Continued from part 1 Q: Ashley, what is your mindset getting ready to go back to race again? ASHLEY FORCE: Well, first I'm not at all aggravated at my dad. It's not a situation that any of us have ever been in. I know that for each of...
Continued from part 1
Q: Ashley, what is your mindset getting ready to go back to race again?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, first I'm not at all aggravated at my dad. It's not a situation that any of us have ever been in. I know that for each of us as drivers, we train, that's what we learn. We love racing. We know the dangers. We've lost other good friends of ours. This has hit so close to home because Eric is our family.
But I think the overprotectiveness that dad has, I feel that towards my sisters. But you have to let people decide. I think Robert and I, you know, you kind of have to go -- the week in Gainesville was tough. We were trying to get through with Eric. We were thinking he was going to come out of that, we were going to be joking with him.
Then the week in Indy, everyone was kind of in shock. You put everything on hold, your life, your bills, your worries, your list of things to do. Nothing matters.
But now that we've had a few weeks, 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? I can't be scared in the car. I can't get in it thinking something is going to happen to me. 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 five 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.
I think the biggest thing for me is that's my family out there.
JOHN FORCE: We've got to give her a little break here, okay? We apologize here. She wants to finish. Hold on one second.
ASHLEY FORCE: I'm sorry. I'm the emotional one in this group.
Probably the biggest thing that I think we all feel is that you can't walk away from it. Racing really is our life. That's where we want to be. I didn't want to leave Indy. I wanted to stay there with our race team, with my crew chief, with Guido, with John. I think that's the only way to get through something like this.
I think if we can all go out there and do what we've trained, I've trained for six years to race these cars, I trained with dad and with Eric, they were my teachers, and we all know he would want us -- he would be so upset with us right now that we're wasting one moment not out there on the track. We want to go out there and stay together as a team because I couldn't imagine, if I'm not racing, then it's just such a big part of our lives. It's going to be hard, but I think you work together and that's how you get through it.
Q: John Melvin, what happened? What do we know about this crash?
JOHN MELVIN: Well, it's a highly unusual circumstance. I've been involved in racing safety since 1992. We've never seen anything quite like this. In fact, as a head injury issue, we've never seen it anywhere.
When the tire shake and the tire failure with the blow-out, losing part of the tire, caused it to become extreme shaking, as far as we can tell, his head was shaken side-to-side so violently that it just terribly injured his brain.
We're studying this using math models right now because it's so hard to get such a thing to happen. We're hoping to understand it more. But what we've been able to do is, through our modeling of a race car driver in such a situation, evaluate some of the things that John has done. We think it is the way to go to try to control that head motion.
It was just an uncontrolled motion of the head back and forth in the car. We're going to still study this to find out exactly why the injuries occurred in that process and what it is that we can best do to solve it.
Q: Are you pretty sure you're going to get a handle on it, figure this out, and everything is going to be -- I don't know if anything is ever 100% safe, but are you pretty confident it will get resolved?
JOHN MELVIN: I believe so. There are short-term things that have been done, and our modeling shows that's the correct thing to do to try and control the motion of the head is with more padding close to the head. You do have to worry about the driver being able to see, though. When the padding gets touching the head, it's well-known that that causes a vision problem. That can cause another issue if the car loses control.
That's why John is doing the test to see if he can drive the car because we have moved the padding in and around the head closer trying to keep the motion more controlled.
But there are probably some long-term changes after a careful study we may effect. Until you understand the whole situation, if you just introduce something out of the blue without testing it, you may find that it makes things worse. We just need to study this more carefully in the laboratory both with testing machines and with math models so we can come up with a solid solution that we feel will really help.
Q: John Force, how are you different now than from a month ago? How is your organization different?
JOHN FORCE: I think my organization will be stronger because of this. I think it made my crew chiefs, I have seen Coil and Bernie, the other side of them, of what they feel we need to do. I believe we'll be okay.
I think over the years I wore a helmet just because it was free. Never read the data on it. Well, not any more. We had helmets from every vendor sent to us. We sent them up to Ford and had them crushed. I want answers about these things. This data will come back. I mean, from seat belts, how they were mounted, I want to know how they were mounted. I took so many things for granted that you just kept moving on. Maybe there is where I failed as the boss. There were so many things that I didn't address myself that I just accepted was okay because somebody told me.
Now, with John Medlen, the crew chiefs, we're reading the data, we're studying. We want to know about the foam, the different types of foam, what F1 uses, what NASCAR uses.
