POMONA, Calif. – John Force put the band back together. That could mean the blues for his Funny Car brothers.
Force brought three former John Force Racing team members back for 2012, improving his “brain trust.” And what does Force do the first race out? He wins the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Force joined Top Fuel’s Spencer Massey and Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson as the winners in NHRA’s season-opener.
Force beat teammate Mike Neff on a holeshot in the finals to secure his 134th career victory – but his first win since Denver last year.
“We got the group back the way it used to think, the way it used to function,” Force said. “We’ll just see what happens to it. But a good start.”
Force brought back Dickie Venables and Danny DeGennaro to work on daughter Brittany’s dragster, but that also allowed Force to concentrate on his own car. Then, former Force team crew chief John Medlen returned late last month. Medlen’s son Eric was killed while testing a JFR car in 2007, creating a large void in Force’s life.
But John Medlen came back two weeks ago, telling Force, “I want to come home.”
“The thing that really mattered to me was getting right,” Force said. “People left for reasons. I didn’t have a car for John, Dickie Venables left earlier because he wasn’t in line to get his own race car. I’m getting back, I’m filling a hole in me. …
“Robert (Hight) and I sat over the winter with the guys who were missing: ‘Get the people back so we can focus.’”
Force was clearly focused Sunday, taking out Alexis De Joria, Tim Wilkerson and Gary Densham before squaring off against Neff in the finals.
“I said, ‘What are we going to do Guido?’” Force asked crew chief Dean Antonelli before the finals. “He said, ‘We can’t race him the way we are. We’re going to have to go after it, and if it smokes the tires, we go home.’ It wasn’t quick enough to beat him, but he was late, and we got the win.”
Neff was asleep at the lights, as Force gained a huge advantage at the starting line, .067 seconds to Neff’s .175 light. Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang made a pass of 4.080 seconds at 315.64, beating Neff’s quicker run of 4.036 at 316.82 mph.
“I went after him,” Force said. “He said something distracted him. He goes, ‘Did your motor come up?’ I said no.”
Massey was simply dominant Sunday in Don Schumacher Racing’s Prestone Top Fuel dragster. He was low of the round (3.782 seconds at 325.53) in the opening matchup against Steve Faria and second-low of the second round (3.776 at 326.79 mph) in beating Clay Millican.
But that was just a start.
“After second round, we didn’t have any data on the computer,” Massey said. “(Crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler) and Todd (Okuhara) tuned that thing like it was an old Top Fuel car from 1968. They looked at the plugs and the bearings, and it went a .74 at 328 mph.”
Massey’s run of 3.745 seconds at 328.62 mph was the second-quickest pass in Top Fuel history, as well as the fastest Top Fuel run ever.
In the finals, he out-ran teammate Antron Brown with a run of 3.750 seconds at 325.77 mph, beating Brown’s 3.794 at 320.43 mph.
Not a bad way to start the season after falling short of the 2011 title.
“It makes you that much more hungry, that much more motivated to want to win a championship,” Massey said. “This winter, we all sat around and focused and acted like it was not an off-season. We put that new race car together, went and tested, and the car ran very well. We came here, and it shows. It shows these guys know what it takes to get the car down the race track.”
Anderson’s Summit Racing team knows how to get down the track, too, winning for the 71st time and the fifth time at the Winternationals. After beating teammate Jason Line in the semifinals, Anderson turned back Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the finals with a pass of 6.549 seconds at 210.87 mph. Coughlin was returning to the sport after a year off and rallied from the 14th qualifying position to a spot in the finals.
“The outcome was great,” Anderson said. “If you want to be greedy, I didn’t qualify where I need to qualify. I like to qualify on the opposite side of the ladder from Jason. We qualified fifth and ended up having to race (Line) in the semifinals. That’s the only bummer of the weekend.
“It seemed like we had the two strongest cars today, and they had to tangle in the semifinals. … We closed the door. We stopped that big yellow Mopar that came flying right back into the scene.”
Listen for Rob Geiger’s Phoenix preview on the Saturday, February 18, 2012 In Wheel Time radio show at 7:30 AM or visit www.Go2Geiger.com. – Don