Force lays out multi-point future plan for JFR
Responding to an unpredictable economy, drag racing icon John Force on Thursday outlined a plan to ensure both the competitive and financial viability of John Force Racing Inc. for years to come. The plan has been a work in progress for more than a year.
The cornerstones of Force’s initiative are a reduction in the number of cars the team will support next season in its bid for an unprecedented 17th NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car world championship, relocation of all JFR racing resources to its Brownsburg, Ind., facility, creation of new revenue streams through production of the BOSS 500 engine and the JFR chassis, and personnel consolidation.
“In this economy,” Force said, “I’m having to reevaluate my programs and my people to create a game plan for the future. It’s all about the Next Generation.
“I have invested with the IMG group, headed by George Pyne, to help look for new sponsorship opportunities, but I also know that I need to ensure that my current sponsors, primarily Castrol, in our 25th year together, Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource, and Mac Tools, are getting more value than they expect. We will continue to hit the media hard and work with them to make sure that our message along with our sponsors’ messages reach the fans.”
Whereas JFR has fielded four Ford Funny Cars the last three seasons, Force said he is parking, at least temporarily, the Drive One Mustang directed to a season-ending victory by 2008 rookie of the year Mike Neff.
His team’s 2010 lineup will feature only three Ford Mustangs: his own Castrol GTX High Mileage entry, the Auto Club Mustang in which Robert Hight will defend his Full Throttle world championship, and the Castrol GTX Mustang in which reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion Ashley Force Hood will try to become the first woman to win the Funny Car title.
Mike Neff, right, will step out of the John Force Racing team’s fourth Funny Car this season and work with crew chief Austin Coil on Force’s Mustang.
The 126-time tour winner said that Neff, crew chief for Gary Scelzi when they won the 2005 Funny Car world championship, will join Austin Coil, the most successful crew chief in drag racing history, in support of Force’s bid for a 15th NHRA driving championship.
Bernie Fedderly, Coil’s partner for the last 17 years and one of only three crew chiefs to have won NHRA titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, will continue to be in the mix but will adjust his travel schedule after 30 years. He will also assume the new role of special projects manager at John Force Racing Inc. as well as contribute to the Coil-Neff alliance.
As Fedderly’s role changed, it opened the door to one of the most intriguing crew-chief partnerships in recent history. After winning the 2005 NHRA world championship as crew chief to Scelzi, Neff spent the last two seasons at the wheel of the Ford Drive One Mustang, earning 2008 rookie of the year honors before winning the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals last November at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Coil has won more NHRA races and more championships than anyone – including Force. The man who started as a line mechanic at a Chicago dealership enters 2010 with 16 championship trophies and 133 tour victories. Before joining Force in 1985, he won seven races and two NHRA championships (1982 and 1983) with his own car, the Chi-Town Hustler, driven by Frank Hawley.
Significantly, the makeover of Force’s team extends well beyond the crew chiefs. In fact, all but one crewmember will be new to the team with the start of the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 11-14, in Pomona.
In addition, the car itself will be new, front to back, utilizing JFR’s in-house chassis that Neff took to victory for the first time last year; the Ford BOSS 500 nitro engine developed by JFR’s John Medlen in conjunction with Ford Racing; and the new, sleeker ’10 Mustang body with new logos and new metallic paint featuring silver highlights that recognize the 25 seasons Force has shared with Castrol.
Neff’s crew chief, Medlen, will concentrate on managing The Eric Medlen Project, which will continue to focus on racing safety, as well as the in-house engine and chassis programs he helped create that will generate new revenue streams through production of the BOSS 500 engine and the JFR chassis. Medlen will also be available to team with crew chief Jimmy Prock and car chief Eric Lane to create a potent tuning triumvirate for the 2009 Funny Car championship Auto Club Ford Mustang team.
“I am dropping the fourth car for the 2010 season strictly as a business move,” Force said, “because in this economy, we haven’t been able to fund it properly through new sponsorship.”
After a long tenure with Don Schumacher Racing, noted racetrack expert Lanny Miglizzi, left, will join Dan Hood as JFR’s track specialist this season.
Moreover, to underscore the seriousness with which his teams are pursuing the 2010 title, Force has added track specialist Lanny Miglizzi to work with his crew chiefs and with son-in-law Dan Hood, who last year served as track specialist while developing as a backup for Fedderly in his role as inventory manager and personnel manager. The combination of Hood and Miglizzi also gives JFR more personnel to monitor the ever-changing track conditions as race cars compete throughout the day in Funny Car and Top Alcohol Dragster.
Miglizzi will also work out of the Brownsburg shop leading the JFR in-house clutch program. For years, he operated one of the sport’s most successful clutch-management businesses with his late father, Tony. He is widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable, detail-oriented experts in the field of track-mapping.
Another change is the consolidation of all race car operations in Brownsburg. The last of Force’s race cars to make the move from the West Coast facility in Yorba Linda, Calif., was his own Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford. Furthermore, the machine-shop operation, which previously was split between the two facilities, has been centralized in Brownsburg.
Force’s attention has not just been focused on on-track performance. One of the strongest brands in motorsports has also been looking at ways to ensure that his corporate backing can weather the up-and- down economy with his teams.
“I’ve had to reevaluate everything from show-car programs to midway displays to help activate programs for the sponsors and help cut costs,” Force said.
“I’ve talked a number of times with Tom McKernan, the CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California, who helped keep the Auto Club profitable even in tough times, to help me reevaluate our JFR business plan,” Force said.
“Last year, I started talking with Brian Wolfe, who came over from Powertrain where he was instrumental in managing Ford’s mass-production capabilities. We talked about how to produce products in-house not only for our team but also to generate revenue by selling to other teams. I will continue to speak to Brian in this area as time permits because he is the expert. In Phoenix, I had the chance to speak with Jamie Allison, the new director of Ford Racing, and it was business as usual. We have to continue to be cost-efficient, but at the end of the day, Ford wants to win.
“One of my biggest losses was the recent passing of Bob Tasca Sr. He introduced me to Ford in 1997, and he wrote the book You Will Be Satisfied, about how to sell to the next generation of consumers. He was one of the icons with Ford, and I pray that I listened enough.
“I listen to these individuals because they’re successful in what they do, and with the 25th anniversary of JFR and Castrol and the continued growth of the NHRA, we need to know where we’re going for the next 25 years,” Force said.
“My priority right now is to execute this business plan and make sure existing sponsors like Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource, and Mac Tools can activate trackside and elsewhere. I am investing in show-car trailers to help make that happen.
“It’s a tough economy, but these are exciting times, too, because of the way we are responding to the challenge. For me,” Force said, “the key word is ‘activate.’ We need to activate for our sponsors, but we need to activate for ourselves, too.”