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John Force Racing - Team

John Force

DATE OF BIRTH: May 04, 1949
HOMETOWN: Yorba Linda, Calif.
CAREER WINS: 134 FC: 134

Sport’s Biggest Winner Still Going Strong

John Force’s greatest career accomplishment was not his come-from-behind performance in winning the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship at the age of 61; not his comeback from crippling injuries suffered in a 300 mile-an-hour crash at Dallas, Texas in 2007; nor even his leadership role in improving race car safety through the creation of The Eric Medlen Project.

By any measure, Force today is an American icon because of his single-minded determination to follow his dream – regardless of the obstacles. To compete at drag racing’s top levels, the Southern California native had to overcome childhood polio, poverty and rampant skepticism, even from within his own inner circle.

The fact that he has become the greatest champion in the history of straight-line racing, perhaps the greatest in all of motor racing, is just a bonus, one that will pay more dividends this May when he becomes a first ballot inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.

It’s success that no one, not even Force himself, could have anticipated.

Wife Laurie, who met the former big rig truck driver when he was little more than cannon fodder for the likes of Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, recalls that “he didn't get much encouragement from anyone. A few times, I even suggested that he should quit. He had more reasons to quit than he ever did to (go on).

“For the first couple years, (his) was the worst car out there,” said the woman who has been by his side throughout. “His team? Well, I was a team member. What do I know about race cars? He had me packing the parachutes, backing up the car, mixing fuel. Anybody who was a friend and who was free labor, they were on the crew.”

Nevertheless, the frustrated football quarterback could not be dissuaded and his unwavering devotion to a sport that for 35 years has been both his vocation and avocation has paid dividends beyond imagination.

While other 60-somethings are content to manipulate nothing more stressful than a TV remote, Force again is mashing the throttle on the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang that last year carried him to his 27th straight Top 10 finish.

The first and only driver to win 100 NHRA tour events and 1,000 racing rounds, the first Funny Car driver to overcome a points deficit on the final day of the season to win the championship, the first to win series titles in three different decades and the oldest champion in any racing discipline, Force this year is striving to become the first to top the driver standings with three different crew chief tandems.

After sharing the 2010 title with crew chiefs Mike Neff and Austin Coil and winning multiple times with Coil and Bernie Fedderly, Force this year will pursue the title with crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli and new tuning partner Danny DeGennaro, most recently the crew chief for Cruz Pedregon.

The 1996 Driver of the Year and a four-time winner of the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy that identifies the driver receiving the most votes for the AARWBA Auto Racing All-America team, Force this year is bidding for his 16th title in 23 years; his team’s 18th.

Nevertheless, his total dominance of straight-line racing belies early struggles that would have chased a lesser man into a more traditional career..

Force wasn’t really pursuing championships in the 1970s and early ‘80s. He was just trying to make enough money to pay for gas and bologna sandwiches for himself and his crew. Staying in a hotel was a luxury that usually meant six guys to a room.

“Anything to get us to the next race,” he has said of his philosophy. That included dressing up as a tree for a promotion at an auto dealership and as the namesake for one-time sponsor “Wendy’s” hamburgers at a store appearance. He also made TV ads for Wally Thor’s School of Trucking and briefly considered joining his brother, Walker, in law enforcement before, as he tells it, “I flunked the inkblot test.”

Although he briefly attended Cerritos College after graduating from Bell Gardens High (where he quarterbacked a team that went 0-27 in three seasons), Force admitted that he was too slow to play football at the next level. He opted, instead, for what in his mind was the next best thing – drag racing.

“I loved the cheer of the crowd,” Force said of his football career. “In drag racing, I still get to wear a helmet and hear the fans, but now the car does the running for me.”

Nevertheless, his success did not come without sacrifice. With no license, no sponsor and, really, no clue, Force used a tax refund check and the money his mother-in-law won on a television game show to buy his first Funny Car from his late uncle, Gene Beaver. He then hustled a winter booking in Australia. It was 1974.

