NHRA Legend John Force \u2018Embarrassed\u2019 over Extended Absence from Series

After taking advantage of the March 5-7 PRO Winter Warm-Up at West Palm Beach, Florida, to become reacquainted with their cars during a year-long layoff, NHRA’s John Force Racing will be back in competition—with three-fourths of its 2020 team.

Force announced Tuesday he will rejoin the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series with a three-car team. Missing is Top Fueler Austin Prock, the NHRA’s 2019 Rookie of the Year.

Sixteen-time Funny Car champion and 151-time winner Force said he could not promise Prock a ride. Set to open the 22-race season March 11-14 at Gainesville, Fla., will be Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Brittany Force (Top Fuel).

“I was embarrassed that I wasn’t out there,” Force told Autoweek of his and his team’s hiatus since the NHRA suspended the season last March. “But I couldn’t make it financially.”

His team missed the final nine races of the 2020 season, while Force was silent about his plans until this week.

“You look at what you offer sponsors in a contract and you owe (them) to take care of them. And even though they’re sayin’, ‘Let’s go racin’, everything’ll be OK,’ you have to look at if it don’t go the way we’re hoping it goes and you don’t do them races, you’re going to owe this money back,” he said, explaining his decision to sit out the rest of the year after competing at the first two events.

“I didn’t take a stimulus. I told the sponsors, ‘We need to talk about it.’ But a lot of them couldn’t activate. The crowds weren’t there. We knew that we were already missing races. And I said, ‘Other people are racing, but I’m afraid to breach contract,’” Force said. “We all looked at it, and financially it only made sense to move it to next year (2021). I made the call, with help from Robert, but I made the call.”

Hight, the three-time Funny Car champion in the Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro, also is president of John Force Racing.

Force said people surely will wonder why he sat out the remainder of the 2020 season but is returning even though the pandemic still is at the forefront of the daily news. He readily offered, “Because I got my shots. I got my shot [first coronavirus vaccination] three weeks ago. I go (Wednesday) to get my second.”

Others wondered if he might have sneaked into a race incognito during his self-imposed exile, but he said he remained at home at Yorba Linda, Calif.

“I’m 71 years old. I needed to stay healthy,” Force said. “But that isn’t the reason we didn’t go back.”

He recognized that NHRA drag racing continued without his presence or the participation of his team members. He said that didn’t disturb him.

“Nobody’s an island. Nobody makes a sport,” he said. “Everybody gets replaced. I’ll be replaced, if I haven’t been replaced already. The sport will make it.

“I know that I will retire one day, but the sponsors want to keep me in the sport,” Force said. And I want to stay in the sport and help the sport. I owe this sport. I don’t want to quit racin’, even if it’s not full time.”

The 71-year-old drag-racing icon indicated he will spend at least two more years behind the wheel but said he hopes for more beyond that. His crew chief will remain son-in-law Dan Hood, who will share the job with Tim Fabrisi, the team’s longtime car chief.

Force said he has trimmed down both himself and his operation. Now 25 pounds lighter, thanks to a special diet and hours in the gym every week, Force whittled his staff from about 100 employees to 50. “And I won’t go back to 100,” he said. Moreover, his assets—which expanded to include a spectrum of in-house specialty divisions for chassis, parts, and paint—are leaner, as well.

“We’ve had to scale back in every department but where we can still race,” he said. “That is why we came, to race. And we’re going to go after it with those three cars and try to get our fourth one back and see where it goes. I don’t know. I might end up with two cars one day.”

Force said he’s excited about Camping World’s entry into drag racing. He hasn’t met Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis but said he’s “looking forward to working with Camping World and can’t wait to see where the sport goes with them on board. I don’t know the man. I hear he’s brilliant. I hear he’s motivated. He watches his dollars. He don’t buy something unless it’s good and it makes sense to him. I won’t kiss him when I see him, but I’m going to tell him I love him.”

Hight’s crew chiefs will be Jimmy Prock, father of Austin Prock, and Chris Cunningham. Hight said, “I’m happy to be continuing John Force Racing’s over-20-year partnership with AAA and ultimately going after another championship.”

David Grubnic and Mac Savage will continue to tune 2017 Top Fuel champion Brittany Force’s Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac Dragster. The two sponsors will split the season as primary partners on the car that has set the national elapsed time and speed records.

“This year I’m really looking forward to racing in Seattle with Frank Tiegs and Flav-R-Pac as the title sponsor,” Brittany Force said.

PEAK / BlueDEF is John Force’s primary sponsor again for his Chevy Camaro Funny Car. He brings back his organization’s full roster of sponsors, including Chevrolet, Cornwell Tools, Montana Brand, Parker Store, Baldwin Filters, Gates Belts, Weld Racing, Simpson Race Products, and Goodyear.

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