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Thu, 27 Sep 2007, 01:30 AM

Force Still Hospitalized but Vows to Return Before Season's End
Courtesy of Dave Densmore
Photo copyright 2007 NHRA


John Force
Disputing suggestions that his 2007 season might be over following a spectacular crash last Sunday at Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex, drag racing icon John Force worked through physical therapy Wednesday at Baylor University Medical Center while his crew chiefs pondered their options for next week's TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals at Richmond, Va.

Seriously injured Sunday when his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang broke in two at the end of a second round match with the Dodge Charger of Kenny Bernstein, Force endured another strenuous physical therapy session Wednesday in the hope of speeding his release.

Meanwhile, co-crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, with input from fellow crew chiefs Jimmy Prock, Dean "Guido" Antonelli and John Medlen, were examining video of the accident in the hope of providing Force with enough information to determine how many cars he might send to Richmond.

"The crew chiefs are looking for what happened," Force said. "Was it a tire issue? Was it a chassis issue? What happened, first, and then, why did it happen? We have to know those answers before we make any decisions.

"But, bottom line, the things we've done, safety-wise, since Eric's accident (teammate Eric Medlen succumbed last March to injuries suffered in a testing accident in Florida), are working. My neck and head were fine. Bernstein's neck and head were fine. Eric saved some lives out there and now we need to move ahead to address other issues."

Although the 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion reluctantly admitted that he might not be able to drive as early as next week, he vowed to be back for the last two events in the NHRA POWERade Series - the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals, Oct. 25-28, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the Auto Club Finals, Nov. 1-4, at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif,.).

"I need to get back out there to help Robert (son-in-law and teammate Robert Hight)," Force said. "He's got a shot at this championship. I did, too, right up until the tire let go."

Fortunately for Force, the tire blew, for reasons as yet unknown, at the end of the run, just as he was deploying the parachutes. When the chutes hit, the car pulled apart with the front half accelerating forward into Bernstein's lane and the back half coming to rest, with Force still strapped inside, against the left side guardwall. Force's injuries included a compound fracture of the left ankle but the veteran never lost consciousness.

Force's victory over Bernstein moved him back into the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, but he'll drop out of the final four if either of the three drivers immediately behind him - Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi or Mike Ashley - is simply able to make a qualifying attempt next week at Virginia Motorsports Park.

As a result, the 125-time tour winner was left to ponder what might have been Wednesday while visiting with sponsors and well-wishers. His visitors included Ford Racing boss Dan Davis, Automobile Club of Southern California president Tom McKernan and Bob Lawrence, CEO of BrandSource, Inc.

He took a phone call from NASCAR legend and TV analyst Darrell Waltrip, who was with a group of NEXTEL Cup drivers visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and welcomed "Lone Star J.R.," Johnny Rutherford, who stopped by to offer words of encouragement as three-time former NHRA Funny Car Champion Raymond Beadle, owner of the car in which Rusty Wallace won his only NASCAR championship, did on Tuesday.

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