If only swapping crew chiefs was as simple as it appeared to be in press releases. In the week leading into the NHRA Gatornationals, John Force Racing announced Mike Neff would return to tune for the boss, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force and Jimmy Prock would once again pair with Robert Hight, the driver with whom he tuned to the 2009 championship.
Team President Robert Hight stepped up and offered, “I’m a big baseball fan, and I remember back in the day when Tommy Lasorda was the manager of the (Los Angeles) Dodgers, and you’d see him out there coaching third base,”
Hight continued, “He said, ‘Sometimes, you just have to change things up. When things aren’t working, you change them up.’”
With all due respect, Lasorda didn’t have to deal with the logistics of switching rigs and race cars. And in the game, Lasorda is no John Force.
Force couldn’t explain to enough race fans and anyone who would listen why there was an AAA Auto Club of Southern California trailer accompanying his Peak Funny Car and vice versa.
Force jokes Neff accused him of getting heavy into the wine and getting emotional, thus inspiring the changes.
“This week is the 10th anniversary of Eric Medlen when we lost the young kid, and I walked through the museum there in Brownsburg, and I spent a lot of time looking at pictures, and I just felt things weren’t right,” Force said. “So I called the crew chiefs in, and I said, ‘This is what I want to do to make me feel right, but how does it feel for everybody?’”
The move suits Hight, who didn’t exactly say it but described his relationship with Prock, as on BFF (best friends forever) terms.
“Jimmy and I, I think I was with him for nine seasons, and we were best friends,” Hight said. “There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t talk about the race car and what we were going to do, and it was a lot of fun. He really included me in things, and I’m excited to be back with him; (he’s a) very smart guy. I was really excited when we get him over the winter, got him back in here, because I knew he was going to make all of our teams stronger. When I called the Auto Club and told them we had made the swap, their words were, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool. It’s a reunion.’”
Of course, Force, who races through a mountain of appearances and sponsor commitments with breakneck speed, tackled the logistics of the complex move in much the same manner.
“There’s a lot of work just to get certain things done,” Force explained. “You notice that trailer’s completely turned around to make tear down much easier, it cuts three hours out of the setup and tear down. So, and that’s hard for the guys to have to do this on the weekends, working out here until midnight after racing all week. But then we also had the car swap.
“The biggest problem, people are saying, ‘Why is the Auto Club trailer in John Force’s pit? Why am I working out of it?’ No, we didn’t swap sponsors, I am with Auto Club, all of us are. But, to change those trailers takes days.
“It’s not just engines, and tools, and nuts and bolts, but it’s things, machinery that’s in there that the guy that works out of that trailer runs. So you can’t just swap, make it simplified and move me into Mike Neff’s trailer, and so forth.
“Neff wants to keep his cars, but I had to change the roll cage. We had to make taller roll cages. And Jimmy wanted to keep his cars, so Robert moved into those cars. But they’re also going to make the roll cages taller because it gives the driver more room away from the bell housing. A lot of changes, but a lot of work.”
Just to think, this weekend’s moves were just makeshift. Once the race is over, they will head back to Indianapolis where Graphics Coordinator Brandon Baker will have the trailers rewrapped to properly align with the proper car.
The good part for Force and Hight is they will still be with the same crew.
Force said these changes are enough for now.
“Not touching the dragster and Courtney’s car, they are running just fine,” Force added with a smile.
The move worked well during Friday’s qualifying for both Force and Hight, as the former ended up No. 1 with a 3.839 and the latter at No. 2.
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus