Brittany Force

DATE OF BIRTH: July 08, 1986
HOMETOWN: Yorba Linda, Calif.

Teacher Turns Student in Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster 

After earning their undergraduate degrees, some aspiring schoolteachers spend several years traveling in Europe, Asia and elsewhere pursuing graduate studies.

Of course, few do so at speeds exceeding 330 miles per hour, which is what sets 26-year-old Brittany Force apart from her peers.

A graduate of Cal State-Fullerton who also studied at New York’s Hunter College, Brittany earned her teaching credentials before deciding to pursue a master’s degree in a less traditional field of endeavor: automotive high performance.

That decision this year has landed the second youngest of John Force’s four daughters in the cockpit of the 8,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster for what promises to be an historic 2013 NHRA Mello Yello drag racing season.

She is the third pro driver to compete in a Castrol-backed Top Fuel dragster but the first to do so since Pat Austin in 1995. The late Gary Ormsby won the NHRA Top Fuel title for Castrol GTX in 1989,

At the controls of a race car capable of zero-to-100 mile per hour acceleration in less than one second, Brittany will be subjected to gravitational forces five times those she would encounter in a typical classroom environment.

And while she won’t collect a degree, per se, the California native knows that once she trades her high speed wheels for ones more suited to the school parking lot, she’ll have a wealth of non-traditional stories and anecdotes with which to illustrate her lesson plans.

“It really is a big honor to be the first to drive a John Force Racing Top Fuel dragster,” she said. “I think this is something we’re all excited about because it’s new and different. Being able to drive the first JFR Top Fuel dragster is still very surreal to me but, with my dad’s support, I’m going to do the best job I can. I can’t wait to get started.”

Always inclined to follow the road less traveled, Brittany is not what you expect. She is her own person, no matter the circumstances, and that makes her both a source of pride and one of frustration for her proud father.

She is simultaneously passionate about racing and conscious of the need to keep her options open.

One of the stars of the A&E Network series Driving Force, which documented sister Ashley’s development as a Funny Car driver during a two-year run ending in 2007, the talented blonde already has covered the standard course in 3.85 seconds at a finish line speed of more than 320 miles per hour.

Like her father and sisters, Brittany is intensely competitive once she gets to the track and climbs into the cockpit. Nevertheless, she also loves teaching and, right now, she’s content to keep all her options open while enhancing her reputation as “a student of speed.”

“My plan from the very beginning was to go to college and earn a Bachelor’s Degree before really pursuing racing,” Brittany said. “I earned my B.A. in English and then did an extra year to earn my teaching credential. I never had intentions to go right into teaching, I just wanted to get school finished because I knew that if I took a break from it, I would never go back.

“I will always have teaching to fall back on if things change down the road,” she said, “but right now I am very happy with where I am and where things are heading.”

Although she is just beginning her professional racing career, Brittany has more dragster experience than most of her crewmembers including crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli and assistant crew chief Eric Lane, both of whom, to this point, have worked exclusively on Funny Cars.

By contrast, Brittany never has driven anything but dragsters.

After earning her Super Comp dragster license under the watchful eye of reigning NHRA Funny Car Champion Jack Beckman, who was her teacher at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School, she raced in the entry-level class, along with sister Courtney, for three years before moving up to the Top Alcohol Dragster class.

Driving for Jerry Darien and BrandSource, she was the No. 1 qualifier at the 2009 SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J., and at the 2010 O’Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., her home track.

She spent all of 2012 testing in a Top Fuel dragster, logging almost 80 runs on many of the same tracks on which she will be competing this season.

The three-rail dragster she is driving this year is powered by the Ford BOSS 500 engine developed at JFR in collaboration with Ford Racing and, in race trim, it will be outfitted with one of the cockpit canopies popularized by six-time series champion Tony Schumacher.

“I’m so excited to be working with (crew chiefs) ‘Guido’ and Eric,” she said. “It seems like ‘Guido’ has always been part of the winning at JFR. I remember him working on my dad’s car when I was little and he’s the one who taught Ashley how to drive a Funny Car before he was crew chief on dad’s car (2011 and 2012).

“A lot of the time I spent testing last year was with Eric Lane and Jimmy Prock from Robert Hight’s Auto Club team. I get along with Eric very well because he has always been so patient with me. We always talk about the runs, before and after, which helps prepare me for next one.”

Although she is eligible to compete for the Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award that goes to the NHRA Rookie of the Year, Brittany will focus this year on team development. She will consider anything else a bonus.

“One of my goals this year is to really get to know my guys so that we can move forward as a team,” she said. “That’s one thing my dad always has stressed and that is that it takes a team to succeed. Whatever we do, I want us to do it together.”
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Todd Smith
Crew Chief

Two years ago, Todd Smith won a Funny Car world championship with driver Jack Beckman, but it was the Oklahoma native’s expertise in a different drag racing discipline that landed him a crew chief job this year at John Force Racing, Inc.

