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Force to test car for safety

A critical chapter in the history of John Force Racing — and possibly in the NHRA Funny Car division — begins today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a special test session closed to the public and media.

Force will drive his Funny Car for the first time since one of his team’s drivers, Eric Medlen, died March 23, four days after a testing accident in Florida. Force wants to determine if teams will be able to compete with enhanced safety features when qualifying begins Friday in the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the speedway.

“My No. 1 priority has always been to win championships, but now it’s safety,” Force said Tuesday in a national teleconference.

NHRA waived its policy against testing on a track within seven days of it being used for an NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series event.

Force will not use the track’s electronic timing system to obtain speeds and incremental times. An NHRA official will attend to observe the test and will remove the car’s computerized performance data system so competitors know Force is not trying to gain an edge.

“This ain’t about an E.T. slip,” Force said of timing result printouts. “It won’t take me long to know if it’s drivable. This is for everybody (who drives a Funny Car).”

Force said he thinks everything will work and that he, Robert Hight and daughter Ashley Force will return to racing Friday.

Force withdrew his drivers from the March 30 to April 1 NHRA event near Houston to evaluate the cause of the incident that cost Medlen his life.

Force hired safety consultant John Melvin, a former biomechanics engineer for General Motors. Melvin played a key role with safety advancements in NASCAR after Dale Earnhardt was killed in 2001.

Force said among the changes is the addition of more padding inside the roll cage.

The customary five-point restraint belt system has been replaced by a seven-point unit with new mounting positions on the chassis. The seat has been modified to further limit the motion of a driver’s head and body.

John Medlen, Eric’s father and crew chief, is leading the safety initiative for Force.

He said his son’s brain injuries were sustained before the car glanced off a guardwall at about 120 mph on the Gainesville, Fla., track.

A tire failure — possibly caused by a puncture, according to tire-maker Goodyear — led to the tire coming apart, but a portion remained attached to the wheel, Medlen said.

The unbalanced wheel caused the car to raise and fall in violent 18-inch intervals, jarring Medlen’s head from side to side, his father said.

Melvin, who has been involved in racing safety since 1997, said the brain injuries were unlike any other he has seen.

John Force won his 14th Funny Car championship last year, earning the right to have “1” on his race car this season.

But he has changed it to No. 4, which was Medlen’s car number based on where he finished in last year’s final standings.

The No. 1 will be on Medlen’s car, which will be at the event, as will Medlen’s crew.

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