POMONA – John Force, the old bull of drag racing and the sport’s biggest name, was involved in a horrific crash during qualifying Saturday at the 63rd Winternationals at the In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip.
In the day’s first Funny Car qualifying run, Force, starting in the right lane, was paired against J.R. Todd. Force lost control of the dragster right away and wildly circled around Todd’s car while banging into it several times.
After crossing the finish line, Force crashed hard into the concrete protective wall on the right side of the track, demolishing the car. Force, who turns 74 on May 4, soon got out of the car, dusted himself off, and took a few deep breaths before hopping on his scooter and heading for his pit.
After talking to crew chiefs Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi, Force was soon back at the starting line to watch John Force Racing’s Robert Hight make his first qualifying run. Meanwhile, the crew got a spare car ready for Force to make the second of the two qualifying runs held Saturday. Todd also made his second qualifying run in a backup car.
Might this be the end of Force’s amazing run as a Funny Car driver? His immediate reaction was no. But he did offer his perspective on the crash.
“It got squirrely out there, but it’s been doing that since the beginning of the season, and we think we know why,” he said. “Driving right, left, right left, I can do that, I do that all the time, trying to keep it straight.
“When it hit a bump, it blew the tires off, and it made a left turn into the other lane. I thought I just got (Todd’s) headers (exhaust pipes).” He got more than that. “Then I hit the wall hard. I’m okay, but more importantly, J.R. Todd is okay.”
Force added he would have to re-evaluate everything after studying the video.
Todd said he was anxious to see the video too.
It was a WILD ride for @JohnForce_FC and @JRTodd373 during qualifying at the @Lucas_Oil #Winternats.
Both exited the car under their own power. pic.twitter.com/AbBeTsfyJw
— NHRA (@NHRA) April 1, 2023
“At first I thought maybe he just got into my chutes or something,” Todd said, “but next thing I know I see him on my left side and we’re in the left lane. You’re not supposed to be there.
“After that, just sort of hanging on and steering away from him, steering away from the wall, and trying to get on the brake to get the thing stopped. But when the chutes are tangled up like that, you’re just along for the ride.”
Todd was driving a new car and hopes it can be repaired in time for Sunday’s elimination finals.
Force has been in too many crashes to count. He had a similar one in 2018 at Phoenix. His worst was in Dallas in September of 2007. He suffered a compound fracture of his left ankle, a broken wrist, cuts in lots of places and broken fingers. With blood everywhere, he was airlifted to a nearby hospital.
At one point, he was told he may never walk again. He was in a wheelchair for weeks and later on crutches. But it is hard to keep the longtime Yorba Linda resident down.
When Force first began racing in 1977, he went 10 years without winning. Since then, he has won 20 Funny Car national championships. And he has had great success as a team owner as well. His drivers include daughter Brittany Force and Austin Prock in Top Fuel and Hight in Funny Car.
Before a good crowd that filled the east grandstands, the rest of Saturday’s qualifying went pretty much problem free.
Qualifying No. 1 in Top Fuel was Justin Ashley, the defending Winternationals champion and the event winner at Phoenix last weekend. Ashley also won the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, a new feature intended to beef up interest during Saturday qualifying. The competitors are the four semifinalists from the previous week’s event.
Seeded second for today’s Top Fuel elimination finals is Brittany Force, who had the top qualifying run on Friday.
In Funny Car, Cruz Pedregon’s run on Friday stood up and he goes into today’s finals seeded No. 1. Chad Green won the Funny Car challenge event.
This story will be updated.