Once back in the states, he wanted nothing more than to compete on the same big stage with Prudhomme, Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen and three-time world champion Raymond Beadle, who used to let Force and his crew use his own hotel room to shower and clean up and whose “Blue Max” T-shirts were the first real “uniforms” Team Force ever owned.

In his first 65 starts, Force reached the final round nine times – but never won. Fortunately for the sport, persistence finally paid off when he won at Montreal, Canada, in 1987. It proved to be just a stepping stone for drag racing’s most prolific driver.

Although his Australian experience was the catalyst for his pro career, the 133-time tour winner previously had dabbled in the sport. He bought the “Beaver Hunter” AA/Fuel altered in 1969, his first real race car, and in 1971 bought Jack Chrisman’s ill-handling, rear-engined, 427 cubic inch SOHC Ford-powered Mustang. That vehicle ultimately became the short-lived “Nightstalker,” a car that Irwindale Raceway starter Larry Sutton deemed so dangerous that he forbade Force to bring it back to the track.

After transforming his uncle’s “L.A. Hooker” into the original “Bruce Force” Vega, Force debuted a Chevy Monza version in 1977 before unveiling the Leo’s Stereo Corvette in 1978, a car that a year later, he and crew chief Steve Pleuger introduced as the Wendy’s Hamburgers Funny Car.

There followed the Mountain Dew/Jolly Rancher Chevy Citation (1980-82) tuned by Henry Velasco and Larry Frazier, the Mountain Dew/Der Weinerschnitzel 1983 Chevy Camaro and, finally, a 1984 Olds Firenza selected in one on-line poll as the ugliest Funny Car of all time.

Force’s career finally began to turn in 1985 with the arrival of Coil as crew chief on the Coca-Cola/Wendy’s Corvette. It really took off a year later when he signed his first contract with Castrol GTX for a modest $5,000 and all the oil he could use. His ability to sign – and then retain – sponsors is the stuff of legend although his wife insists that there never was a magic formula.

“He told them, ‘I'll do car shows, I'll do cross promotions with other sponsors, I'll be at your store openings,’” Laurie said. “He never promised he could win a race – because he certainly couldn't back then, but he found other ways to make it work.”

Significantly, that attitude is why Force also remains the undisputed champion off the track where he long ago won the rabid support of millions of blue collar Americans captivated by his self-effacing charm, non-stop banter and unexpected accessibility

He still sells more souvenirs, conducts more interviews and signs more autographs than anyone else.

Nevertheless, if there was one moment that ever caused Force to question his chosen career path, it was the 2007 death of team driver Eric Medlen, a tragedy that led to the creation of the Eric Medlen Project at JFR East in Brownsburg, Ind.

“Winning is still the priority,” Force said, “but today it goes hand-in-hand with safety. Vince Lombardi said ‘winning is everything’ and I used to go with that. It’s what I told my team. But I don’t think Lombardi ever lost a man on the playing field.”

Refusing to accept the explanation that Medlen’s accident was a one-in-a-million fluke that never again could happen, Force commissioned the first major changes to the basic Funny Car chassis in 25 years. It was work that paid immediate and unexpected dividends when he himself crashed heavily on Sept. 23, 2007, exactly six months after Medlen’s death. That crash in Dallas, Texas, left him with injuries that required six hours of reconstructive surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Nevertheless, while he suffered broken bones in both hands and both feet, broken fingers, broken toes, severe lacerations and tendon damage to an already injured right knee, significantly he had no head, neck or torso injuries and five months after his crash, the sport’s biggest winner was back in a race car.

He won the O’Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., in 2008, but he now admits that it wasn’t until the 2010 season that he really felt up to the day-to-day grind of competing for a championship. Today, he makes no concessions to his age. He insists, especially after undergoing ACL reconstruction surgery in the off-season, that he’s in “the best shape of my life.”

Of course, if he never won another race or another championship, his legacy would be secure.

A 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Detroit, Force is more determined than ever to remain in the cockpit as teammate to a spectacular assembly of young drivers that includes youngest daughter Courtney.

