NHRA

NHRA: Brittany Force escapes major injuries in Top Fuel crash

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For the second time in three days, a member of the John Force drag racing family has escaped relatively unscathed from an incident in the season-opening weekend of the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.

Friday, team patriarch John Force experienced a massive engine explosion that blew the body off his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car. The 16-time Funny Car champion was taken to a local hospital for precautionary reasons, but was released after a few hours.

During the first round of Sunday’s eliminations at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, Force’s daughter, 2017 Top Fuel champion Brittany Force, experienced the worst crash of her career.

Brittany Force, the No. 2 qualifier for the event, was in the right-hand lane vs. No. 15 qualifier Terry Haddock. Shortly upon launching, Brittany’s dragster appeared to lose traction, causing her to lose control of her 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster.

Force’s dragster veered left, crossed the center line and the driver’s compartment made heavy lateral impact with the retaining wall.

The car then spun, flipped on its side, slid back across both lanes and made impact on the opposite retaining wall before coming to a rest past the finish line.

Force was carefully extricated by rescue workers from the mangled dragster and immediately transported to a local hospital by ambulance. According to team officials, she was conscious and responsive when removed from the dragster and during the ambulance ride.

Ironically, Brittany Force left Auto Club Raceway en route to the hospital right about the same time her father’s car suffered yet another engine explosion in its first round elimination run, the team’s second engine explosion in three days.

An update from John Force Racing late Sunday afternoon said Brittany will remain in the hospital overnight and undergo additional tests and evaluation, but appears to have not suffered any major injuries.

However, she did suffer some bruising of the lungs, the team report stated. A CT scan was negative and an MRI “showed subtle findings likely from previous injuries.”

John Force made this statement after his daughter’s incident:

“You look at how these cars evolved over 40-50 years,” the elder Force said. “We made a lot of changes after the loss of Eric (Medlen, former JFR driver who lost his life in a 2007 testing accident). A lot came out of that. Building better chassis, safer. Want to thank Simpson safety for building helmets, equipment and everything to keep our drivers safe.

“The car giving way when it hit the wall head on allowed it to take the impact and fold up (as it was designed to do). I want to thank Schumacher Racing for creating the canopy (over the driver’s seat). When the car was upside down, you know that protects the drier’s head.

“I want to personally thank Don Schumacher for his investment (in the canopy program). Very important. Thanks, Don. Safety Safari was right on top of it, as always, that’s why they’re the best in the business. Finally, John Medlen, was one of the first to come to me, and want to know if she was okay. I didn’t have an answer at the time. But he’s lived it. He knows what all of us go through: owners, friends, parents and sponsors. End of the day, we keep addressing it to get it better.”

Also in the first round of eliminations, eventual Top Fuel winner Doug Kalitta suffered a supercharger explosion (but still managed to continue on after repairs were made).

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.