Richmond: John Force Racing preview

BOTH FORCES OUT AT RICHMOND; HIGHT CARRIES THE LOAD FOR TEAM Upgrades to Ashley's Car Not Completed in Time for TORCO Nationals DALLAS, Texas -- Injured drag racing star John Force confirmed Thursday that daughter Ashley, the leading...

Upgrades to Ashley's Car Not Completed in Time for TORCO Nationals

DALLAS, Texas -- Injured drag racing star John Force confirmed Thursday that daughter Ashley, the leading contender for the Auto Club's 2007 Road to the Future Award, won't compete this week in the second annual TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals at Richmond, Va.

Modifications to the 24-year-old's 320 mile-an-hour Ford Mustang that were mandated by her father after his Sept. 23 crash at the Texas Motorplex simply could not be completed in time to send the Castrol GTX team to Virginia Motorsports Park.

Since Ashley is not part of the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship, priority for those upgrades was given to teammate Robert Hight's Auto Club Ford, which will be the only John Force Racing entry in the Final 4 and the only one in competition this weekend.

"A lot of different decisions had to be made within a short amount of time," Ashley said. "The top priority is safety and the second priority was getting Robert and his team into the Richmond race because they're still in the Countdown.

"So, we focused on Robert's Auto Club Mustang. They're still working right now to get it ready and there just wasn't time to do the other cars like dad wanted them. So, I'm staying (in Dallas) with dad and Mike Neff (who'll drive a fourth Force Racing entry next season) is going to be in Richmond with Robert.

"It's a little disappointing, but we'll just stick with our teammates and get ready for Vegas (and the Oct. 26-28 ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway)."

Ashley has remained at Baylor University Medical Center since her father's crash. The elder Force presently is undergoing an accelerated program of physical therapy to address a laundry list of injuries that include a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken toes and fingers, a badly dislocated left wrist and a severely lacerated right knee.

Hight, who was the points leader until he failed to qualify for the race in which his father-in-law was injured, doesn't believe the changes to his car, which included extra bracing throughout the chassis, will adversely effect performance even though they added 30 pounds of weight.

"It's untried," Hight said of the car in which, earlier this year, he posted the two quickest quarter miles in Funny Car history, "but, trust me, the crew chiefs wouldn't send our car out there if they didn't think it could compete. I'm actually looking for it to be a better car along with being safer. Until we go down the track, we won't really know, but I have a feeling that it might be better."

As for Force, he'll follow the race by phone and, with the help of staff members and family, on the internet.

"Robert's our lead guy now," Force said. "He's racin' this week not just for me and Ashley and Eric Medlen but for all the sponsors -- Castrol GTX, Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools, BrandSource, Mach 1 Air Services. I'm in the Countdown (fourth in points) but if any of those other guys show up, they knock me out -- and they're probably gonna show up.

Medlen, the lead driver in Force's Next Generation initiative, succumbed last March to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla. Modifications made to the cars after that accident probably kept Force from suffering more serious injuries in his crash.

Those changes included widening the top of the roll cage and, with the assistance of Kris VanGilder at ISP (Innovative Safety Products), adding extra padding around the driver's head. Furthermore, the team shucked the five-point seat belts mandated by rule for a more restrictive seven-point system and worked with Trevor Ashline of Safety Solutions, Inc., to create the new "Hybrid X" restraint system that restricts the driver's head movement from side-to-side as well as from front-to-back.

"Eric saved my life," Force said, "because my crew chief (Austin Coil) told me my accident was worse than his. If we hadn't made the changes, I wouldn't be here. So I'm just gonna do my therapy this week and pull for Robert and Jimmy Prock and the whole Auto Club team.

"Next week, I'll get with the docs and we'll figure out when I can get back in the car. That's my motivation. I miss racing."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Austin Coil , Mike Neff