Force family shows love of racing
OK, blink your eyes, then estimate how long you think that took? Now, blink them three times.
That my friends is about how long it takes Brittany Force to travel a quarter-mile about the length of four and one half football fields in her 10,000-horsepower Monster Top Fuel dragster.
The 29-year-old had a best run of 3.707 seconds with a top speed of 331.53 miles an hour just 11 days ago during the semifinals of the Auto-Plus Nationals in Reading, Penn.
And with three more races to go, she's got an excellent chance to win her first NHRA championship.
After that she would be just 15 behind the amazing record posted by her father, John Force.
Thursday morning dad and daughter made a trip Lawton to visit the sprawling Goodyear Plant on the eve of the Texas Fall Nationals this weekend in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.
It wasn't John's first trip to Lawton, but the city sure has changed.
"I came down here with my brother when he was entering the Army back in 1966," he said. "This town has really grown. Heck, we even got lost driving down here last night. Brittany had the directions on her phone but it ran out of power while she was asleep so I was just driving around and got lost. Luckily I found a store and got directions."
Brittany's excuse for falling asleep on the job?
"He just won't shut up; he's exhausting," she said with a big grin. "All he did was talk all the way from Dallas."
As we all learned, that's just John Force. He readily admits a love to visit.
For 30 minutes that's just what we did and we both learned a great deal.
First, after 44 years in this business, I finally interviewed somebody else who was afflicted with polio.
"We were living in a logging town in Oregon at the time," he said. "They thought it was meningitis at first but then found out it was polio. I was one of the lucky ones. It really didn't affect me all that much. And when they started talking about this deal when you turn 50 (post-polio syndrome), I was worried but it never really seemed to affect me then either."
In fact, he was able to enjoy a football career, albeit not a great one.
"I was on the B team and like most teams we had to scrimmage the varsity," he said. "I wasn't starting, but late in the game they put me in at quarterback and I threw a 'Hail Mary' and the B team won. They moved me up to varsity and I started for two years. We didn't win a game either season. I might be the only quarterback in California high school history to not win a game, but hey I learned to never give up. To always keep playing and trying to make something happen."
And while he doesn't feel the effects of the polio or football hits, he does have more than his share of aches and pains, a wreck at 300 miles an hour can do that to a person.
"When I had that bad crash at Ennis in 2007, the doctors told me I'd have to use a cane to walk, so I told them to get me new doctors," he said. "I broke my ankle, tore up my knee and dislocated my left wrist. It took a lot of surgery I've got pins, rods, screws and a lot of therapy to come back but I wasn't out long. To this day I live in the gym, I have to do that just to be able to do what I love to do. I even built a gym inside the house so I can work out."
Less than a year after almost dying in the crash, he was back racing and winning championships.
But he was a changed man. In the same crash, one of his team's drivers, Eric Medlin, was killed and that really affected John and the entire team. No, he says it affected all of drag racing.
"We call it the Medlin Project," he said. "The NHRA, our team, others manufacturers, Goodyear, everyone got involved and we started looking at every aspect of drag racing. We even did testing with the Army about concussions and head trauma.
"What we learned was that we needed to strengthen the chassis. I was racing with the same basic chassis that I'd been racing for 40 years. They figured out the safest metal compounds things like chrome moly to use to make them stronger so they wouldn't break under all that pressure."
And Goodyear did its part back then and on each and every day at their main race testing and manufacturing plant in Akron.
"I've never raced on any other tire than a Goodyear," he said. "Heck, I'm here to tour this great plant, so I'm going to brag about what Goodyear does for racing. Goodyear is always experimenting with other rubber compounds trying to find the optimum racing slick for us. And it's not easy because there are all types of rules and regulations for the tires alone.
"Just think, all that testing is also used by Goodyear to build the best tires for the consumer. The tires we're going to see being built here today are the results of all the research and testing that we do in racing. It all works toward a common goal."
At the heart of the issue is bite, traction. The tire has to turn all that horsepower into forward motion and speed.
It's because of the focus on safety that Force has felt confident in putting three of his four daughters into cars from the John Force Racing Team.
Ashley was the first to drive for her dad, racing a Top Alcohol Dragster as a rookie in 2004. That year she won three of the season's final five races, including the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, and the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California event at Pomona, where she shared the winners' circle with her fatherNHRA's first ever father-daughter winners. She finished the year fourth in national driver points.
Then Courtney came onto the scene and is in her fourth season running in the same Funny Car Division as her father. The 27-year-old drives the Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car and has become a hit on the circuit thanks to inheriting her father's gift for gab. She was fourth in the points race last season and is currently 11th in the standings, chasing her father who is sixth and a host of other top drivers.
Brittany was the last to squeeze into the fire suit, taking a seat in the team's Top Fuel in 2013. She started winning races last season and this year she's challenging for the championship, only trailing Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher in the points standings.
So, why does a beautiful young woman with a college degree in education decide to climb into the cockpit of something that clearly resembles a rocket?