John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, continues to exert his strength in the Funny Car category with one win and one semifinal finish so far this season. He has also been the No. 1 qualifier for the past five events dating back to Reading last year. He took part in a recent NHRA teleconference to discuss his season to date.
Q: John, you've been on quite a hot streak during this handful of races. Which is harder, getting on the hot streak or keeping that momentum going forward?
Force: I think I call it a hot streak, call it what you want. My crew chief got hot, Jimmy Prock, and it happens. Working together with the brain trust. We're focusing on Corporate America. I spoke with The Gainesville Sun this morning, same thing there. If I don't continue to win, if I don't continue to dominate, I'm not going to have a job in this sport. I've been very lucky with corporations like Castrol and Ford that have been with me for a long time. I'm lucky to have Auto Club and Peak and these guys moving forward. It's not enough money to keep me in the car or my daughter Brittany. It was exciting for us at Phoenix. We brought Todd Smith on to join Dean Antonelli in that Top Fuel car, and they put us in a final. So she's motivated, and wins are what John Force Racing needs right now or it's not going to be here.
Q: John, what I always wanted to know is where do you get the passion and desire for the sport of NHRA Drag Racing from deep in your soul? Where does it come from? Where do you get that desire from?
Force: I just love it, love the racing. I remember the first time in an elevator in Gainesville. Just got into an elevator, and the fans, somebody recognized me. I'm talking about over 30 years ago, they were all excited with their kids in an elevator in this hotel that we were in, and I thought, "Wow, lot different." Everywhere you go, people want to race, but Gainesville is happening. That's where they go to get out of the cold weather, I guess, and they want to see their racers.
One of the issues I talked about this morning with the new names like Antron [Brown] and Robert Hight and [Jack] Beckman and the Patron girl [Alexis DeJoria]. What you said about the girl there, she really is a real tiger. We're excited. Even though she beat Robert in the final, we're really excited for her and for her dad and everybody because we've got to build new stars. [Don] Garlits, we love him, he built the sport, and he's still in the middle of all of it, but Shirley [Muldowney], and they're not out here with us all the time, they're trying to get back, but [Don] Prudhomme and [Kenny] Bernstein are gone, but we have Brandon [Bernstein]. Now he's out of the seat. Lucky he's got a family and kids. He found a home with Alan Johnson, with the Qatar group. But bottom line, we need him back in a Funny Car. We need that name back in a dragster. If I had an opening, like I said this morning, if I got hurt and [daughter] Ashley didn't come back because of her children right now, he'd be the first guy I'd call not just that he's a talented driver interview, but because he's one of the names that built this sport. We've got to build the new names, you know what I mean? And we're doing that. That's why we're here.
You know, I'm working so I don't have to go back to that trailer house and back to driving that truck. Not that it was a bad life, but I fought to get out of there, and I ain't going back. We won't fail. We're working on it hard every day. I've hired Just Marketing, Octagon with our TV show. Lot of stuff happening, and I'm going to stay in business.
Q: Over the years, many drivers and teams must have wondered over and over, besides your great work ethic, what you have when you go to the line. I'm sure they'd like to bottle that, no doubt. But what can you share with your fans that most helps you win so often? What do you have that you can tell them when you go to that line to get you down to the other end?
Force: Because it isn't just winning on that day that you're going to get your mind right and go to the starting line. It starts with working with your team. And if anything I'm guilty of, I got so big, six corporations, could be seven now, the Eric Medlen Project, and building chassis, TV shows, a lot of stuff that I've done. Sometimes you get so overloaded in the office, that's why I split and gave Robert Hight where he takes over the day-to-day stuff he runs, and I run continually chasing money and trying to keep the rest of the ship on track. I'm guilty of being a micromanager, something to that effect. But one of the things last year was a wakeup call because I've always had a ride. I've been with Castrol 28, 29 years, Ford 16 years. All of a sudden, Robert's got a ride, Courtney's (Force) got a ride with Traxxas, and John Force at the end of the year won't. I joked about it. I sat with my wife, and she said, "You know, if you had remembered why you came, and it was to win races and championships. I remember you talking about going to the Gators, how Prudhomme aggravated you so bad the way you felt he treated you and called you a leaker. Get down there and whip him." Well, he ain't here anymore, but I still set my goals. Him and others like him, the young kids coming up, and my goal is to go there and win.
Sometimes you take it for granted, and then you forget about the money that you even take for granted. That's Corporate America. She said to me when all of this went down in August, the first time in all these years, John Force over 25 years is going to be on the market. Now she said, "Now go win because winning fixes everything." And Jimmy Prock said, "You scrambled this team. You mixed up Robert. You mixed up everybody, you know what I mean? You moved Mike Neff" because I started looking. What do I do to secure the future? If I've got to go to Top Fuel, Jimmy Prock is why I went with Jimmy Prock, if I was forced to go there. But it was a matter of I got back in the cockpit of the car. That's my real office, not sitting at this desk, telling stories. Get out there, learn the car, know the crewmembers' names, learn what that track can take. Walk it with Lanny Miglizzi [racetrack specialist] and the crew chiefs. Know it, and quit taking for granted that life goes on because it doesn't. It's called reinventing yourself. I didn't create the concept. Somebody else did. But I lived by it for years, and that's what I'm doing. I'm reinventing myself, my race teams, and we've got the championship that was critical, hoping to have sponsorships locked up before the next championship.
