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JFR HEADS TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY ON SOLID FOOTING JOHN FORCE, HIS DAUGHTER ASHLEY AND SON-IN-LAW ROBERT HIGHT GET BACK ON TRACK AT LAS VEGAS AND MOVE ON TO ATLANTA WITH A SEASON DEDICATED TO ERIC MEDLEN COMMERCE, Ga. -- Racing means a lot of...

JFR HEADS TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY ON SOLID FOOTING

JOHN FORCE, HIS DAUGHTER ASHLEY AND SON-IN-LAW ROBERT HIGHT GET BACK ON TRACK AT LAS VEGAS AND MOVE ON TO ATLANTA WITH A SEASON DEDICATED TO ERIC MEDLEN

COMMERCE, Ga. -- Racing means a lot of things to a lot of people. To John and Ashley Force, and the entire John Force Racing family, it's their life.

This became crystal clear during a recent conference call when the NHRA icon and his daughter discussed their future following the death of close friend and teammate Eric Medlen, who died March 23 from injuries suffered in a testing accident four days earlier at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.

"Now that we've had a few weeks," Ashley said at the April 10 teleconference. "We're getting through it. You kind of have to look forward to what is your next step. Me personally, I did a lot of thinking and thought, 'Do I love racing enough to climb back in the car?'"

"After doing a lot of thinking -- and Dad was good, he let me go off on my own. He didn't want to be a part of any decision I made -- I came back and I said, 'I still do love racing.' If I were to quit, then the last 24 years of my life, what I lived day to day even when I was 5 at the races, would mean nothing. I don't think that's the path I want to take. I want to get back in that car. I want to do it."

Finally, she added: "I think the biggest thing for me is that's my family out there."

JFR and the rest of the NHRA POWERade Series tour next heads back east to Atlanta Dragway, site of the 27th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, the sixth of 23 races on the NHRA POWERade Series circuit, April 26-29.

John Force, the 13-time POWERade Series world champion, echoed the thoughts of his daughter: "I need to get to a racetrack. I need to get out here with these people and do what I do. That's the only way I'm going to get well."

John Medlen, Eric's father and crew chief, whom John Force described as "the strongest person I've ever met," explained the sentiments of his always cheerful son this way:

"One of the things we're trying to bear in mind is, I can see Eric talking to us and watching us. He would say, you know, 'Get back out there and race, guys.' That's what I do. That's what he did. That's what he loved to do. You couldn't direct him in any other manner. I tried many times to get him to pursue his engineering degree. He loved that race car. He loved racing. That's what he wanted to do.

"He would be very disappointed in us if we just tucked our tail under," Medlen said.

The entire JFR team skipped the Houston race (the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, March 30-April 1) to mourn their loss and their first race back was the SummitRacing.Com NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas, April 12-15 and the results ran the spectrum.

While John Force's nearly 20-year qualifying streak ended at 395, Ashley qualified No. 3 and won a round and Hight proceeded to win the race.

"It's amazing how many lives Eric has touched, and it's not as fun coming to the races without your best friend and teammate with you," Hight said. "But we needed to come back out here and be with our family, our drag racing family, and realize how many people Eric made happy in his life.

"I'm always kind of intense and serious, but after seeing Eric and knowing him, I want to start smiling more and start letting everyone know how much I enjoy this. I love what I do, and it's very special to drive these cars for a living.

Ashley moved into 12th place in the POWERade Countdown standings -- four spots and 30 points out of the Top 8 (to qualify for the second stage of the Countdown) -- and Robert moved solidly into second place with his sixth career win and first at Las Vegas where six months earlier his championship hopes took a devastating blow when his car failed at the starting line in the first round of the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals.

"I never have had much luck at Vegas, but I felt like I had some extra help today. Maybe Eric was watching over me. I know having his dad (John) helping us with the car was special for all of us."

John Force has won the race seven times, including in 2005, and he also holds the track record in the Funny Car class with his 4.686-second pass at Atlanta Dragway last season.

He'll be joined by teammates Hight and Ashley Force as well as old friends/foes Kenny Bernstein, Ron Capps and Cruz and Tony Pedregon in a deep and competitive Funny Car field.

In Top Fuel, 2006 Rookie of the Year J.R. Todd picked up right where he left off with two wins to start the 2007 season, including at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals where he dedicated the win to close friend Eric Medlen. Atlanta native Whit Bazemore, in his first season in Top Fuel, will be a driver to watch in the class along with Brandon Bernstein, Melanie Troxel and Tony Schumacher.

In Pro Stock, it's hard to ignore the Summit Racing Pontiac GTOs driven by the last four POWERade Pro Stock world champions, Greg Anderson (2003-05) and Jason Line (2006). They'll be tracked closely by 2006 Atlanta winner Dave Connolly and former Georgia Tech star Tom Hammonds.

For the Pro Stock Motorcyclists, this will be the third of 16 events for them and the class is led by Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer.

* SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on April 27, and 11:30 and 2:30 p.m. on April 28. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on April 29, followed by the first session of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 6 p.m. (ET) on April 28. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will telecast NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on April 29.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Tom Hammonds , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Jason Line , Eric Medlen , J.R. Todd , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , John Medlen