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Sat, 29 Sep 2007, 10:54 AM

Force won't Race at Richmond, but Vows to be there for the Team
Courtesy of Dave Densmore

DALLAS -- Five days after the spectacular crash that landed him in Baylor University Medical Center, John Force again credited fallen teammate Eric Medlen with saving him from more serious injuries.

Force's crash last Sunday at the Texas Motorplex was eerily similar to the one in which Medlen suffered fatal head injuries in a testing accident last March at Gainesville, Fla. In both instances, for whatever reason, a tire failed, setting up a chain reaction that culminated in a chassis failure.

In last Sunday's incident, which occurred in the second round of the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals, Force's Ford Mustang broke in two with the front half veering across the center line where it collided with the Dodge of Kenny Bernstein. The other half of the car, with Force still strapped inside, his legs exposed, came to a stop against the left guardwall.

"The work we've already done through The Eric Medlen Project saved my head," Force said. "I'm all broken up in my arms and legs, but my head's fine, my back and neck are fine. That was what really excited John Medlen (who heads up the John Force Racing, Inc., safety initiative begun after his son's death)."

Nevertheless, with his family around him, including oldest daughter Adria Hight, who flew in Thursday night with his youngest daughters, Brittany, 21, and Courtney, 19, Force acknowledged Friday that the rehabilitation process is going to be long and arduous.

To underscore that reality, doctors concerned with swelling in his right foot Friday ordered additional X-rays that may identify yet another break.

The bigger right leg problem for the 58-year-old drag racing icon is the deep laceration to the right knee, a knee weakened by childhood polio and injured 18 years ago in a fall. Unfortunately, that's the foot with which the 14-time series champion mashes the gas pedal on the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.

Beginning to recover from the effects of anesthesia and pain medication, the 125-time tour winner acknowledged for the first time Friday that he won't be able to drive next week in the TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals at Richmond, Va.

He is withholding judgement on his status for the last two races of the season until he consults next week with Dr. Terry Trammell, a noted orthopedic surgeon who specializes in motor racing injuries. It was Trammell who repaired three-time former NHRA champion Shirley Muldowney's badly mangled legs and got her back into a Top Fuel dragster following her accident at Montreal in 1984. She returned to the winners' circle at Phoenix in 1989.

"I couldn't have wound up in a better place than Baylor," Force said. "The doctors and nurses have been great to me and my family and I'll always be grateful for that, but I'm a race car driver and I need to talk to someone that understands racing. That's why we're going to Indy."

As originally diagnosed, Force's injuries included a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken and mangled fingers on his right hand, a deep laceration in his right knee and a severely dislocated left wrist.

"As soon as they release me, my game plan is to go to Indy to get updates from all my crew chiefs - Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, Jimmy Prock, Dean Antonelli and John Medlen - on the changes we've made to our race cars," Force said.

"After that, I'm going to meet with the doctors (Dr. Trammell has offices in Indianapolis) and see about getting me back in my race car.

"I want to thank all the fans," Force said. "I know a lot of them wanted to come by (the hospital) to see me, but right now I just need to focus on getting my strength back. I'll be in Richmond, but I just won't be racing.

"I want to wish everyone good luck in the Countdown. I'll be rooting for Robert Hight, my son-in-law, but I want everyone just to be safe. I've seen all the footage (from the crash) and I don't want anyone else to go through this. I'm really proud of John Medlen and what he and his team are doing to make these cars better. We've done some good work protecting the head. Now we need to focus on protecting the arms and legs."

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