do you want people to treat you this weekend as you sort of reemerge back into our little community here?

ASHLEY FORCE: I think it will be good to get back out there with our team. We've had lots of calls and letters. Each of us personally, I've had calls from Gary Scelzi, Capps. Fans have sent letters. In this situation, you feel better when you get out there. Those are the people that Eric loved. He loves his fans, his competitors, his crew guys, as the rest of us drivers do. We want to get out there, get back on the track, get back in the car. I think we're doing everything that we can do to make these cars safer. I know I've just been listening with dad and John Medlen and our crew chiefs, we do the best we can, not just for our team and Eric, but for all of our friends that we race out there with. We want our people that we've grown up with to be safe in their cars, too. If something good can come out of all of this, it can be that these cars will be safer, we can be back out there with the fans and other teams.

Q: Everybody is wanting to express their condolences and sorrow, does that wear on you or is that comforting to you to hear that over and over?

ASHLEY FORCE: You're sad always, but I think for me personally it makes you feel better to hear the stories. Fans will come up and actually when we were in the hospital, I visited a lot with Mimi, Eric's mom, I had told her that just that weekend on race day in Gainesville on Sunday, these two little boys came up to my pit, and they both had Eric Medlen hats on signed by him with their names on it. They were so excited. I asked them, You obviously got to meet Eric. They were, Oh, yeah. Obviously he was their favorite driver. They were so pumped up. They never saw any more races that whole day, they got to meet Eric. I told Mimi about that. It was so ironic that it just happened the day before.

I think it will be hard, but we have to remember those good times. It's hard to look at pictures, see videos, but it makes you remember. I actually have a digital camera. It has footage of Eric when we went to Sonoma last year and we filmed for Driving Force. It makes you sad to see him, but you remember how much fun that day was with him and you're thankful you got that time with him. Even though it was too short, he touched so many people outside of his family and his team. So many little kids out there have already sent in letters and pictures and they're praying for the family.

Q: John Medlen, can you tell us something about Eric that maybe we don't know.

JOHN MEDLEN: Well, I think the one thing that I think that Eric would want to convey to everyone that maybe people didn't realize, Eric had a real compassion for people. He had a very great love for children. Anybody that was slightly physically oppressed or mentally oppressed, Eric had a large capacity for children. He was a very organized person. Just moved into a new home in Indianapolis. We were going through his business affairs. He had a folder in his file cabinet that had Fans written on it. In that folder, he had several hundred pictures of children, all the pictures that he kept were of children because he thought so much of them. In all the autographs, the fans at the ropes, you wouldn't sometimes realize that. I think he had that compassion for children because he realized and was very appreciative of an opportunity to live his dream that he had since he was a child. I think he saw that in the eyes of these children, and that's why he had such a capacity for the children.

Q: John Force, do you know if Courtney and Brittany will be racing in Las Vegas?

JOHN FORCE: They're under the same, as the rest of the drivers. Their cars are up at Victory being changed for the head padding, the seat belts reinstalled, going to the seven. There were so many things that we learned from the Darrell Russell accident of the protection around the driver's head. Yet on my own car, I took off half of it to save a few pounds. Yet we saw from the accident that a piece of the body tubing had pierced the roof of the car. NHRA saw it. If it had been off an inch more, it would have gone right into the cockpit with the driver. Here I'd been guilty of that myself.

So what we're doing is we're addressing every car. I don't care if it's Super Comp or what it is on roll cage protection and seat belt. I'm not saying the other people that already have it aren't already right. I only know that my cars worked. To the capacity we know about protection for the head, we're addressing it.

As of the plan right now my girls are going to Sacramento.  But if my
testing doesn't work, theirs won't work either.  Five teams will leave
Vegas.  Trust me, we don't want to because we love racing.  It's the
only thing that is going to make us feel well.  We want to be there.
We'll have to go back and address what we're doing.  I think we can do
all of this in Vegas.  I do believe we will make the show, all of us.

Q: Was Eric wearing a HANS device or R3 at the time of the accident?

JOHN FORCE: Yes, Eric had the R3 on. Every safety precaution we could give him. Something that needs to be clarified, too, 'cause I've been asked this, this situation with the dragster, the dragster has about four foot of tubing between it and the driver's seat. The Funny Car sits right on the rear-end, the driver does. That's some of the things that we may address in the future, how to get the driver away from the rear end. Maybe that's not possible. But we're addressing what we can.

This situation I don't think could happen in a dragster. But that's only my opinion.

THE MODERATOR: That's our last question. That wraps up our teleconference today. We certainly want to thank John Force and all of the folks from his team for joining us on the call. We wish them the best of luck as they head to Las Vegas.

-credit: nhra/ford

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Eric Medlen , John Medlen