Changes coming to John Force Racing
Brittany Force joins the family enterprise – in a Top Fuel entry – Anne Proffit photo
John Force Racing is going to look a lot different this year than it did in 2012. Yeah, there will still be four cars, but only three of them will be NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Cars: the machines for 15-time champion John Force, for his son-in-law and 2009 champion Robert Hight and for 2012 Auto Club Road to the Future rookie star Courtney Force.
As has been widely projected since she began testing last season, Brittany Force is the first in her family’s 35-year racing history to drive in NHRA’s Top Fuel category, with sponsorship from Castrol Edge. The new and now fourth Force family car was unveiled in Yorba Linda, California at what used to be John Force Racing’s primary factory. The Force operation is now in Brownsburg, IN. The Yorba Linda facility now serves as JFR corporate headquarters.
Brittany Force will debut professionally in Top Fuel at the 53rd annual Winternationals on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona dragstrip in mid-February. Her new car is a three-rail chassis developed and constructed at the Brownsburg shop – unlike the car shown at her press conference, she’ll drive an enclosed canopy-equipped car similar to that used by Tony Schumacher with great success last season. She’ll use the BOSS 500 Ford nitro engine that has been so successful for JFR since its debut.
The second-youngest Force daughter has always driven an open wheel car since she began racing. Even as she completed her B.A. degree at Cal State-Fullerton and acquired her teaching credential, Brittany Force, 26, knew it was racing – and racing a Top Fuel car – that would make her complete. “My plan from the very beginning was to go to college and earn a Bachelor’s degree before really pursuing racing,” she acknowledged.
She earned her Super Comp license under tutelage of current Funny Car champ Jack Beckman, then drove A/Fuel dragsters for Jerry Darien with Brand Source sponsorship. Brittany Force spent all of 2012 preparing for her upcoming debut by testing in a Top Fuel dragster. Her test regimen was supervised by Hight’s tuner Jimmy Prock and her new assistant crew chief Eric Lane.
Her co-crew chiefs are new to the Top Fuel game, even if Brittany isn’t. After tuning for John Force last year (and big sister Ashley Force Hood, currently expecting her second child in mid-May), Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Lane move to the Top Fuel car for the first time. “I have many goals for this year and can’t wait to get started at Pomona. One of my goals is to really get to know my guys so we can become a strong team together,” Brittany said. “My other goal is to get my first win in my Top Fuel car as a rookie driver.”
There’s another change coming to JFR that should have the balance of the Funny Car community very, very worried. Mike Neff is stepping away from driving/tuning duties to return to tuning only – and working again with family patriarch John Force. Together the duo won the 2010 NHRA Funny Car championship; they should be just as formidable this year. Neff emphasized that this change was his decision and his desire, because he realized he took on way too much by being both driver and tuner for his Funny Car the past two seasons.
“It was just such a long weekend (doing both jobs),” Neff said. “You could never seem to ‘take five’ and focus. I just got pulled in a lot of different directions.” Not only did he drive and tune but Neff had to do media and sponsor appearances and there just never seemed to be sufficient time to do it all. “I never planned on driving for very long,” he emphasized. Neff was in the hunt for the NHRA Funny Car title in each of the last two seasons, and considers his two wins at Indianapolis the height of his success.
The Force family gathered for Brittany’s Top Fuel car reveal (from left): John Force, Robert and Adria Hight, Ashley Force Hood, Courtney Force, Laurie Force and Brittany Force – Anne Proffit photo
By Anne Proffit