Coil Comes Home to Chicago as Drag Racing's Biggest Winner

Austin Coil hasn't driven a race car since the 1960s when he was a line mechanic for one of the dealerships involved in sponsorship of this week's (May 31-June 2) fifth annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

Nevertheless, the Windy City hasn't produced a more successful racer than the 56-year-old Coil who, as a Crew Chief, has won 107 events and 13 championships including nine-in-a-row with John Force, owner and driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

All are career records, not just for the Funny Car division, but for the sport.

Before he signed on with the irrepressible Force at the end of the 1984 season, Coil had directed Frank Hawley to consecutive NHRA championships in 1982 and 1983.

When funding for his legendary "Chi-Town Hustler" Funny Car dried up in 1984, Coil found himself at a crossroads.

"We didn't have enough money to continue to run the NHRA series with the 'Chi- Town Hustler,'" Coil said, "so I was somewhat more receptive to going in a different direction than I probably would have been."

Force, who had been to four final rounds but still was winless in seven seasons on the NHRA circuit, approached Coil at the encouragement of his cousin, Gene Beaver, who had frequently raced against the "Chi-Town Hustler" with his own "L.A. Hooker" Funny Car.

"I told Coil I had a million dollars," Force recalled, "and he told me we'd win the title."

Both admittedly were fudging a bit.

For two years, Force drove his own transporter and lived on eggs, bologna and cheeseburgers so that he could save enough money to pay Coil and fly him to and from the races, which was one of the stipulations of their original agreement.

However, when Force called one night from El Paso, Texas, sick, exhausted and stressed out, Coil insisted that the loquacious one start flying to the races and, toward that end, renegotiated his own deal to free up the money necessary to hire a truck driver.

When Force was going to let his crew members go during the 1985 off-season to save money, something he had done throughout his early career, Coil dipped into his own savings to pay their salaries and thereby maintain some semblance of continuity.

That's a side of the 56-year-old veteran few see. Most perceive Coil as an emotionless mechanical genius. In fact, he is every bit as emotional as the driver with whom he continues to enjoy a unique relationship.

"I kind of get along with Force the way a person frequently gets along with his wife," Coil explained. "Like, there may be days when hollering and screaming are required, but it's not like we're thinking about leaving or anything. Our team motto is: 'it's often painful, but it's never boring.'"

Force, the NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds, credits Coil with teaching him how to win. Coil, for his part, gladly shares the credit with the man with whom he has won 100 NHRA national events including at least one in each of the last 16 seasons.

Winless in their first 31 races together, Force and Coil haven't gone more than 14 races without winning ever since.

This season, they've won twice (at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., and the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas) and earned runner-up honors on two other occasions, putting them into position to claim yet another record 10 CONSECUTIVE series titles.

FORCE at Chicagoland Dodge Dealers Nationals...
*Earned his 86th career victory, breaking Bob Glidden's record, at the 2000 edition of the Chicagoland Nationals.
*Has reached the finals four times in five career appearances at Route 66 Raceway, where he was runner-up in both events last year to Del Worsham in the spring and Whit Bazemore in the fall.
*Has qualified his Castrol GTX Ford No. 1 at this race in each of the last three seasons.
*Is the event record holder at 4.763, 321.19 mph although Whit Bazemore set the track records last fall.

FORCE Highlights...
*With NASCAR legends Richard Petty and David Pearson, is one of only three drivers
to have won 100 career events in a major motorsports series. *NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds.
*1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.
*Is seeking his 10th straight championship and 12th overall.

John this week will try to extend to 287 the number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car.
The last time he failed to make the 16-car lineup was, appropriately enough, on Halloween October, 31,1987 at the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. Ronald Reagan was president at the time; the Minnesota Twins were the champions of baseball and Julius Erving still was playing basketball...
John has won at least one NHRA national event in each of the last 16 seasons....
John has been a member of the last 10 Auto Racing All-America Teams selected by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association....
Force earned his milestone 86th career victory at Route 66 Raceway when he beat Jerry Toliver in the final round of the 2000 Chicagoland Nationals. That victory broke the record of Pro Stock driver Bob Glidden.

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