NHRA: John Force’s new crew chief just 27 years old

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Jon Schaffer will be stepping into some very big shoes when the NHRA season-opening Winternationals begin in Pomona, Calif., Feb. 6-8.

Schaffer was announced Wednesday as the new crew chief – and successor to Jimmy Prock and John Medlen – for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force.

(Prock and Medlen left Force’s operation after lengthy stints at or near the end of last season and have joined rival Don Schumacher Racing.)

Schaffer is only 27 years old, which will provide quite a contrast with his 65-year-old driver, who will wheel a new car manufacturer (Chevrolet Camaro) with a new primary sponsor (PEAK Antifreeze).

But Force has always been a team owner and driver who likes and encourages young team members.

“We have developed the next generation of drivers and now I want to do the same thing with our crew chiefs,” Force said Wednesday in a team media release. “We have so much young talent I want to start giving these guys a chance to grow and develop their talents.”

Schaffer had previously served as assistant crew chief with Mike Neff, who is crew chief for Force’s teammate, son-in-law and president of John Force Racing, Robert Hight. Long-time crewman Tim Fabrisi will step in to fill Schaffer’s role and assist Neff on Hight’s Auto Club Camaro SS Funny Car.

“We will always have a braintrust and our lead man will be Mike Neff,” Force said. “You have to have stability and that is one thing that we have had over the past couple of decades.

“You don’t win as many championships as we have with as many different guys without a great core group. I know crew chiefs will move around. That is the nature of this business. I want to continue to develop talent inside John Force Racing and continue to keep winning.”

Other promotions or new hires include:

* Nick Casertano is the new car chief for John Force’s PEAK Camaro SS Funny Car team.

* Ronnie Thompson has been hired to assist Todd Smith, crew chief on Force’s daughter Brittany’s Top Fuel team. Thompson comes to JFR after working for Al-Anabi Racing, which suspended operations two weeks ago.

* Courtney Force’s Traxxas Camaro SS Funny Car will continue to be led by Ron Douglas and Dan Hood.

* Long-time crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli has been promoted to general manager of Force’s shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. One of Antonelli’s key tasks will be future expansion of JFR.

“Mike Neff, Ron Douglas, Dean Antonelli, Todd Smith and Dan Hood have a lot of experience and we want to continue to grow and be competitive at a championship level,” Force said. “Guys like Jon Schaffer and Tim Fabrisi, as well as new hires Ronnie Thompson and Nick Casertano, will keep us young and on the cutting edge.”

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