UPDATED: TOP FUEL CHAMP FORCE MENDING FROM VIOLENT FIRST-ROUND CRASH AT POMONA
No. 2 qualifier Brittany Force found out the brutally hard way Sunday that an 11,000-horsepower, nitromethane-powered Top Fuel dragster is no respecter of newly crowned champions.
A violent, wall-tagging crash that sent her to a local hospital for evaluation triggered a rash of engine explosions and accidents that marred the first round of nitro eliminations at the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.
Her Monster Energy Dragster hit both guard walls at about 150 mph during her race against Terry Haddock in a spectacularly scary first round of eliminations at Auto Club Raceway.
Force was conscious, alert, and responsive when the Safety Safari emergency personnel reached her, and she exited the dragster. She was transported to a local hospital for evaluation – just as her Funny Car icon father John Force had been Friday afternoon when he experienced an engine explosion.
A preliminary report from the John Force Racing team was that Brittany Force doesn’t have any head injuries but was complaining of a sore left shoulder.
A later update from JFR said the 33-year-old driver had “no major internal injuries but does have some bruising of the lungs. A CT scan was negative and the MRI showed subtle findings, likely from previous injuries. She was admitted overnight for observation simply as a precaution.”
Force’s dragster smoked the tires shortly after the launch. When she got back on the throttle, the car hurtled across the track from the right lane to the left in front of Haddock, who also had traction problems. Her car flew toward the left wall and made jarring lateral contact with the left rear portion. It ricocheted off the wall and spun on the ground toward the right wall. It turned on its side, and the rear wing and nose of the car took the brunt of that second impact. It trailed fire as it returned upright and finally came to a rest past the finish line.
John Force said that just as with his Friday-night incident, her Simpson safety gear, including her Steilo Helmet, R3 head-and-neck restraint, fire suit, neck collar, and belts kept her conscious and securely strapped into her seat under the canopy.
“You look at how these cars evolved over 40-50 years. We made a lot of changes after the loss of Eric (Medlen, former JFR driver who lost his life in a 2007 testing accident). A lot came out of that. Building better chassis, safer. Want to thank Simpson safety for building helmets, equipment and everything to keep our drivers safe, “John Force said late Sunday afternoon in a prepared statement.
“The car giving way when it hit the wall head-on allowed it to take the impact and fold up [as it was designed to do],” he said. “I want to thank Schumacher Racing for creating the canopy. When the car was upside down, you know that protects the driver’s head. Want to personally thank Don Schumacher for his investment. Very important. Thanks, Don.
“Safety Safari was right on top of it, as always. That’s why they’re the best in the business. Finally, John Medlen was one of the first to come to me and wanted to know if she was OK. I didn’t have an answer at the time. But he’s lived it. He knows what all of us go through: owners, friends, parents and sponsors. End of the day, we keep addressing it to get it better.”
Steve Torrence, who was runner-up to Force by 81 points here last November, said after winning the next pairing, “Thoughts and prayers go out to Brittany Force. I’ve been there. I hope she’s OK.”
In the pairing after Torrence’s, the engine on Doug Kalitta’s Mac Tools Dragster detonated and obliterated the front of the supercharger. He won against tire-smoking teammate Richie Crampton and went on to reach the final round against Tony Schumacher.
“So much for that injector. We made it to 800 feet and it smoked the tires. I stayed with it. We’re out there to win this race,” Kalitta said.
Antron Brown closed the Top Fuel round with a blown engine, too, but the Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota Dragster driver won against Mike Salinas, whose ruptured fuel line kept him from giving Brown a strong challenge.
The Funny Car class started with more of the same. Ron Capps was a 4.833-second winner over Shawn Langdon in the first pairing, but the engine on his NAPA Dodge Charger let go.