Let me tell you, I was a lot like Earnhardt: old school. Even when he was injured, you couldn't get me to put on a HANS device or an R3 because I was uncomfortable. I just spent the last three days up in Indy. I walked around the parking lot wearing this stuff 'cause I'm going to make myself get used to it. I got in the car, I told Coil, I'm so miserable. I can't even move. How can I drive this car? Coil said to me, Do you want a championship or do you want to be safe? You have to learn how to drive this car so you're safe and then we'll address the championship.
That's the way we're looking at it. That's the way my drivers are going to look at it. I'm hoping the sport will listen to people like John Medlen that have sacrificed, people like me that are trying to show them the better things. I know right now everybody can't run out and do it. But I hope the racers will address it. They're our family and I believe they will. Because I was one of the stubborn guys that wouldn't. Everything you gave me, unless it was easy, I wouldn't use it. But now I'm going to use it. I don't care if it costs me a race. I'm going to wear it, wear it, wear it, wear it until I make myself like it because you have no option. You have to do something to protect the driver. There's a lot of protection there.
I'm not saying this car wasn't safe, but there is room for improvement in anything, especially with me as an owner. That's where I failed. I'm not going to fail again.
Q: Has this season now become the most important season of your life, not necessarily for what has happened up to the accident, but because of what is going to transpire over the course of the next nine months?
JOHN FORCE: When I met this kid, Eric Medlen, and I saw him on the stage singing, and I heard him talk the talk, he was like me. You know, he was respectful like his father, always called me every Christmas, every holiday to tell me just thank you for the job. What I saw was that even though my time was running out, I saw that through these kids I could build the next generation. He was my lead guy. He was me. Robert come along, and he was a different type, but they all had the same drive. Ashley come along, and she's still learning.
But in the process I saw my future of where I could sit back one day and become a Prudhomme and enjoy it because I love these kids. Now I've been put into a position. It's funny, you wake up every day and you go down to the doctor, he digs a few polyps out of you and he tells you, You're at that age, it's starting. Okay, doc, I'll be back in six months. You start counting your days and wonder, Will I live to be 80? How long will I live? Then you get a wake-up call like this, and it makes you realize that a young person was taken from us at a young age that deserved more.
What I'm saying is, I'd be a piece of shit if I ever quit. I'm just going to keep fighting this fight. Will it make us better? We may never win a race again, but we will continue to do it. And John Medlen will be right in the middle of all of this helping us grow this organization. We will not stop here. We will not let this thing just go away. We have good partners with NHRA, working with PRO, all of these people that want to work with us. It's opened a lot of people's eyes. I want to thank 'em for that.
And Tom Compton was on the phone to me every day. Tom Compton said to me at the funeral that John Medlen came up to him and held his hand and said that he was sorry that this happened. Compton said, I didn't know what to say. This guy is apologizing to me? We were there for him. Compton said, You have the best people. The best people is what will make my team come out of this and have meaning. It's not just about a championship. Other kids like Scelzi, they may win it. It's what we do as a team that is going to make any meaning out of any of this.
Q: Graham, in light of all of this, is the series considering any additional rules or mandating use of this padding or HANS devices or anything like that?
GRAHAM LIGHT: Well, the HANS device already is mandatory, or a neck restraint. But, like John Force's team, we're analyzing what happened in Eric's situation. We're very interested in the changes that John has made to his car. We want to see how that works this weekend. John Melvin said a little while ago, the thing you have to be careful of is instituting change, a knee-jerk reaction, because that change could negatively impact something else that wasn't foreseen.
We're certainly working side by side with John and his team and analyzing exactly what happened and what can be done in the future, just like we do with all cases where we have serious accidents. We analyze that accident and we hopefully all learn from that and try to make it better in the future.
We are proud of our safety measures. These cars go 330 miles an hour. There is a danger in doing that.
Q: John Force, are the speeds in these things getting too high? This question is asked after every incident. Are the cars going too fast?
JOHN FORCE: There again I've been guilty. Different from NASCAR, any other form of racing, our whole identity in racing is speed and ET. But I fought for that. When NHRA put restrictions to slow us down, things that they wanted, yet we knew the racetracks from the old days. Some of them were too short. You know what I'm saying? But what is too short when this accident took place at half track. Wasn't like this car was down there in the lights and it had this problem.
Once again, you look at NASCAR building the Car of Tomorrow. The drivers ain't liking it. They're heavier, they're slower, whatever the issues are. But from the test results they're safer. I think that an organization, a sanctioning body, I believe in talking with NHRA that this will all be addressed sometime and we want to be a part of that. We want to work with them to look toward a safer car even if it is a little bit slower.
So, yes, if we had to slow 'em down, I was against it. Like I said, I'm on the other side of the fence now. I don't believe a race fan in the stands can tell if your car went 330 or 300. They can only tell by the scoreboard. It's still competition, and I think -- I don't want to say slow 'em down. But let me give you an example.
