It certainly wasn’t John Force’s plan to enter the final two events of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in pursuit of yet another Funny Car championship without his crew chief, but as with everything that the 16-time champ has overcome in his life, he’s up for the challenge.
On Wednesday, Force announced that he had not only accepted the end-of-year resignation of crew chief Jimmy Prock, who guided him to the 2013 Mello Yello title, but also dismissed him immediately to start moving forward with his plans not only to finish 2014 in glory, but also to head into what he hopes will be an equally successful 2015 campaign.
Force took part in a national NHRA teleconference Wednesday to get the news out and to allow him to keep his focus for the final two events of the season, the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas and the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
“I don’t want to go to Vegas and have to spend my days there explaining to the media what’s taking place,” he said. “I don’t want to have to do it at the final race at Pomona.
“I got a call early this week from a number of team owners, but one that was being straight up with me: ‘I’m talking to some of your employees, and I’m talking to your crew chiefs.’ I was a little surprised that we’re in the middle of the Countdown, but whatever. It’s called business. I’m a big boy, and I understand it.
“I approached Jimmy, a great kid, brilliant, that won a championship with Robert Hight and a championship with myself. When I approached him, he couldn’t give me an answer. We danced around for a few days. Finally I said, ‘I need to know because I have sponsor contracts that have been signed, contracts that are on the table. I’m selling this powerhouse race team of power teams. Jimmy said, ‘I’m probably going to leave at the end of the year.’ I said, ‘I need to know for sure.’ He said, ‘If I have to tell you, basically I need a change.’ I said, ‘I respect that.’ He turned in a resignation yesterday for the end of the year. I met with my brain trust [and] told Jimmy I would accept his resignation, but I was accepting it now; I’ll take it right now. So as of right now, Jimmy Prock is no longer employed by John Force Racing.”
Force is No. 2 in the Mello Yello Funny Car points standings, 36 points behind rival Matt Hagan, with two races left.
“I know it’s in the middle of the Countdown, and you think I’m committing suicide, but I’m not,” he explained. “I race from the heart. I’m about principle, I’m about camaraderie, I’m about loyalty. If a man’s heart is not here with me, his job is to protect his family, he’s got to do what he’s got to do, and John Force has got to do what he’s got to do.
“I have to make a decision because I’m not racing for this championship. I’m racing for this championship and the next 20 years. Right now, I’ve got to start building a team. Why wait till Pomona to start building a team next year in ’15? I’m going to start tomorrow. The outcome will be what it is. But at least I know where I’m going. I couldn’t wait any longer. Jimmy, we shook hands, he walked out and understood; I think he understood what I was doing.”
Force also laid to rest any questions about whether all four of his teams would be competing next season.
“We’ll be making announcements at Las Vegas. We’ll be making announcements in SEMA and right on through the winter, right up till opening day at Pomona,” he said. “Financially, I even dipped into my savings like I’ve done before, my wife and I, two and a half million dollars. With that, I have the budget if no more sponsors come onboard, but I’ve got calls this morning and yesterday. Things are looking good. I hope not to have to invest that money, but I will if I have to. That way, my four teams can race. I have a love and passion for NHRA. I feel I owe NHRA. I owe the sponsors, and I owe the fans to race.”