Working with veteran Dean “Guido” Antonelli, Smith has been assigned the task of transforming 2013 Rookie-of-the-Year Brittany Force’s Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster into a legitimate contender for the NHRA Mello Yello Championship.

It’s a daunting challenge but one Smith relishes.

The 51-year-old, who tuned Beckman to a third place finish the year after they won the championship, spent 24 of his seasons in the sport working on Top Fuel cars for everyone from the late Jimmy Nix to Bobby Baldwin, Cory McClenathan, Andrew Cowin, Larry Dixon, Spencer Massey and Brandon Bernstein.

Smith has enjoyed considerable success working with young drivers. He directed Massey to Rookie-of-the-Year recognition in 2009 for car owner Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and put 22-year-old Australian Andrew Cowin at the top of the qualifying order four times in breakthrough 2002 campaign.

Born into a racing family, the son of 1965 Winternationals and U.S. Nationals Comp Eliminator champion Charlie Smith and the nephew of 1966 Winternationals runner-up Frank Smith, Todd did not initially embrace drag racing with the kind of enthusiasm one might have expected.

Instead, like JFR crew chief contemporary Mike Neff, he channeled his competitiveness into motocross racing. Starting as a 10-year-old, he raced bikes for 10 years before he first began delving into his father’s sport as an entry level crewman.

Early on, he worked on fellow Oklahoman Steve Hodkinson’s Funny Car. His first Top Fuel gig was with Baldwin for whom he was crew chief for six seasons (1988-1993). He then served as assistant crew chief for Nix before taking his skills to Kalitta Motorsports where he was an assistant crew chief from 1995 through 2000.

Although his Top Fuel drivers were Top 10 finishers from 2004 through 2011, his Funny Car success was a stunning. He came on board with Beckman four races into the 2012 season before guiding the former driving instructor to victories at Topeka, Kan., Denver and St. Louis and to national records for time and speed at Reading, Pa., (3.986 seconds at 320.58 miles per hour).

Beckman’s four No. 1 starts in 2012 doubled his total for the previous seven seasons and although he went winless in 2013, Smith directed him to another No. 1 and three runner-up finishes en route to third place overall.

Dean “Guido” Antonelli
Co-Crew Chief

For the better part of two decades, Dean “Guido” Antonelli has been strapping a member of drag racing’s first family into the cockpit of a race car emblazoned with one of the distinctive logos of BP Lubricants’ Castrol motor oil brand.

First, it was John Force, drag racing’s biggest winner, with whom the Arizona native celebrated 10 NHRA Funny Car championships as the hands-on facilitator for Hall of Fame crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.

Then it was Ashley Force Hood who, under his tutelage, earned the Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year and became the first woman ever to win an NHRA Funny Car race (Atlanta, 2008).

So, when 26-year-old Brittany Force announced that she was putting an anticipated teaching career on hold this season to drive the team’s Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster, there was little doubt as to who would get the crew chiefing assignment.

Although he spent 18 years working on John Force Racing Funny Cars, Antonelli got the Top Fuel job because of his attention to detail, his commitment to safety and his personal relationship with Force’s daughters, whom he and wife Kelly, JFR’s Marketing Director, have nurtured since they were pre-teens,

Fortunately, the veteran has taken to the Top Fuel dragster like a duck to water, marveling at how much more aggressive a crew chief can be with a rear-engined car sitting on a 300 inch chassis (instead of a front-motored Funny Car on a 125-inch frame).

Except for the differences in length and orientation, though, it’s business as usual for Antonelli, whose new assignment introduces the JFR-created Ford BOSS 500 motor to a new category.

Antonelli was uniquely prepared for a career in drag racing.

While it’s true he had great racing genes as the son of the late Joe Antonelli, who drove some of the most cantankerous vehicles on the planet, among them the “Nanook” fuel altered, he had other assets.

One was experience gleaned from his job as a “destruction engineer” at the U-Haul Technological Center and Test Laboratory in Tucson, Ariz..

“We’d take trucks designed to carry 2,000 pounds and fill them with 6,000 pounds of concrete,” Antonelli said. “Then (we’d) try to roll them over.”

That isn’t so unlike his current job. The challenge in both is to find the limit. What is too much weight? How much is too much clutch or too much fuel or just too much horsepower?

Once involved in the sport, Antonelli benefitted immensely from the 12 year apprenticeship he he served under Coil and Fedderly. Ten times in his 12 years as Team Leader on Force’s Castrol GTX Funny Car, the 48-year-old celebrated a championship.

So, when Ashley moved up from the Top Alcohol Dragster class in 2007, Antonelli was Force’s first choice to supervise her development. Now, he’s applying lessons learned in his four seasons with Ashley to her sister’s rookie year.

Under Antonelli’s direction – and that of co-crew chief Ron Douglas, Force Hood appeared in 16 final rounds in four seasons, twice set the NHRA national speed record, started 15 races from the No. 1 qualifying position and won back-to-back titles in the sport’s biggest single event, the U.S. Nationals at (Indianapolis, Ind.).

