Date published: February 25, 2011
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Sometimes, it almost feels like one needs a translator to figure out what John Force is saying, a role that is easily filled by his daughters. "He's going to hate me for telling you this," said his youngest daughter, Courtney, "but at a restaurant, it's just a nightmare. Him ordering food just goes on forever. [He'll ask] 'What's that thing? It kind of crumbles when you hold it.' And it's like, 'What are you talking about?' He's like, 'You know the things,' and we're like, 'Are you talking about a muffin?' And he's like, 'Yeah, like, a muffin. One of those. Is that what I'm talking about?' And we're like, 'Oh my gosh, Dad. You know what a muffin is.' I don't know if he just says dumb things or what it is, but it's pretty entertaining. But we know what he's talking about, and I have to order to the waitress, 'He wants this.' "
Force took his 2010 Funny Car championship trophy to Ford during a recent meeting of the company's top 300 executives. Force, along with fellow Ford Funny Car drivers Robert Hight and Bob Tasca III, also spoke during the event, telling the leadership team how the combined effort of all the Blue Oval teams helped secure the championship for him and Ford.
His team calls him a "starting-line assassin," but even quick-reacting Shawn Langdon needs time to get up to speed. "The first couple days of testing are all about getting back into the groove," he admitted. "In the winter, you get into a slow-pace mentality of relaxing around the shop, so it's great to test and come out of hibernation. My first couple of lights were in the mid- to high .050s. Last year, I averaged a .052 [to lead the class]. I got it down to .042 to .049. I'm also looking at other ways to help my reaction times with different foot positions and different visors and things."
Morgan Lucas, driver of the GEICO Top Fuel dragster, says there's nothing prettier at a test session than an open parachute because an open chute means a clean, full run, and he saw plenty this year. "In all my times testing a Top Fueler or Top Alcohol Dragster, I've never opened the chutes on every run until now," said Lucas, who recorded a 3.81 best. "It's refreshing, it's exciting, and it makes me look so forward to this season."
Even without a trophy on the line, Jack Beckman and his Valvoline team were in serious test mode in the course of making 16 passes. "We're testing for a piece of paper," Beckman explained. "What you want to know is, 'Did all your educated guesses add up and give you the time slip that makes a lot of sense?' It doesn't count, we don't get points for the work here, we don't get first-round lane choice for this, but these laps matter because if we did our homework correctly, it shows up on the racetrack."
Beckman's crew chief, Rahn Tobler, spent the off-season refining the Funny Car that brought Beckman a fourth-place finish in 2010. "You always try to make the car lighter," Tobler said. "We took 75 pounds out of the car, which was 45 pounds overweight, which means we have 30 pounds to work with this season. This allowed us to move some center-of-gravity components around, and it means we will be able to compensate for different bodies. Our two bodies differ by 14 pounds. Having those 30 pounds to work with will be crucial in balancing out the car, regardless of the body."
Ron Capps and the NAPA Auto Parts team made 19 runs in two cars in testing, first with their 2010 car and then a new one based around a newconcept DSR-designed chassis. After runs of 4.08 and 4.11 to ensure having a car for Pomona, the older car went on the trailer and the new one rolled out. "This car is really unique, with design features never seen in the Funny Car class before," Capps said. "But, of course, I can't talk about them and possibly help the folks we are trying to beat."
Initially, Capps was uncomfortable in the new car. "It's like the old chair in front of the TV," he explained. "You get a new one, and you're not used to it, but after spending some time in it, everything feels right. Just ask any driver; they'd say the same thing about going into a new car from one they have been driving for a while."
Funny Car's Tim Wilkerson has approached the new season in typical fashion. "There have been a few times in our history where the boss went out and spent a bunch of money he probably shouldn't have, but those times are really pretty rare," said Wilkerson, referring to himself. "Once we get back to the shop at the end of the season and get our sponsorship stuff squared away for the next year, we know what we have to work with and we know what works best for us. We've never been a big preseason testing team, unless we have so much new junk we feel like we have to make sure it all works and doesn't blow up on us."
Terry McMillen's Amalie Oil/UNOH Top Fuel team won the NHRA Full Throttle Hard-Working Crew Award two times last season, and the crew parlayed those winnings into a cruise to the Bahamas at the beginning of the year. During the four-night, three-day cruise, McMillen and his crewmembers participated in a number of activities, including snorkeling, jet skiing, and swimming with dolphins.
Del Worsham, who will drive a second Al-Anabi Top Fuel dragster in 2011 after driving the team's Funny Car for two years, summed up his 2010 season this way: "It wasn't a bad year, but I don't think any of us thought we did as well as we should have, especially when you look at how well the dragster did." The dragster, driven by Larry Dixon, won 12 races and the championship. Worsham didn't win a race and finished sixth.
Grant Downing is stringent about not working on the race cars he drives during normal business hours. Piloting the Worsham Racing Funny Car in Pomona, the talented fabricator spends most of his 9 to 5 hours at their Orange, Calif., shop mounting bodies and building chassis for both modern and Nostalgia Funny Car teams. Reached late one afternoon, Downing said, "I'm elbow deep in fiberglass at the moment. I'm mounting a nostalgia body that will be running at the March Meet, and I'm excited about helping get the big car ready for Pomona tonight."
Funny Car fans from the late 1980s/early 1990s might remember seeing the young twin daughters of 1992 Pomona winners Jim and Susan Epler whirling around the pits in their battery-powered Barbie Corvettes. Guess what? They're 23 now. Megan has three kids with a fourth due in June, and Mandy graduated from UCLA in 2009 and is an investment analyst for Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles. Feeling old yet?
Glenn Menard, former track manager for many top NHRA facilities, called on his drag racing experience in his new role as director of operations of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee to remove snow from the auxiliary parking lots at Six Flags Over Texas and Arlington Stadium before The Big Game. "Since snow-removal equipment really does not exist here, we decided jet dryers were the only way to quickly remove snow," he said. "We got three jet dryers from Texas Motor Speedway and used them Saturday to dry the lots for Sunday's game. We burned 1,300 gallons of jet fuel."