Force Plans For Next Generation
“Neff showed me that he could do double duty two years ago,” Force said. “When John Medlen had to step back for his health, that team never missed a beat with Neff tuning it and driving it. That’s how it used to be, back in the match-race days. You did everything. You financed it, you tuned it, you drove it, and then you drove the truck to the next race. Neff has that mentality. If anybody can wear both hats, it’s him.”
This driver-tuner, who helped lead Gary Scelzi to the 2005 Funny Car championship, was the NHRA’s 2008 Rookie of the Year. He won his most recent event as a driver — the 2009 Auto Club Finals at Pomona — and he won the race and the championship in his last event as a crew chief, at the November 2010 edition of that same event. His 2009 feat made him the first driver in 40 years to win an NHRA national event in an all-Ford Funny Car. He drove a Mustang powered by the JFR-developed BOSS 500 Ford engine.
Calling Hight “a strong leader” who “understands every side of this company — he lives it just like I do every day of the year,”” Force announced his son-in-law as president of JFR. Force’s title will be CEO. Adria Force Hight, Force’s oldest daughter, will remain CFO of the company.
“Robert and my daughter Adria will run this company long after I am gone,” Force said. “Adria has been with this company her whole life. She used to sit in my lap and steer my truck. She had been running the business side with my brother-in-law, David Arritt, for over a decade. At Thanksgiving, [Robert] and I always wind up going off in a corner and talking about business.”
The 18-time Funny Car winner and 2009 champion, will continue to drive the Auto Club Mustang, with Jimmy Prock and Eric Lane leading the crew. Hight began his career at JFR in 1995 as crew member and has been facility manager of the Yorba Linda shop and test driver.
Said Hight, “I have the highest respect for John. He never stops thinking about how to make this company better for everyone — from the crew guys to the crew chiefs to the sponsors to the fans. There is no way I could ever replace him and, trust me he isn’t going anywhere. I am excited to continue learning from him. This is an exciting day for me and Adria.”
Same for the husband-wife team of Antonelli and wife Kelly. He has been instrumental in overseeing and managing the 150,000-square-foot shop at Brownsburg since it opened in 2005.
“I am just making it official. Guido has been running the Brownsburg shop with his wife, Kelly (JFR’s marketing director) for me for a couple of years now,” Force said. “This is about moving the Next Generation of leaders up in my organization. We will still work as a team, but every team needs a leader. Guido used to be the team leader on my Funny Car, and now he has his own team as crew chief. Having him run the Brownsburg shop was a natural fit.”
Antonelli was team leader on Force’s car for 12 seasons and in nine of those seasons Force won the championship. In four seasons as co-crew chief with Ron Douglas to Ashley Force Hood, she posted 16 final rounds, four victories, and 15 No. 1 starts.
“Having John give me this opportunity is a real honor,” Antonelli said. “He is one of the best drivers I have ever seen, and his passion for growing the sport is unmatched. When you look at what he has created in Brownsburg with our shop and The Eric Medlen Project, it is just amazing. My goal is to continue the positive momentum John has started and to build and expand our business model for both our own success and the success of our partners.”
This dynasty that has claimed 17 of the past 21 NHRA Funny Car titles has taken on a curious and dynamic mix of theatre and drag-racing evangelism, as well. Force unveiled Tuesday his “John Force Racing Road Show,” a multiple-trailer caravan that will shadow his racing team throughout the country.
Its purpose is to spread the gospel of NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing at drag-racing events, movie theaters, malls, airports, car shows, and anywhere else Force thinks he can get a crowd and sell the sport with which is hopelessly in love.
“I love this sport, and I want as many people to see my hot rods as possible,” he said. “Last year we added we added a sponsor trailer to help our sponsors like Castrol, Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools and BrandSource activate at the track with us. I want to take it to the next level and activate for my sponsors away from the track in the cities where we are racing.
“I know once fans see my Mustangs and maybe watch a video, they will want to see more,” Force said. “We have a great sport, and NHRA is a great partner. I want to do everything I can so my sponsors, my drivers, and our sport can continue to succeed.
In most instances, the JFR Road Show will set up Wednesday or Thursday and be open free to the public through the race weekend. Just as with a circus, the trailers will load up and leave town Sunday night or early Monday morning.