NHRA: John Force Racing Rolling into Southern Nationals

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

2015 was a transitional year for John Force Racing. The switch to Chevrolet and sponsor turnover led to a step back for the team. Some key offseason additions has JFR back on top heading to Atlanta.

With only four event wins in 2015 and without a driver in the top five in the standings at seasons end, John Force knew he needed to make some changes to get back into contention for 2016. his first season in his new Chevrolets had gone well, but not what has come to be expected by this legendary team.

The first team to see a major addition was Brittany Force’s Monster Energy Top Fuel team. Force brought on the legendary Alan Johnson to lead the struggling team. Johnson not only brought his knowledge, but equipment and technology from his shuttered team. He was brought on just weeks before the season opening Winternationals in Pomona leaving little time for transition.

The results from the Johnson addition came surprisingly fast. A final appearance in the second race of the season and Brittany’s first Wally at the next event in Gainesville. They did not stop there, they were able to get their second national event win in Charlotte at the Four Wide Nationals propelling her into first place in the points standings.

This Monster Energy Top Fuel team is heading into Atlanta for the Summit Racing Southern Nationals with a full head of steam. When they unloaded last year there was a question on how this team would perform. In 2016 this team is a favorite whenever they pull into the staging lanes.

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On the Funny Car side, where the sixteen time champion leads the team, they struggled to be competitive week to week in 2015. Between the three teams there were able to bring 4 Wally’s home, but they we not able to win rounds every week to stay in the points. Robert Height led the Force team only able to place sixth in the season ending points.

During the off season John brought Alan Johnson to take control of the Top Fuel side. That allowed John to focus more on getting the Funny Car side of the shop back on track. Just days before the Winternationals, a familiar face returned to John Force racing. Longtime Crew Chief Austin Coil came back to JFR without an official title in an advisory role.

John Force fans will remember the Force Coil combination ended poorly and ugly. One season removed from helping John Force win his fifteenth championship, a disappointing and winless 2009 season, in combination with the economy falling off the cliff led to major changes at JFR. Those did not sit well with Austin and that led to disagreements with Force that ultimately ended with him leaving his drag racing home.

That brings us to 2016, and now JFR was struggling  bit and Coil returns to provide another voice to the team with decades of experience. The end of John Force’s racing career is fast approaching, so seeing the relationship between these two legends in the sport rekindle is a great sight to see. A heartfelt Facebook post by John Force in March underscores how close the two were.

On the track the season started in Pomona with two Force teams in the semi finals and winning rounds. They moved onto Phoenix and John Force made it to the final round. So the foundation was being set for improvements in 2016. Fans of the team could see the spring in the step of John that seemed to be missing in 2015.

When the NHRA hit Gainesville JFR was hitting on all cylinders and it showed. Brittany roared through the Top Fuel Field for her first career win as Robert Hight did the same in Funny Car. What a weekend for John Force, standing on the stage at the end of Sunday with his team on top in two divisions. The hard work and off season decisions paying off for John Force racing.

After three events all three JFR Funny Car teams were in the top six in points with Courtney quietly winning rounds without a finals win. John was able to advance to the semifinal in Vegas to show he was not done yet either. The story of the season for John Force racing at that point though had been the performance of Brittany on the Top Fuel side.

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As the drag racing world arrived in Houston for the Spring Nationals Courtney stepped it up and showed she was going to be a force to deal with in 2016. Her victory over Tim Wilkerson in the finals after a strong weekend from her Traxxas team propelled her into first place in the points standings leaving Texas.

Heading into the Southern Nationals in Atlanta Courtney Force is leading the points with Robert Hight in fourth and John Force in fifth. A dramatic turnaround from 2015, with none of the teams in the top five.

The only person who has any idea how long John Force will be piloting a funny car is John himself. I am sure his decision to step away will be a hard one, but having his teams on top in both nitro divisions has to be one of the goals. As a team owner he must be smiling seeing the Force name at at the top of the standings. As a father he has to be beaming that it is his daughters and the future of John Force Racing.