John Force Racing

NHRA: John Force Racing shuffles 2019 crew chief lineup, adds new driver to fold

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One week after the departure of Courtney Force, John Force Racing announced Tuesday its driver and crew chief lineup for the upcoming 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

When it comes to drivers, team patriarch, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, who turns 70 in May, returns, as well as two-time Funny Car champion and JFR president Robert Hight.

Also returning is John Force’s daughter, 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion Brittany Force.

John Force Racing drivers (clockwise from top left): John Force, Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Robert High.

And at some point this season, contingent upon sponsorship, will see the debut of Austin Prock in either a Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster. The younger Prock is the son of Jimmy Prock, crew chief for Hight’s Funny Car.

Austin Prock, who earned his NHRA Funny Car license last season and is expected to earn his Top Fuel license shortly, has been part of JFR’s development program. How many races he competes in during 2019 will be predicated upon sponsorship and whether he’ll compete in Funny Car or Top Fuel, according to JFR.

“My operation fully functions with a four-car team, with the chassis shop, machine shop and engine program, it makes it all make sense,” John Force said in a media release. “We will find a partnership to run this fourth car. Chasing sponsorships is no different than chasing a championship, you work on it 24/7.”

As for crew chiefs in the JFR fold for 2019:

* Jimmy Prock returns as crew chief for Hight, which finished second in the standings last season after capturing the 2017 championship. Also returning is assistant crew chief Chris Cunningham. Together, the trio led Hight to four wins in the last seven races of the 2018 season.

* Brian Corradi and Dan Hood, who served as co-crew chiefs for Courtney Force last season, will assume the same roles with the Peak Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS driven by John Force.

Corradi, who joined JFR at the start of 2018, and Hood, who is married to John Force’s second-oldest daughter, Ashley Force Hood, helped lead Courtney Force to four wins and 11 No. 1 qualifiers in her career-best season performance, finishing fifth in the overall Funny Car standings.

“Working with Brian Corradi and son-in-law Dan Hood is exciting for me,” John Force said. “They, along with (car chief) Tim Fabrisi, have put a strong team together as proven last year with Courtney making a run for the championship.

“Even with all the day to day operations of John Force Racing, I’m committed to giving 100 percent. I know what it takes to win a championship and its 100 percent focus. I’m committed to giving that to my new team.”

John Force is looking to achieve a significant milestone in the 2019 season: the winningest driver in NHRA history is seeking the 150th national event win of his career. The elder Force currently has 149 career wins.

* And in another personnel move, JFR has hired veteran crew chief and former Top Fuel driver David Grubnic to serve as crew chief for Brittany Force in 2019. Brittany Force, who has assumed her sister Courtney’s prior sponsorship from Advance Auto Parts for the upcoming season, finished fifth in 2018 after capturing her first career Top Fuel championship in 2017.

Grubnic joins JFR after leading Clay Millican to a career-best third-place finish in the Top Fuel ranks last season.

“Everyone wants the chance to get to tune for a legendary team and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Grubnic said in a media release. “I’m sure there will be a bit of a learning curve for this new Advance Auto Parts team but Brittany is a championship driver and this team is ready to put in the work to go rounds, get wins and chase another championship for JFR.”

* Austin Prock will have John Force’s co-crew chiefs the last two seasons, Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson, in the same role once Prock begins competing.

“The 2019 season is going to be an exciting one for John Force Racing,” Hight said. “We have some new faces in the pits, some new sponsors, but the same drive and determination that we’ve always had.

“We’re going after race wins and championships and we have the right people, partners and parts to make that happen. It’s been a long off-season and we’re ready to go racing.”

The new season begins February 8-10 with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California. A number of primarily Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers will also take part in a three-day test this weekend in suburban Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).