Fortunate Force on road to recovery


DALLAS -- John Force will be OK, but don't expect to see him in a race car again this year.

He promises to be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next month when the NHRA pro tour visits.

He'll probably be using a motorized wheelchair or golf cart to get around instead of driving for his 15th championship in his Funny Car. He won't be riding his moped through the pits.

Force's change in mode of transportation is nothing to bemoan.

That he survived a horrific racing crash Sunday near Dallas, caused by possible tire and then chassis failure, is reason for his legions of fans to rejoice.

He'll be back. After watching replays of the crash, it's almost a miracle.

His spirit was as big as his personality Tuesday during a visit to his Dallas hospital room, but his pupils were microscopic because of the pain medication.

Force, 58, is known for meandering in interviews. "What was the question?" he often interjects while replying at 300 words a minute. This time, his confusion was understandable.

He was typical Force: trying to make those around him laugh and reassure sponsors he's all right.

Painkillers numbed the pain but not his drive, though it might be limited to a wheelchair for at least a few weeks. He could be released as early as today.

He needed daughter Ashley to feed him a few bites of a chocolate-iced, cream-filled doughnut, but he was able to hold a cell phone in his dislocated right hand, in which three pins were inserted to keep it together.

His wife, Laurie, was there along with son-in-law Robert Hight, who was never more than a yard away.

"She still loves me," he said of perhaps the world's most patient spouse.

"I need to get back out there and help block for Robert," Force said. "He's going to win the championship; it's destiny."

Surprisingly, no sponsor logos had been sewn onto his hospital gown. No sponsor insignias were seen when three Dallas television stations were in his room Monday for interviews.

That is a Force first.

The record-setting drag racer did, however, add at least one milestone to his resume: most profanity spewed in a minute during his first physical therapy session.

Who wouldn't have? Doctors at Baylor University Medical Center wasted no time with his rehabilitation for a compound fracture to his left ankle and deep laceration to the bone of his right knee.

Standing is one of the toughest challenges he's faced: His left foot is in a cast, right leg bandaged from below his knee and up his thigh, and his left hand and wrist also are in a cast.

Everything, however, can heal.

"I knew I'd be all right when I saw I still had my feet and I could move them ... but they had me up trying to stand (Monday)," Force said.

Throughout my visit he rarely stopped doing business. His team is rushing to complete a Pflueger Chassis for Hight in time for next weekend's NHRA event in Richmond, Va.

Don't be surprised if Ashley stops racing until the cause of her dad's crash is determined and corrected.

Force reminded that one of his drivers and "kids," Eric Medlen, died in a testing accident almost six months to the minute before Force's crash.

"Eric saved me," he said. "I know that might sound like the painkillers talking, but he did.

"When I pulled the (parachutes) and the car came apart, I was going around 300 miles an hour. Those chutes picked me up into the air. If they hadn't, I'd have hit the wall with my legs hanging out there. I'd have lost them and probably been killed.

"Eric saved me."

Force's injuries might be severe, but they aren't fatal.

It's the second time a planned visit with my family in Dallas resulted in a trip to a hospital to see an injured racer.

In 1999, Henderson's Sam Schmidt was chasing the Indy Racing League championship when he suffered serious foot injuries in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Eight years later, I'd planned a detour to the Texas Motorplex to see which NHRA teams might have remained for testing after Sunday's race near Dallas.

I never made it there. Instead it was a stop at Baylor to see how Force was warming up for the challenge to get back to racing.

"I just feel so helpless and vulnerable," he said.

At least he can feel, and we'll get to see him race again.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

 

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