FORCE CONTINUES TO RECOVER; CONSIDERS ‘TUB’ TO PROTECT DRIVER
DALLAS, Texas, Sept. 30, 2007 – While he is thankful for changes to his race car that protected his head and neck in a spectacular crash last week at the Texas Motorplex, drag racing icon John Force said Sunday that his next goal is to promote the development of a protective “tub” that might help mollify leg and foot injuries like those from which he is recovering at Baylor University Medial Center.
“I had no head injuries, no neck injuries, no back injuries, no bleeding, not a even a Band-Aid on anything but my hands and feet,” Force said, crediting changes to the cockpit that followed the tragic death of teammate Eric Medlen in a testing accident last March at Gainesville, Fla. “The next issue is to put the driver in an Indy Car-type monocoque that protects his legs.
“I wish I could explain it to you, but I don’t fully understand it myself. Bottom line, I’ve got the best people in the world working on it. I’ve got John Medlen, Eric’s dad, who heads up the Eric Medlen Project. I’ve got 15 Ford engineers, Dr. John Melvin and all the crew chiefs. Every day, they call here and give input to Robert (Hight, Force’s son-in-law and driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang) because I can’t be on the phone with everybody. If I have an hour a day with my people, I’m lucky.
“You know, we did start on a tub three, four months ago when Eric crashed,” Force said, “but we got so busy dealing with cockpit issues – extra padding, the seven-point belt, new head-and-neck restraints – that there just wasn’t time (to complete the project) and that’s why I’m here.”
Force, drag racing’s most prolific winner with 125 NHRA POWERade tour victories and 14 Funny Car championships, suffered a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken toes and a broken bone in his right foot, broken and mangled fingers on his right hand and a dislocated left wrist when his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang suffered a tire failure at 300 miles per hour.
When the tire blew, the chassis came apart with the front half veering into the lane occupied by rival Kenny Bernstein, hitting his Dodge Charger; the back half coming to rest, with Force still strapped inside, against the left guardwall.
Force’s injuries were addressed in six hours of surgery last Sunday night by Dr. Michael Foreman, chief of trauma services at Baylor, orthopedic traumatologist Dr. Alan Jones and orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Zehr, a specialist in hand injuries. The 14-time Auto Racing All-American’s prognosis for a full recovery is excellent.
Dr. Jones, who used three screws to repair Force’s damaged left ankle, also tended to the leg injuries suffered by IRL driver Kenny Brack in his 2003 accident at Texas Motor Speedway.
Once Force is released from Baylor, likely either Monday or Tuesday, he will travel to Indianapolis, Ind., to consult with his crew chiefs about the chassis changes and with Dr. Terry Trammell, an orthopedist specializing in motor racing injuries.
Force’s goal is to travel to Richmond, Va., for this week’s TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals to provide moral support for Hight, who is prominently in contention for the $500,000 POWERade Championship. Nevertheless, he said Sunday that he will abide by whatever Drs. Jones and Trammell believe is best.
“The first car that rolls out (of the McKinney Corporation chassis works) will be Robert’s,” Force said. “The second one was intended to be mine because I really thought that I’d be driving (at Richmond). Now I know that’s not gonna happen. I haven’t given up on driving at Las Vegas or Pomona, but if the docs say no, I’m just going to do what they say so that I’ll be ready for testing in January.
“We’re working with Murf McKinney to get the changes done,” Force said, “but his people are on overload because there are other guys in line to make the same changes. Ashley’s car (the Castrol GTX Ford driven by 24-year-old rookie Ashley Force) is in that line. So is a car for our newest driver, Mike Neff.”
The fix includes the addition of an X-shaped cross member for strength plus additional bracing designed to insure that if there is another such incident, the chassis won’t break at a point that leaves the driver’s legs exposed like Force’s were.
“Safety still is the big issue,” Force said. “I’ll evaluate what they’ve gotten done when I get to Indy. As far as Robert Hight and the championship, he will be our lead car. He will be in Richmond with changes made to his car – all the new stuff that we can possibly put on it.”
Hight, the 2005 winner of the Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award that identifies the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year, presently is second in Funny Car points behind Dallas winner Tony Pedregon.
“You don’t need four Funny Cars to win a championship,” Force said. “We won five championships with one car. We didn’t add a second car until 1996. If Robert has to take this on by himself, there’s no reason why he can’t still win it all. (How many other Fords are in the Richmond field) depends on what the crew chiefs tell me and how much McKinney can get done.”