(Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

Season for John Force Racing on the line at Texas

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Even though there are still three races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, this could be one of the most crucial weekends ever for John Force Racing.

Heading into the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, team patriarch and 16-time champion John Force is in sixth place in the Funny Car ranks, 138 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Son-in-law and JFR president Robert Hight is in eighth place, 175 points behind Capps.

“The Texas Motorplex is the first super track,” Hight said. “Billy Meyer was a Funny Car racer so I think this track is built for Funny Car performance with the all-concrete race track. It might be a little warm but this track can handle a lot of horsepower. If the conditions hold up I think you could for sure see some track records and possibly national records.

“This championship will be in play every round of qualifying. … These next three races will be about focusing on the little things and just going out and not making mistakes.”

Rounding out the three-Funny Car operation at JFR is John Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney, who comes into this weekend in ninth place, 186 points behind Capps.

“We all have one goal with our team at John Force Racing and that is to have someone win that Funny Car championship,” Courtney Force said. “Right now I am not in the best position but I am sure going to give it all I have. I am still going for it because all our teams still have a shot.”

Admittedly, it’s been a struggle for all three drivers at times during the first three Countdown events.

While John Force won the playoff opener at Charlotte, he’s made early exits in the subsequent two races at St. Louis (second round) and lost in the first round at Reading (Pa.).

Hight reached the second round at Charlotte, the semifinals at St. Louis, but took a big hit when he lost in the first round at Reading.

Likewise, Courtney Force has lost in the first round in two of the first three races and reached the second round at St. Louis.

“This race will most likely be our last shot to stay in contention for the championship,” Courtney said. “We realize that and we are going to handle that pressure as best we can.

“If we want to make a difference in this Countdown we are going to need to perform this weekend. Unfortunately, since the Countdown started we have been struggling and we haven’t been doing as well as we would have liked. We haven’t been going rounds and it has really hurt us. We have shuffled down the point standings when all season long we were in a great position.

“This has been a pretty good track to me and my team (she’s a former winner at the Motorplex. “I definitely feel more confident going in.”

With a maximum of only 390 total points to be earned in the remaining three races, you can understand that every member of the JFR organization is focused on doing just one thing in Sunday’s final eliminations: win.

If not, there will only be 260 total points available between the last two races of the season – Las Vegas and the season-ending event at Pomona, California – and chances of a rebound for the title are virtually nil by that point.

“We have won in Dallas twice but we need to win this weekend,” Hight said. “There are three races left and I feel like we have a Funny Car that can win all three. It will be tough but we have been running really good numbers and my guys have been busting their butts since the U.S. Nationals.

“I think you have to just throw out Reading and focus on these last three races. There isn’t any extra pressure because we have always been focused on trying to win the championship again.”

Perhaps the driver with the best chance of still earning a championship for JFR is John Force’s other racing daughter, Brittany, who is currently ranked third in the Top Fuel standings, 118 points behind series leader and defending champion Antron Brown.

Brittany reached the second round at both Charlotte and St. Louis and the final round at Reading.

“Reading was huge for our team,” Brittany Force said. “Going to the final was a big step especially now that there are only three races left.

“Now it is all about the teams that are going to be at the top for the next few races. We didn’t get the win but we got to the final and we are going to build on that. That is what we need to keep doing, winning rounds. If we keep having success on Sunday then this championship is not out of our reach.”

While Brittany continued to discuss her own championship hopes, what she said applies to her other three teammates heading into these final three races, as well.

“I think doing well in Dallas and Las Vegas will be a big factor for the championship,” Brittany Force said. “Our goal is to have a chance to win the championship when we get to the Auto Club Finals in Pomona.

“We are going to do everything we can to be in a position where we can win. We go into every race thinking we can win and it starts with the first round of qualifying. This has been an amazing season and these last couple of races will be even more exciting with the championship on the line.”

Coming Thursday afternoon: Column on John Force’s return to the racetrack that changed — and almost claimed — his life.

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New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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