Craig Murto: The Force family had a wild weekend

Craig Murto

The Force family of racers had a wild weekend in Arizona.

John Force is the most recognizable figure in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) racing, winner of 16 Funny Car championships. But for the second time in two races the 68-year-old driver suffered catastrophic engine failure.

In the second round at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Force’s engine grenaded at the finish line in the left lane, blowing the body off the car and sending it across the track to the right, in front of competitor Jonnie Lindberg. The damaged rolling chassis of Force’s machine slammed into the retaining wall, lifting the rear wheels off the ground, landing on Lindberg’s car. The parachutes of both cars became entangled, and Linberg’s car dragged Force’s back across the track and into the left retaining wall.

Force spent some time in the hospital, but was released Sunday night. Lindberg walked away from the crash.

Meanwhile, daughter Brittany Force came back from a horrific accident in her Top Fuel dragster two weeks ago, and won in the first round.

But the Force family wasn’t finished leaving its mark on Arizona. Courtney Force beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round of Funny Car competition with a pass of 3.834-second at 337.16 mph. It was her 10th win, and first since 2016.

You would think with all he’s achieved, John Force might have had enough, but not so. The racer stated in a team press release, “This was a great day for John Force Racing. Brittany came back from a crash at Pomona and won first round and Courtney won Funny Car for Advance Auto Parts. My struggles continue, but I’m a big boy, I’ll fix it.”

In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence beat Scott Palmer with a 3.729 at 330.72, and in Pro Stock Chris McGaha out-raced Jason Line with a 6.529 at 211.59.

While the NHRA was in Arizona, NASCAR was in Atlanta, where Kevin Harvick dominated both the Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup events.

The most notable thing about Harvick’s Xfinity Series win is that it was the first for his Xfinity crew chief, Richard Boswell. A Maryland native now living in North Carolina, Boswell was a successful Late Model Stock Car racer at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas when it was open. It’s also interesting that Harvick’s Cup Series crew chief, Rodney Childers, also was a successful Late Model racer in the Carolinas.

The Atlanta Cup race may not have had the crashes and side-by-side action of Daytona, but it really wasn’t a bad race. In fact, given the strategy that was employed by the teams of Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to break the final stage up into two pit stops rather than three, it was rather intriguing. Their strategy didn’t win the race, but it surely gained both drivers a few positions in the final rundown.

Stage racing works. After Martin Truex’s championship last year, drivers are fully aware of the importance of stage points, and they race hard to get those points.

I don’t want NASCAR to make any changes now, as part of their problem is that they made too many changes too quickly. But if they do decide a few years down the road that the stage racing isn’t generating enough excitement, I believe they should go to a heat-race format.

Instead of three stages, take what would have been the first stage and run half the field in that race as a heat race, a qualifier. Award the Top 10 stage points just as NASCAR did at Daytona after Thursday’s Duels, and just like Daytona the results of the first race determine the inside row of starters. The second stage is the qualifier for the outside row, and it too awards stage points. What is now the third stage is the feature event. All of these races run in one day.

The cars show up Saturday for practice. The qualifiers line up based on a random draw, or based on point standings. Heat races and feature are run Sunday. It’ll shorten the weekend for the teams, saving them money, and it possibly could add more excitement for the fans.

Running Cup cars in heat races, followed by a feature event, could lead to some wild race weekends. But probably not as wild as the Force family experienced in Arizona.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.