Antonelli’s biggest regret is that his friend, Eric Medlen, the promising young JFR driver who lost his life in a 2007 testing accident, isn’t here to share in his success.

“Eric had been here almost as long as me,” Antonelli said, “His dream was to drive and he was one of the biggest supporters of me being a crew chief. I miss him a lot.”

“‘Guido has been with me for more than 18 years,” Force said. “He and Robert (JFR president and 2009 Funny Car Champion Robert Hight) worked together on my race car back when we won 10 titles in a row and there’s nobody I trust more with teaching Brittany the pro game.

“I’ve got great people. That’s how John Force Racing succeeds.”
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Aaron Cave

Birthdate: 12/22/1986
Hometown: Spotsylvania, VA
Current Residence: Avon, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2011
Which Team (s): Brittany Force (Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He grew up around the sport and knew that’s what he wanted to continue to be around.

Background (education/work/racing experience): Before he actually worked in the automotive field, he spent his time doing construction at the airport near his hometown and working on a coal mine. He then spent his time working on Bunny Burkett’s car in the IHRA before joining John Force Racing.

Team Responsibilities: left side heads, fuel system, valvetrain
Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/ working at JFR: He enjoys being a part of a championship caliber team and working with a great group of guys

Career Highlights: getting a job at one of the most respected teams in drag racing and winning in Denver with John

Favorite Track/ Race: Bristol
Hobbies/Interests: cars, racing, dirt bikes, spending time with family and friends

Jim Underco

Birthdate: 09/04/1986
Hometown: Mentor, OH
Current Residence: Avon, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2013
Which Team (s): Brittany Force (Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster)

How did you get involved in drag racing: A friend of his was getting married and the team he worked for gave him a weekend audition.

Background (education/work/racing experience): After graduating high school, he attended Lakeland College for graphic design. He then decided to change directions and head up the engineering path. After spending time at school, he got a job doing construction. While he was working, he received the opportunity to a trail run with a race team and since then he has worked in the racing world.

Team Responsibilities: Clutch specialist

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/ working at JFR: getting the opportunity to work for an 18 time championship organization; having a family feel work environment

Career Highlights: first race win in Sonoma; winning the championship in 2012 and setting the national record

Favorite Track/ Race: Bristol

Hobbies/Interests: building mustangs, pool, darts, playing guitar, kite flying

Chris Adams

Birthdate: 07/09/1984
Hometown: Memphis, TN
Current Residence: Avon, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2007
Which Team (s): Brittany Force (Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster)

How did you get involved in drag racing: His father raced when he was a kid and has always loved it.

Background (education/work/racing experience): He worked on the Automobile Club of Southern California Funny Car and the Jack Beckman’s Funny Car.

Team Responsibilities: superchargers

Career Highlights: winning the championship in 2009 and winning Indy twice

Favorite Track/ Race: Bristol and Indy

Hobbies/Interests: riding dirt bikes, bowling, shooting

Trevor Huff

Birthdate: 10/28/1992
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Current Residence: Brownsburg, IN
Year hired at John Force Racing: 2013
Which Team (s): Brittany Force (Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He started volunteering after a friend worked on a race team.

Background (education/work/racing experience): He has worked at Cruz Pedregon Racing and Brian Thiel Racing.

Team Responsibilities: right side head; floater

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/working at JFR: all the resources and experience

Favorite Track/Race: Sonoma

Hobbies/Interests: football and drag racing

Matthew Carnes

Nickname (If any): Matt
Birthdate: 09/25/1986
Hometown: Lady Lake, FL
Current Residence: Indianapolis, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2013
Which Team (s): Brittany Force (Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He grew up attending local races in Gainesville and Orlando and knew he wanted to be a part of the sport.

Background (education/work/racing experience): After attending Wyotech, he received his first job in motorsports working hospitality at Kalitta Motorsports. While he worked hospitality, he also helped on the DHL car. He then moved to the Optima dragster. After gaining experience at Kalitta Motorsports, he moved on to Rapisarda and Torrence Racing.

Team Responsibilities: short blocks, bottom end, truck driver

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/ working at JFR: traveling, meeting new people, working on a championship caliber team

Career Highlights: winning the 2006 National Dragster Challenge; being the 2005 track champion at Gainesville

Favorite Track/ Race: Bristol and Gainesville

Hobbies/Interests: bowling, tuning late model fuel injection cars

Justin Sturgill

Birthdate: 02/01/1981
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Current Residence: Indianapolis, IN
Year Hired at John Force Racing: 2013
Which Team (s): Brittany Force (Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster)

How did you get involved in drag racing: He started volunteering on a top fuel car at a hometown track and then decided he would like to make this his career.

Background (education/work/racing experience): Before coming to work at JFR, he has worked with Doug Foley, Hartman, Toliver, Cruz Pedregon and Dote Racing.

Team Responsibilities: cylinder heads and truck driver

Favorite part about being involved with drag racing/ working at JFR: being able to travel the country doing what he loves

Career Highlights:

Favorite Track/ Race: Indy

Hobbies/Interests: cars, racing, dirt bikes, spending time with family and friends