Drag Racer John Force Remains in ICU After Sunday’s Big Crash

Ford Racing

Drag racing legend John Force remains in intensive care in a Richmond hospital today after a fiery, grinding crash Sunday during the NHRA Virginia Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.

The 75-year-old Funny Car driver was racing Terry Haddock in the first round of eliminations, and had beaten Haddock with a finish-line speed of 302.62 mph when the 11,000-horsepower engine in Force’s Ford-branded car exploded in flames, sending the car across the track into Haddock’s lane and hard into the concrete wall, before crossing the track again and impacting the other wall. The parachutes are supposed to automatically deploy when there is a catastrophic engine failure, but they did not.

Force was removed from what was left of the car and helicoptered to a trauma hospital where, said a statement released by the team Monday night, Force remains in the intensive care unit, “where he still was being observed and evaluated on Monday,” said the team. “Attending doctors purposely were moving slowly in assessing the extent of the injuries to the Hall of Fame owner and driver because of the intensity of the impact. Medical staff will not provide a treatment and recovery timetable until a total evaluation is completed.”

Force was “conscious and talking to NHRA Safety Safari personnel immediately following the crash,” said John Force Racing. The television broadcast showed Force, awake and apparently alert, sitting up on the stretcher as they loaded him into the ambulance.

Despite his age, the 16-time champion was, and still is, second out of 28 drivers in National Hot Rod Association points, 131 points behind the leader, Force Racing teammate Austin Prock, who won the Virginia Nationals. Force has won twice this season, at the Pomona, California season opener, and at the New England Nationals on June 2, where he beat Prock in the finals with a starting-line hole shot and a speed of 319.29 mph. There has been no word from the team on if, and when, Force might return.

He began racing in Funny Cars, which are nitromethane-fueled dragsters with a full body, in 1971, but he didn’t win his first NHRA championship until 1990. Force has won a record 157 races. Daughters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney have all raced at the top level of the sport, with Brittany the only one still competing, racing in the Top Fuel class, winning the championship in 2022. She set the NHRA all-time record Top Fuel speed that year, at 338.94 mph.

John Force has crashed multiple times, but the only one that rivaled Sunday’s crash in seriousness and intensity occurred on September 23, 2007, at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, south of Dallas. Force, then 58, was racing Kenny Bernstein. After they crossed the finish line—Force won, at 327 mph—the right rear tire blew, sending him almost 90 degrees to the right, hard into Bernstein’s car. Force’s Castrol-sponsored Ford split in two, with the engine and front wheels continuing all the way to the end of the track.

Force remained in the rear half of the car, pitched sideways between the massive rear tires. He was removed from the wreckage and taken by helicopter to Baylor Medical Center, where he underwent six hours of surgery for a broken left ankle, serious abrasions on his right knee that went down to the bone, broken toes, a dislocated left wrist and tendon and ligament damage. Some of the fingers on his right had were broken, and the tips were ground down. He was also burned in several places. He spent 27 days in the hospital.

Force, an eternal optimist, said the day after the crash, from his hospital room, that he thought he could make the next race, in two weeks. “I called the NHRA and told them not to give up on me for Richmond yet,” Force said then. “It’s not my driving foot that’s hurt.”

He ended up being out of the car for 18 weeks before climbing back in for a test in Phoenix in 2008.

John Force Racing will compete this weekend in Norwalk, Ohio, in the Summit Racing NHRA Nationals, with Brittany Force and Austin Prock, but without John Force. A replacement driver, if there is to be one, has not been announced.

2017 John Force Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images


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    I was going to the race this weekend and hoped to see him there. But I suspect he may have had more of a head injury than they are saying. It reminded me of Mark Donohue where he was awake and looked ok when he left the car but died later of a hemorrhage.

    The NHRA needs John not in a car but at the track. He is a great team owner and the best spokesman for the series.

    John we need you to get back on your feet and take it easy and just be there for the fans and the team. Someone else can drive the car for a while.

    I do have to say he did a hell of a job driving that car after the explosion. He was on fire and could not see and still was trying to keep it straight.

    Force has been subtly hinting about his retirement all season in that John Force way of his. You could assume to some degree the plan was once Hight felt ready to return he and Prock would then be the two team funny car drivers. Will this move that timetable forward? Maybe and who question that decision. But it is Force. You can imagine him wanting to get back up on the horse as well even if only briefly. Nice to see Austin get the Wally in Virginia for the boss.

    John is not going to quiet on a crash run. Unless the doctors say one more hit is it.

    To be honest I am shocked the NHRA has not put in safe walls yet. In this trash it would have helped

    Well now GOAT, one more time, you’re just five days older and I’d like to keep it that way for awhile, you know what I mean? GET’ER DONE! A TO B DLEE

    Sadly John has a more serious head injury. I suspect they may have him in a coma to let his brain heal.

    We all need to say a part for John as this will not be a short term recovery.

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