|CASTROL GTX HIGH MILEAGE TEAM|
Dean “Guido” Antonelli, General Manager of John Force Racing, Inc., and the co-crew chief on the Castrol GTX® High Mileage Ford Mustang in which John Force will try to repeat this year as NHRA Funny Car Champion, 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 earned a reputation driving some of the most cantankerous vehicles on the planet, among them the “Nanook” fuel altered, he had some other assets, too.
One was experience gleaned from his job as a “destruction engineer” at the U-Haul Technological Center and Test Laboratory in Tucson, Ariz.. Another was the 12-year apprenticeship he served under Hall of Fame crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly during Force’s complete domination of Funny Car racing.
Ten times in his 12 years as Team Leader on Force’s Funny Car, the 46-year-old celebrated a championship. As a result, when Force’s daughter, Ashley Force Hood, moved from the Top Alcohol Dragster class to Funny Car in 2007, Antonelli was the 15-time champion’s personal choice to supervise her development.
In four seasons, he and tuning partner Ron Douglas turned Force Hood from a novelty into a legitimate contender who finished second in 2009 and third a year ago.
“He earned his shot,” Force said of Antonelli. “I could have gone out there and hired anyone, but ‘Guido’ grew up in the system, he trained under the best in Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly and he proved himself.”
After directing Ashley to Rookie-of-the-Year honors and a 10th place finish in 2007, Antonelli turned up the wick in 2009 and 2010. Not only did he help Force Hood earn back-to-back victories in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., he guided her to second and third place finishes each of the last two years.
As for his career at U-Haul, Antonelli said it was one of the best jobs ever.
“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.”
It wasn’t so unlike his current job as crew chief to the sport’s all-time biggest winner. 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?
Under Antonelli’s tutelage, Force Hood appeared in 16 final rounds in four seasons, twice set the NHRA national speed record and started 15 races from the No. 1 qualifying position (including a category-best six races in both 2009 and 2010).
Now, he and Douglas will try to become the third different crew chief tandem to guide Force to a championship.
“We have an excellent crew,” Antonelli said. “As a result, Ron and I don’t have to worry about the preparation of the car. We’re totally confident that everything is right every time we pull up to the starting line.
“That makes (the car) a lot easier to tune,” he continued. “Not having to worry about whether the clutch pack is set right or the blower is too loose makes all the difference. We know everything is prepared right, so we’re never chasing (the tune-up). That is very positive.”
Antonelli’s biggest regret is that his friend, Eric Medlen, a JFR driver who lost his life in a 2007 testing accident, isn’t here to share he and Ashley’s 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. So, not sharing (this) with him, especially now that I’m back with Force, is really disappointing. I miss him a lot.”
Although Force didn’t give him the official title until last January, Antonelli has been the de facto General Manager since the 150,000 square foot Brownsburg, Ind., shop facility opened in 2004.
“‘Guido has been with me for more than 16 years,” Force said. “He and Robert (JFR president and 2009 Funny Car Champion Robert Hight) worked together on my race car. There’s nobody I respect more, whether he’s the General Manager of The Eric Medlen Project or the crew chief on my hot rod.
“I’ve got great people. That’s how John Force Racing succeeds.”
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