“It’s all about these kids now,” he said. “I’m still going to race as hard as ever to win the championship. That won’t change. But my main job now is to (continue to) train (these young) drivers so that they won’t have to go through what I went through.”

Jimmy Prock
Crew Chief

Jimmy Prock once was considered the best crew chief never to have won an NHRA championship. Now the introspective 47-year-old with the go-for-the-jugular mentality may be the sport’s best crew chief, period. At the very least, he is one of the most innovative high performance mavens of his generation.

Having won the NHRA Funny Car championship in 2009 with Robert Hight and then winning again in 2013 with John Force, Prock no longer need address questions about his inability to “win it all.”

In 2013 Prock took over tuning duties for Force after a mid-season team swap orchestrated by the team owner that saw Prock leave long time driver Robert Hight. He tuned the winningest driver in NHRA history to five consecutive final rounds in the Countdown including three wins in a row to clinch Force’s 16th Mello Yello Funny Car championship.

Four year previously he direct Hight and the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to victory in half the races in the NHRA’s 2009 Countdown to 1 playoffs, he secured a 1-2 finish for John Force Racing, Inc., that earned the sport’s dominant Funny Car team its 16th title in 20 seasons.

“His cars have always run low ET and big speed,” Hight said. “Performance has never been a problem, but now he’s learned to race smart and that’s gotta be scary for everyone else out there.”

Now, Prock will return as the crew chief for a reinvigorated Force who will be return to the familiar Castrol GTX High Mileage look for 2014. Although it uses a John Force Racing-developed Ford BOSS 500 engine for power, the 8,000 horsepower Ford has racked up numbers more worthy of rocket science.

In fact, Prock has tuned Hight to the quickest times in Funny Car history – 4.636 seconds at the quarter mile distance and 4.005 seconds at 1,000 feet on the way to a mind-boggling 18 victories and 38 No. 1 starts. He also tuned Force to his first three second pass in Reading and the first sub four second pass in Auto Club Raceway at Pomona history in the 2013 season finale.

Prock’s championship breakthrough came, surprisingly enough, in a season in which he struggled more than he has in any other in his career.

Trying to work through mechanical issues resulting from yet another detour from conventional wisdom, he almost didn’t get his car into the playoffs. Once he did, it was lights out. Hight won three of six Countdown races to become the first driver in any category to win from the No. 10 starting position.

Before claiming the 2009 Full Throttle title, Prock twice had lost championships by less than one racing round. On both occasions, the difference-maker was a race not run. He finished second with Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan in 1992, losing the title by nine points when the team opted NOT to attend a race in Montreal, Canada.

In 2007, Prock and Hight were second by 19 points in a season in which they withdrew from one race in the wake of teammate Eric Medlen’s fatal testing accident.

Even before he won the title, Prock already was one of the most respected tuners in the sport; his cars among the most feared.

Despite his reputation for “all-or-nothing” performance, the soft-spoken Prock has shown remarkable consistency since he accepted his first crew chief job in 1991. In 20 professional seasons, he never has failed to put a driver in the Top 10. Furthermore, he has won multiple tour events for 15 straight years including three or more in each his last five campaigns with Hight and the Auto Club.

In fact, since his arrival at JFR in 2001, Prock has fostered a reputation for winning big stakes races based largely on his success in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis., Ind., drag racing’s equivalent of NASCAR’s Daytona 500. He first won that race in 2004 with driver Gary Densham and has put Hight in the finals four of the last five years with wins in 2006 and 2008.

The current partnership works so well because, as a former crewman, Hight can communicate with Prock on a purely mechanical level better than any of his previous drivers. The downside was supposed to have been that Hight never before had driven competitively, a shortcoming that obviously was greatly overstated.

Not that Prock’s success should surprise anyone. He started going to the races with his dad, Tom, when he was only 11, but it wasn’t until the family moved to California that he decided to make his career in the sport. Working with veteran Ronnie Swearingen, he helped put independent Funny Car driver John Martin in two finals before a 1989 bout with diabetes almost ended his career – and his life.

