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John Force moved to California rehab center. Celebrates daughter's birthday with ice cream

John Force has left a Virginia hospital to move to a rehabilitation center closer to his home in California and the NHRA great celebrated the news by taking his daughter for ice cream on her birthday.

Brittany Force wrote on social media the stroll outside the hospital — Force appears to be in a wheelchair and has a cast on his right arm — was in celebration of her 38th birthday.

Force suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fiery, 300-mph crash at the Virginia Nationals last month. The 75-year-old was first in neurological intensive care and then moved into acute neuro care at the Virginia hospital. Among his other injuries is a fractured sternum.

Force's car had a catastrophic engine failure at the finish line and his dragster slammed driver-side into the left concrete guard wall and then careened back into the right wall.

Force spent 15 days at the VCU Medical Center and on Tuesday boarded an AirMed ambulance for the three-hour flight to a neurological rehab center to treat his brain injury.

John Force Racing said in a statement that the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion is still suffering from cognitive and behavioral symptoms from the TBI, but has been able to converse with family and staff. He's still prone to periods of confusion, but enjoyed Monday's birthday celebration with Brittany.

Graham Rahal, the IndyCar driver who is married to Force's daughter, Courtney, said Tuesday he was watching the Virginia Nationals on television as he prepared for his own race in California. He said Courtney was asleep and he immediately awakened her because “unfortunately I've seen a lot of crashes in NHRA. Courtney's explosion in 2017 and Brittany had hers and John's had a lot over the last five or so years. But you know, you know when it's different.”

He said it was an agonizing day in Monterey, California, as Force's wife, Laurie, was also with them at the IndyCar race and the trio was desperately trying to get any updates possible. Rahal praised the IndyCar medical team for quickly scrambling into action to assist in Force's care from afar, and once the IndyCar race was over, Rahal called in a favor from NetJets to get Courtney and her mother on a flight to Virginia.

“There were just so many questions to be asked, what was his condition? And it wasn't until really a day-and-a-half later that we started to get some clarity,” Rahal said. “But you know, this is racing, and as much as I hate to be tone deaf to it — because I am not — these things happen.”

Rahal also added that it took him years to get over the 2015 death of fellow IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, something Rahal said he's never before discussed publicly.

“He was a very close friend of mine and it took me years to move past the mental side of sitting in a car, particularly at Indianapolis or just a superspeedway, and not have a flash through me,” Rahal said. "And so on that given Sunday with John, it was hard. But you've got to do what you've got to do and go out there.

“From there, our focus is just get the girls to him as fast as we could.”

In 2007, at age 58, Force was seriously injured in a racing crash in Ennis, Texas. He has continued to race at the highest level and has two wins this season, including his record 157th NHRA victory in New Hampshire.

Force’s daughter, Brittany, is a two-time world champion, while Courtney stepped away from NHRA as she and Rahal started a family. They share two young daughters that Rahal has been caring for while Force was surrounded in the Virginia hospital by his own four daughters and wife.

Rahal is the son of Bobby Rahal, a former Indianapolis 500 winner and three time IndyCar champion.

He said the Force family will rotate who is with John Force during his recovery as the family continues its respective racing careers.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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