Force's team sitting out in wake of driver's death

Updated: March 28, 2007, 9:01 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

John Force has not missed an NHRA event in 20 years, but he will not compete this weekend in the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.

John Force Racing is skipping the event out of respect for a fallen teammate. The entire organization still is reeling from the death of popular young Funny Car driver Eric Medlen after a testing accident last week at Gainesville, Fla.

Force, a 14-time Funny Car champion, attended funeral services for Medlen Wednesday at Indianapolis. That's where Force confirmed that he, daughter Ashley Force and son-in-law Robert Hight would sit out the Houston event.

"This has been such an emotional time for John and the entire team," said David Densmore, Force's long-time publicist. "John's mind still isn't on racing. His heart just wasn't in it for this weekend."

Medlen's Mustang crashed head-on into the right concrete barrier after it blew a tire on a test run on March 19, the day after the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. Medlen, 33, died four days later after being taken off life support.

Force has competed in every NHRA event since 1987, qualifying for a record 395 consecutive times.

Hight leads the 2007 Funny Car standings with a six-point advantage over Ron Capps. Ashley, a rookie this season, ranks ninth in the standings and John is 11th after the first three events.

In previous years, skipping one event probably eliminated a driver from competing for the championship. But all three Force drivers still have a shot at the title this year because of a new format.

The NHRA has adopted a playoff format, similar to what NASCAR uses with the Chase for the Nextel Cup. NHRA drivers ranked in the top eight in each pro category qualify to compete for the championship in the final six events.

So the championship still is possible if any of the JFR drivers rank in the top eight heading to the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Labor Day weekend.

But no one on the teams is concerned with that for now.

"I don't think John ever considered going to Houston," Densmore said. "He just wanted to be sure it was OK with his sponsors. They all agreed it was the right thing to do."

JFR, along with the NHRA, still is evaluating what occurred in the accident that caused the severe closed head injury which resulted in Medlen's death.

John Medlen, Eric's father, also was Eric's crew chief. John is working with the other JFR crew chiefs to determine what caused the tire blow-out and an extreme vibration beyond anything previously recorded in the sport.

"It is our sincere desire to provide a summary of the information taken from this accident to all parties," said John Medlen. "That is what Eric would have wanted."

The three JFR drivers are expected to return to NHRA competition for the event at Las Vegas on April 12-15, but Force still has to decide whether to put another driver in Medlen's car or to park it for the remainder of the season.

Team officials said Force probably will do whatever John Medlen wants to do.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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