Hello, and welcome to my first blog for RACER.com. It's great to have the opportunity to give you some insight into the Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car team, and John Force Racing as a whole.
After our fantastic 180-degree turnaround last year – just about scraping into the Countdown and then scoring win after win on the way to the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car title – it's not surprising we get asked what we do different in the Countdown. Well, in all honesty, we don't treat the Countdown races much differently, other than saving some clutch parts and a few other things that we know are slightly better. As far as making changes is concerned, my crew chief Jimmy Prock will tell you that it's about chasing a moving target and that he's constantly making changes – but that's no different than what he does throughout the year.
The simple fact is, if things aren't the way you want them, they aren't going to get fixed by themselves. You have to make changes – and then you have to be willing to live with the consequences of them. When you make a change to one aspect of the car, you can be certain it will affect something else.
As an example, you can make a change to the clutch, but then you'll need to change the fuel system because the engine is either being pulled on harder or less hard and, obviously, its optimum running is completely dependent on the fuel flow. If the engine is being pulled on harder, you'll need more: if you're not pulling on it – in other words, you're more gliding away from the start (that's all relative, obviously!) – then you're going to want to slow down the fuel flow.
So, in those circumstances, where one change triggers a bunch more, it requires a crew chief like Jimmy, who can think his way all along the logical chain of effects. He'll consider everything. Another great thing about Jimmy is that he won't just keep flogging an idea that has no chance of working. He's going to fix that car no matter what. Even if we're not testing, if there's something he believes we can do better, he's going to try it. Oh, and that's another reason I like working with him: he's usually right!
Of course, the U.S. Nationals at Indy started the Countdown and we got the most points of anybody with the qualifying bonus points system, so we were really excited about race day. And then guess what: we go out and smoke the tires. It happened at the most inopportune time, the first round of eliminations. Once you're into the Countdown, you really don't want to lose out in the very first round. With only six events in the Countdown, losses are very expensive, points-wise.
The part that bit us is not on my Mustang anymore and will never bite us again. It was in the clutch and it was a jet that blows open at a certain threshold. The reason we'd needed it in the first place was because we didn't have good control of the clutch and, as a result, didn't really have control of the motor. We were the first ones to use this jet on our car and we referred to it as the Jimmy Jet, but unfortunately Jimmy didn't have the threshold set right in the first round at Indy.
Like I say, we're confident we can afford to ditch that part now, because Jimmy is smarter and has more experience and doesn't need it to control the engine with the clutch. The Jimmy Jet is in the trash. We have the clutch pack that we can control the engine with, and now the worst-case scenario on a run – at least as far as the clutch is concerned – is that, without the jet, it will slow fractionally and just run through the clutch. But we're only talking a hundredth. It's not a big deal.
As far as losing first round to start the Countdown, I look at it like bowling. We have an open frame and you have to get two strikes in a row to make up for it. So, losing in the first round again – due to a throttle cable snapping – at Charlotte wasn't the greatest thing to happen for our whole crew.
Now, we really need those two wins in a row. Last year we won at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas, our next race, and I know our Auto Club team is ready to fight for this championship, even if we've made it harder on ourselves. With Jimmy Prock making the tuning calls and with Eric Lane and my guys as determined as I am, we can still do this.