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An American Sports Dynasty

By any measure, John Force Racing’s domination of Funny Car drag racing over the last quarter century is unparalleled.  Entering the 2016 season, JFR drivers had won more than 40 percent of all the events contested in the NHRA’s Mello Yello Series (241 of 602) in the 25 years since John Force won the first of his team’s record 18 championships.

In 2015 Force went back to his roots rejoining his first manufacturer Chevrolet to campaign three Chevy Camaro SS Funny Cars. The new manufacturer will be joining PEAK Anti-freeze, Auto Club, Traxxas, Monster Energy, Lucas Oil, and Mac Tools as the primary backers of the most dominant motorsports dynasty of the last quarter century.  

Moreover, after dipping a toe into the Top Fuel waters three years ago, JFR is ready to dive straight into the championship chase this season with the 2013 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, Brittany Force, at the controls of the 10,000 horsepower Monster Energy dragster. In a bold pre-season move Force hired Alan Johnson and Brian Husen to oversee and crew chief the Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster.

In three seasons the team has raced to six final rounds, four No. 1 qualifiers and landed in the Top Ten in the Mello Yello point standings at the end of the season for the second consecutive year. Nevertheless, despite the excitement generated by the first JFR Top Fuel dragster, the team won’t stray far from its bread-and-butter.

John Force, who won his 16th series title in 2013, leads a three-car effort in a Funny Car class in which the team has won at least four tour events in each of the last 25 NHRA seasons.   Force will be joined by son-in-law Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Chevy Camaro SS, and youngest daughter Courtney, who for the fifth season will be at the wheel of the Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS.

Overall, JFR has won more series championships than the professional team most pundits consider to be the No. 1 dynasty of all time, the Boston Celtics of the NBA.  The difference is that it took Boston 54 years to accumulate all its hardware; JFR has done it in just 25.

By sheer numbers, the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball and the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League are the unchallenged leaders with 27 and 22 world titles, respectively.  However, for the Yankees, the span from first championship to most recent was 89 years; for the Canadiens, it was 83. 

In auto racing, much has been made of Hendrick Motorsports and its 11 NASCAR championships.  Nevertheless, while 11 is an impressive number, it pales in comparison to the 12 championships JFR drivers won in SUCCESSION from 1993 through 2004.  Jimmie Johnson’s five straight Sprint Cup championships?  Noteworthy, for sure, but not so much when you factor in the 10 straight Funny Car titles Force won from 1993 through 2002.

In fact, JFR’s championship total exceeds that of any other motor racing team including Ferrari (15 driver titles in Formula 1), Karl Kinser Racing (16 World of Outlaws titles), Don Schumacher Racing (14 NHRA championships in Top Fuel and Funny Car) Richard Childress Racing (seven NASCAR titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr.) and Petty Enterprises (also with seven titles in NASCAR’s principal series). 

That record is the more remarkable because of the fact that the team had to literally re-invent itself following a catastrophic 2007 season that claimed the life of rising JFR star Eric Medlen in a testing accident and almost ended Force’s own driving career in a 300 mile-an-hour crash at Dallas, Texas.

Faced with the realization that there had not been a major change in the design of the basic Funny Car chassis since the 1970s, the JFR crew chiefs, aided by Ford engineers and chassis designer Murf McKinney, completely re-tooled the frame to insure greater structural support while also enhancing the “cocoon” around the driver.

If that task wasn’t sufficiently daunting, at about the same time, Force’s mechanical “brain trust” began developing its own nitro motor, which now powers every vehicle in JFR’s Chevrolet Funny Car fleet.

The Funny Car juggernaut that has dominated the NHRA series for more than two decades owes its resilience to a strict adherence to the motto that appears on one of its most popular T-shirts: “Never Give Up; Never Back Down; Never Lose Faith.”
While Force’s individual contributions have been significant, two other drivers have won championships for the team that now races maintains all of its vehicle in the 180,000 square foot Brownsburg shop that houses The Eric Medlen Project. 

Tony Pedregon won the 2003 NHRA Funny Car title in a JFR Funny Car and Robert “Top Gun” Hight prevailed in 2009 in another JFR Ford sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California.  In addition, five other drivers including Courtney, the 2012 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, have contributed to the JFR victory total.

In addition to Force’s NHRA record 143 victories, Hight’s 36 and Pedregon’s 27, Gary Densham won eight races, Mike Neff 10, Courtney Force seven, Medlen six, and Ashley Force Hood four.

The only driver to have won two or more races in each of his first eleven pro seasons, Hight claimed the 2009 series championship with a dramatic worst-to-first drive that made him the first and only driver in any class to win from the tenth, and final, starting position in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs.

Even though Force will turn 67 this year, there is no indication that the team he created is losing any of its traction.  That’s because, over the last several seasons, more-and-more attention has been focused on a new generation of drivers and mechanics charged with the responsibility of keeping the team in the Mello Yello winners’ circle not just for years, but for decades to come.

“It’s the changing of the guard,” Force said.  “I know I can’t go on forever and I want this team to continue to compete at the same high level in the future.”

Nevertheless, while the focus is the future, the present doesn’t look that bad, either.  Over the last ten seasons, five different JFR drivers have earned the Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award that designates the NHRA tour Rookie-of-the-Year.

That, too, is the stuff of dynasties.




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