We brought in Ron Armstrong, the fella that started I think was Race Pack. The biggest thing that my attorney said and John Melvin said to me, Okay, you got all this data for going fast, what do you have that allows you to tell you what happened in a crash?
Well, we had nothing on board to tell us what happened in the crash because, number one, it's too heavy to add the weight. There's a lot of issues that there's things that you can have on board that could also allow you a way to cheat. So how do you police it? There's a lot of issues. Those are issues that we are addressing.
But Ford wants to put a crash box. They did it in NASCAR. They put it in everybody's car. They want to put crash boxes. So when we crash, God knows we may not crash for 10 years, but we will, that we would have some data that told us what happened.
We gave John Melvin nothing to go to the labs with except a chassis that was broken into a million pieces. NHRA came there, Graham was there, Olson was there, they know. There's things that need to be addressed. But you can't do this overnight. We do the best we can for now. The key is to not forget. That's why I'm going to keep John on top of this project and to get this moving before we even address the No. 4 car, what I'm going to do with it.
We need to stay on this.
Q: After Earnhardt was killed, NASCAR sprung into action. A lot of really good safety measures were implemented. Maybe it will foster in a new era of safety in the NHRA.
JOHN FORCE: First call I got was from Graham. Basically it was to say that he was sorry for what had happened, to say to the family. But then it was like, We want the information. We want to know what you find because we have everything in-house except for the tire, we turned over to Goodyear, and the wheel. But there was a lot of things that they were right there ready to work. It is important. They know this as a sanctioning body. We have been talking. Things will come out. We're going to get together after Vegas. We're going to have a meeting. We haven't set a time date on it. We'll get all of the people inventory.
We can't have a meeting until we have our data. We're waiting for all that to come in. We're giving it to NHRA in a form of what took place from that day and what took place two days before it. There's a lot of things that we're addressing. Not putting too many runs on a race car. There's a lot of things we look at. We drive 'em till they fall apart.
We don't want to make those mistakes.
John Medlen, if you would, would you give them what you felt took place.
JOHN MEDLEN: Well, basically in a nutshell, the tire came apart. We don't know why. There's several issues involved around the tire disassembling, that violent force vibrating the car, the roll cage. There again, we've never seen, as John Melvin mentioned earlier, we've never seen any kind of a failure of this magnitude and even of this nature. Had we seen even the remotest glimpse that something like this was on the horizon, we already would have made many, many changes that directed the driver into that area of safety and containment of the brain, trying to isolate the head from that violent oscillation of the roll cage.
This again, we had never seen anything like that before. So I think the key here is for our industry, have someone like John Force that's going to put a vehicle in motion that has a goal of a test scenario, whether it be at Ford in the test lab, but here is somebody that is not going to stop and just say, Well, we're just going to go on and race. He's going to change and mandate some of the changes that we need to do on these race cars for the long-term and the short-term.
I think that's the key to this whole thing: it would be a catastrophe in its own right, the largest catastrophe would be to not use it to better the sport and to ensure that this doesn't happen again. I think that's the single biggest factor that we all face.
Q: A little bit of background, please. The gentleman, the university professor that has come on board, what is his name?
THE MODERATOR: John Melvin.
Q: Are you a doctor, sir?
JOHN MELVIN: No, I'm a Ph.D. engineer. I've worked over 40 years in injury biomechanics. When I was at General Motors, we started -- we were the first guys to put black boxes in race cars. We started that work in '93 in IndyCars. I'm now a consultant to NASCAR because I retired from GM, helping them on their safety issues. I'm doing this for John Force, as well.
JOHN FORCE: I'm the one that called him the doctor. I apologize for that.
JOHN MELVIN: They do call us doctors occasionally, but we're not medical doctors.
Q: Here is my question: Did the tire shake cause the tire to blow or in what order did everything happen?
JOHN FORCE: Basically I got a statement here from Goodyear because they found and they reconstructed the whole tire. There was a puncture in the tire. It assume that by this statement that we just got today that we ran over something. That's all I know from what is written here. Which means the tire went flat, then came apart. Not that the tire was defective.
Q: John Melvin, did that cause the tire shake?
JOHN MELVIN: Well, it certainly would -- if the pressure went down, I'm sure that would cause it to shake more than if it held its pressure. We know that tire shake is a phenomena in these cars, but it can be handled by backing off the throttle and I guess it stops.
It might have been starting in that phase because of the low pressure. I don't know. We know that tires tend to destroy themselves when they get overheated from not having enough pressure in them.
Continued in part 3