The 49th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals claimed its fair share of sacrifices to the carbon-fiber God’s over the weekend, as three of Funny Car’s top stars obliterated their $70,000 racecar bodies in spectacular fashion — including two of them on the same run — in the process creating plenty of fresh material for the highlight reels.
John Force, who has suffered more — both physically and financially — in the season’s first two races than most team owners and drivers do in an entire season after destroying three cars and visiting the hospital as many times, racked up another significant loss when an explosion during Friday’s second qualifying session destroyed his fan-designed Peak Camaro body.
The explosion was the third in as many races for Force, leading his team to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to sorting out the culprit in his tune-up. While routine at this point, the fiery coupe-turned-convertible incidents are a routine Force has no interest in continuing, citing not only the financial ramifications of the damage, but the inherent safety risk to both he and his opponents. In Phoenix, Force made heavy contact with Jonnie Lindberg after exploding the body off of this car and losing control of the errant chassis, with the two cars tangling in the shutdown area and incurring significant damage.
“All the crew chiefs from Jimmy Prock to Brian Corradi to Daniel Hood right down to Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch, Alan Johnson everybody had input into this race car to try and figure out what happened in Pomona and then again in Phoenix,” Force explained. “I really thought we had it. I thought we were there. In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.”
Unfortunately for Force, it wasn’t the last of the devastation for his team, as in the second round of eliminations, teammate and reigning series champion Robert Hight exploded his AAA Camaro in a losing contest to Matt Hagan — who only milliseconds later also exploded his Mopar Dodge — in what was one of the wildest scenes to close a Funny Car race in memory.
“It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank and then it hit the valves which blew it up. The car gave me no indication at all before it exploded,” said Hight. “What really scared me was once I got it under control and I looked over and saw his body was off his car. I am thinking, ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways. I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other. I didn’t know who won. I was hoping we got the win light and we could come back and get another car together and try and win this race.
“We have a lot of work to do before Vegas. We have a lot of things to figure out but we have the best people over here. We’ll get to the bottom of it.”