John Force, entire organization to miss NHRA return this weekend

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UPDATE: John Force Racing announced July 31 that it will miss the remainder of the 2020 season

The National Hot Rod Association returns to the track this weekend after a hiatus of more than four months because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but its biggest star and fan draw – 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, along with his entire organization – will not be racing.

The deadline for this weekend’s entry list was Monday afternoon. John Force Racing – including Force, the team patriarch and the winningest driver in NHRA history, as well as teammates Robert Hight, Brittany Force and Austin Prock – are not entered in the event this Saturday and Sunday at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

NBC Sports reached out to John Force Racing, but neither Force nor the organization had any comment on the situation.

The NHRA issued a statement to NBC Sports: “The John Force Racing team is not registered for the E3 Spark Plus NHRA Nationals this weekend in Indianapolis. We look forward to their return in the future.”

JFR has two bases of operation: its West Coast headquarters in Yorba Linda, California, outside Los Angeles, as well as its Midwest branch in Brownsburg, Indiana, which coincidentally is less than 3 miles from Lucas Oil Raceway.

Still, the organization will be a total no-show there for this weekend’s race.

It is unclear whether JFR will return for next week’s second race weekend of the post-coronavirus hiatus period, which will also be held in Indianapolis, or if/when it may return this season.

Force, at 71 the oldest full-time racer in the NHRA professional ranks, is in an age group that is considered more at-risk for contacting COVID-19. NHRA also has published warnings for this weekend that includes the following:

“An unavoidable risk of exposure to and contacting COVID-19 exists anywhere people are or have been present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness, disability, and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. Although the NHRA has instituted reasonable practices in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19, NHRA cannot guarantee that you will not succumb to the virus. By attending our event, you voluntarily assume all risks related to COVID-19.”

There are 18 Top Fuel dragsters entered for this weekend, as well as 18 Funny Cars, 22 Pro Stock cars and 16 Pro Stock Motorcycles.

In Top Fuel, in addition to second-ranked Brittany Force and fourth-ranked Austin Prock, 10th-ranked Shawn Reed is the only other driver in the top 10 in the class who is not entered this weekend.

In Funny Car, in addition to third-ranked John Force and defending champion and seventh-ranked Robert Hight, only ninth-ranked Bob Tasca III will not attend. Tasca has been sidelined by COVID-19 and will be replaced by Swedish driver Jonnie Lindberg.

In Pro Stock, all of its top 10 ranked drivers are entered, while Pro Stock Motorcycle will take part in its first race of the season.

This is a very pivotal weekend for NHRA and the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. It’s the first race back since late February when the season was suspended after just two races because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While fans will be allowed to attend the race, there will be stringent health protocols in place including temperatures to be taken of all team members and sanctioning body officials, as well as fans, the wearing of face masks and social distancing will be required.

Because of those social distancing restrictions, drivers are not expected to be able to interact with fans in pit areas around team haulers other than to hand out pre-signed hero cards. That unfettered access has long been one of the sport’s hallmarks and key selling points.

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Sergio Perez still has coronavirus; will miss second consecutive F1 race

F1 Sergio Perez out
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SILVERSTONE, England — Sergio Perez will be out for a second F1 race at Silverstone this week after again testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Mexican driver had hoped to return to Formula One after spending seven days in quarantine, but his Racing Point team said this morning he had tested positive.

“He is physically well and recovering,” the team said. “The whole team wishes Sergio and his family well and we look forward to his return.”

That means German veteran Nico Hulkenberg again fills in for Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after having also replaced Sergio Perez when he was out for the F1 British Grand Prix at the same venue last week. Hulkenberg did not start that race because of an engine problem.

There are two consecutive weekends of racing at Silverstone as Formula One tries to pack in races following the pandemic-delayed start to the season.

Perez became the first Formula One driver to test positive for coronavirus, and it had been unclear whether he would be available to drive after the period of quarantine was extended to 10 days.

Racing Point also was in the news Friday after being hit with a 15-point penalty in the Formula One constructors’ championship and fined 400,000 euros ($470,000) Friday for using brake ducts based on those from last year’s Mercedes cars.

The stewards ruled that Mercedes was the “principal designer” of the parts, and that Racing Point made only minor changes to computer design data it received from Mercedes.

Rival team Renault filed protests about the legality of the brake ducts, which were added to the “listed parts” under F1 rules for 2020. That means teams must design their own. Racing Point argued it was merely using information about the Mercedes parts to inform its own design.

Racing Point uses customer engines from Mercedes and has admitted basing its 2020 car design on photographs of last year’s Mercedes car. The similarities led to the Racing Point being nicknamed the “pink Mercedes” when it was first seen in testing ahead of the season.

Racing Point can appeal the ruling. The points deduction drops the team from fifth to sixth in the standings, below Renault. The ruling doesn’t affect the points totals for Racing Point’s drivers.