Force Is Forced to Sidelines

Times Staff Writer

Drag racing champion John Force, who has survived fiery crashes more times than he can count, suffered the worst injury of his 30-year career -- severe cuts on the palms of both hands -- while moving a crystal bowl in his Yorba Linda office.

For the first time since 1987, Force, a 12-time National Hot Rod Assn. funny car champion, will sit out an event when the Automobile Club of Southern California World Finals are held next week at Pomona Raceway.

"The doctor says there's no way I can drive," said Force. "There's no way I can even sign an autograph. I can't even zip up my trousers."

The accident occurred Wednesday, during one of Force's Cruise Night open houses at his race shop. He was moving the trophy, which he won at the 1996 Winston Invitational, and talking animatedly at the same time.

"Instead of setting it down gingerly, I wasn't paying attention and slammed it down," he told a crew member. The crystal shattered, cutting both hands. One hand needed 40 stitches.

"I guess Al finally got even with me," Force said, alluding to Al Hoffman, whom he beat to win the Winston bonus race at Rockingham (N.C.) Raceway in 1996.

Force was taken to Placentia Linda Hospital, where he was treated and released.

"I've had my eyebrows burned off a couple of times, and I've burned my hands a little crawling out of a lot of fires," he said. "The worst thing that happened before was when we had a car we were going to cut up on TV. It was on a moving stage thing and I was doing my act and got hit in the elbow by my own car. I thought I was going to miss a race then, but we got through it."

Force, 54, has competed in 322 consecutive NHRA national events since he failed to qualify for the 1987 World Finals at Pomona.

For the first time since 1990, he would not have been a contender for the funny car championship entering the year's final event. Tony Pedregon, who drives a Mustang for Force's team, clinched the title by defeating Whit Bazemore Sunday in Las Vegas.

Force is third in the standings with only the Pomona race remaining.

"Nothing lasts forever," Force said after the Las Vegas race. "But when Tony wins, I win, cause I own his hot rod."

A team spokesman said Force had not yet decided if he would park his national-record-holding Mustang next week or name another driver to race at Pomona.

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