“I didn’t know what I had and we just kept going,” Prock recalled. “I just kept getting sicker and finally I went to the doctor. We were in Phoenix. I really couldn’t even function. When I came home, the doctor looked at me and just put me right in the hospital. They put IVs right in me. They said I was about ready to go into a coma.”

Today, he manages the situation through diet and insulin shots. Once his health stabilized, Prock went to work with Dick LaHaie, from whom he learned the dragster business, and in 1991 he hooked up with Cory Mac. When sponsorship became a problem for McClenathan, Prock moved to Joe Amato’s where he won 18 races in five-and-a-half years.

Daniel DeGennaro
Assistant Crew Chief

Birthdate: 10/25/1975
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Current Residence: Indianapolis, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2012
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He went to a motorsports school in PA and the director was friends with Joe Amato. He was introduced to Joe and has been involved with the sport ever since.

Background (education/work/racing experience): He worked at Joe Amato Racing, Doug Herbert Racing, Carrier Boyz Racing, Tuttle Motorsports, Kenny Bernstein Racing, and Cruz Pedregon Racing before coming to join the John Force Racing family.

Team Responsibilities: Assistant Crew Chief
Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/ working at JFR: His favorite part about being involved with drag racing is the challenge. These cars are a puzzle and you are constantly trying to figure out where the pieces belong. His favorite part about working at JFR is the resources….both parts and personnel. He is able to work with some of the most experienced people in the business.

Career Highlights: having 6 #1 qualifiers in 2011. Especially Indy and Denver

Favorite Track/ Race: Englishtown and Maple Grove…his home town tracks

Hobbies/Interests: He is very fortunate that he gets to call my hobby a career. He is also fascinated by the technology and craftsmanship of mechanical timepieces.

Ryan Heileson
Team Leader

Nickname (If any): Bryan Ryan
Birthdate: 10/12/1981
Hometown: Idaho Falls, ID
Current Residence: Indianapolis, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2005
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: A couple of friends from home worked at JFR

Team Responsibilities: Team Leader

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: being in a new city every week, Jonny’s cooking

Career Highlights: winning Indy in 2008, winning the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship in 2009

Favorite Track/Race: Las Vegas

Hobbies/Interests: snow machining, hunting, camping, bowling, kite flying, decorating, collecting cookie jars, dirt bikes, Shetland ponies

Alex Liggett

Nickname (If any): Al
Birthdate: 10/19/1980
Hometown: Lincoln, KS
Current Residence: Brownsburg, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2005
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He started going with his family to the races in Topeka and fell in love with the sport and decided that was what he wanted to do for a career.

Background (education/work/racing experience): He attended WyoTech and Jerry Caminito's Blue Thunder Nitro School and then went to work for Skuza Motorsports in 2003

Team Responsibilities: clutch specialist

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: being able to be a part of a very successful organization and getting the opportunity to work with so many good, talented people

Career Highlights: winning Indy twice in 4 seasons; having the 2 quickest Funny Car quarter mile runs in history; winning the Fuel Funny Car Championship in 2009

Favorite Track/Race: Las Vegas

Hobbies/Interests: bowling, classic cars, hanging out with friends and family, dancing, movies

Justin Covarrubias

Nickname (If any)
Birthdate: 05/24/1982
Hometown: El Dorado Springs, MO
Current Residence: Brownsburg, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2008
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: When he was a kid, he traveled with his stepfather, Phil McGee's Top Fuel Dragster team.

Background (education/work/racing experience): He began working at McGee Racing Cams building Junior Dragsters and Junior Dragster engines. He also raced Junior Dragsters for 7 years and super comp for 3 years.

Team Responsibilities: cylinder heads

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: working for the best team in drag racing and being around all of the good friends he’s made here

Career Highlights: winning Indy with Robert in 2008; winning the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship in 2009

Favorite Track/Race: Pomona and Brainerd

Hobbies/Interests: bowling, cars, racing, playing pool

Nathan Hildahl

Nickname (If any): Nate
Birthdate: 08/01/1990
Hometown: Northfield, MN
Current Residence: Brownsburg, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2013
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He started racing Junior Dragster at age 8

Background (education/work/racing experience): Attended Wyotech and has been bracket racing for the last 7 years.

Team Responsibilities: Body and Tires

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: traveling and get to race almost every weekend

Career Highlights:

Favorite Track/Race: Brainerd

Hobbies/Interests: skiing, concerts, bracket racing

Sam Fabiano

Birthdate: 03/15/1982
Hometown: Lansing, MI
Current Residence: Brownsburg, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2005
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: Jimmy Prock and he grew up around racing

Background (education/work/racing experience): He graduated from Michigan State University

Team Responsibilities: left side, floater

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: working with and spending time with friends and family at JFR and having the opportunity to learn from the best

Career Highlights: winning the US Nationals twice; having the 2 quickest ¼ mile E.T.s in funny car history; winning the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship

Favorite Track/Race: Indy, Las Vegas, Charlotte

Hobbies/Interests: golf, sleeping, watching movies, basketball, R/C Cars, playing with his dog, Rocco

Joe Diasio

Birthdate: 09/28/1989
Hometown: Parma, OH
Current Residence: Indianapolis, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2009
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: When he was growing up, he was always into cars and he built his own car at 16. He continued to have a passion for cars and decided that racing is where he wanted to be.

Background (education/work/racing experience): While in high school, he attended a 2 year vocational school for auto mechanics. He enjoyed the work in his auto classes, so he decided to further his education in that particular field. He attended another 2 year program at Ohio Technical College specializing in high performance.

Team Responsibilities: superchargers
Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/ working at JFR: great facility with great people, everyone is very helpful, being with the best team in the NHRA

Career Highlights: being team welder, having the privilege to work with John Force, winning his first race after blowing up in Denver

Favorite Track/ Race: Norwalk, OH

Hobbies/Interests: Building imports, playing video games, welding, fast cars

Tim Dillon

Birthdate: 02/02/1982
Hometown: Nicktown, PA
Current Residence: Brownsburg, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2007
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: His father was a drag racer

Background (education/work/racing experience): Attended University of Northwestern Ohio for High Performance Automotive and has worked for Jim Head Racing, Hartman Racing, Cruz Pedregon Racing, and Cory Mac

Team Responsibilities: Bottom end and short blocks

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: the opportunity to work with the state of the art cars and equipment and traveling the country

Career Highlights: winning Indy with Robert, winning the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship in 2009

Favorite Track/Race: Reading and Bristol

Hobbies/Interests: bowling, skiing, riding motorcycles, dirt bikes, spending time with his family

Zak Seedroff

Nickname (If any) Seeds
Birthdate: 02/28/1978
Hometown: Littleton, CO
Current Residence: Centennial, CO
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2001
Which Team (s): John Force (Castrol GTX)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He was first introduced to the Peek Brothers in 1998 by his mother and started working for them shortly after.

Background (education/work/racing experience): After graduating from high school, he began to enjoy working on cars at Sears Auto Center. He took some time off of working on cars to frame houses for a couple of years. While he was away from the car industry, he realized he wanted to get back into working on cars, but this time around he wanted to work on race cars. He started working at Peek Brothers Racing in 1998. He also worked at Ralph White Racing, Don Schumacher Racing, and Rusport Racing (Indy car team). During his time here at JFR he has worked on almost all of the Team Force cars: John Force, Tony Pedregon, Mike Neff, Robert Hight, Ashley Force, Courtney Force, Brittany Force and Eric Medlen.

Team Responsibilities: Racks, Manifolds and Clutch Assistant

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: getting to meet new people, traveling, and working with some of the best people

Career Highlights: 2 world championships (2003 and 2006), doing bottom end of Eric Medlen’s car for 1st ever win (Brainerd, MN) in 2003,

Favorite Track/Race: Indianapolis and Brainerd

Hobbies/Interests: motocross, boating, jet skiing, hanging out with friends


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