But I ain't taking no chances, I'm going after it. Me and Robert, my son-in-law, is president of my company. I made it clear to him, I'm racing. You've got a job, and you need to win for Auto Club, but I need a job, so don't get in my way. Don't anybody get in my way because if I fail, I'm out of business, and I can't. So I'm going to find them. I know there are a lot of great athletes out there, you know. I watched that [Matt] Hagan kid. I watched him in the gym how hard he works to build what he does. Him and Robert are the two best leavers out there, and I've got to get up with them if I'm going to have a shot at winning again. And Gainesville, every week I say I'm starting at Gainesville. If I leave Gainesville, I'll be starting in Vegas. If I leave Vegas, I'll be starting in Charlotte. That's where I start to get my mind right because John Force got a little bit lost, OK, and my mind's right now.
John Force last won in Gainesville in this car in 2001.
Q: You talked about Gainesville. You have seven career wins there, which is the most, not only in Funny Car, but in all the categories. But you haven't won there since 2001. What are your memories about Gainesville, and talk about trying to get that win, another win there at that facility?
Force: I won a lot of races, [former crew chief] Austin Coil and myself and the teams. We were hot. We rolled. We won 10 straight [season championships]. We did stuff nobody can imagine. None of that matters. There are two things that are important to me, and it's goal setting, record setting. One, to stay in this, I ain't trying to get rich. I'm already rich. I'm reinvesting my money. What I'm fighting to do is to stay in business, and you set goals. That's why I say to that other writer, I may not have answered his question. You don't go to the starting line and say today I'm going to get up for it. You start right now, today. But I already started a month ago when I rolled into Pomona. I don't take any weekends off, Saturdays and Sundays. I work every day so I don't forget why I came. But two things that stuck out in my mind is Kenny Bernstein. He was a guy, him and Prudhomme, that I looked at that were setting records. Kenny ran the first 300 at Gainesville. So we know it's got the potential to be the baddest track in the land. If the conditions are right and our teams are right and our cash flow is good, which it is right now, we can go there and win, and John Force Racing continues as we know it. I'm not going to quit racing. But if you run out of money, you change the way you race.
The other thing was the loss of Eric Medlen [during a testing accident]. The only reason I'm going back so I don't look like I'm talking out of two sides of my mouth. But I was focused on making movies, and I should have been on the starting line with Eric Medlen. I was actually with USA Today doing a story in the trailer when Eric crashed on Monday. I don't know why it was a story I missed. I was on the phone doing it, but I know more about these Funny Cars than anybody because I've done it the longest. I've made more runs. Now that I'm one of the oldest left in this business, and I look out, and I should have been there to see what took place, and all I had was the wreckage to evaluate. The videos that we did have, we went through because the TV show was filming, but we buried them. They'll never be seen by anybody out of respect to that kid. But it was a wakeup call how important safety is. Guilty of it again. My daughter said to me in the last two races, "Dad, I'm getting headaches real bad." Courtney in the Funny Car. I went over, and I looked, but I wasn't looking. Everybody was looking. Nobody was looking. She said it was wrong. Something is causing it. I said, "Oh, it's just a girl, and she ain't winning so she's aggravated and everything's a headache." Hell, I even blamed the new boyfriend she's got. Finally, my wife said do something. Robert sent her car to Indy. Ripped it apart, and that's what they did. We flew her there, and she called up yesterday. Courtney was almost in tears. She goes, "Dad, they found the problem. I was sitting sideways in the seat." They had built the roll padding to fit me the way I was sitting, and they started all over. She was so excited. Dean Antonelli sent her over, and Ron Douglas went over to have a head scan because she's had headaches for too many weeks, and that ain't normal. But the car can cause it, and I blamed it on being a girl. Stupid me.
Safety, we have to live it. Everything goes good, so you forget about it, and somebody else is going to get hurt. I'm not going to allow that. So we're addressing it. Even though I'm going to bring my TV show back because it's a project. The Eric Medlen Project for safety is up and running, and John Medlen is running that project. It was his son that we lost, and the new manufacturers that we talked to, we make it clear, if safety is not in your deal, let's don't waste our time. And they all want it because it's from us and NASCAR and IndyCar, that very stuff we learned goes into the cars that you put your children in. So Gainesville had a terrible day for me. And it's had its great days. But I'm not going to forget to continue to win like Bernstein and to continue to build safety.
Q: John, as you and your representatives deal with Corporate America, what are you finding out? Is Corporate America interested? Are they putting you on hold? Are they saying no thanks? What is the early return on your search?
Force: I'll tell you what John Flack told me from Just Marketing. He said, "You'll make 100 calls, and you'll be lucky to get 10 or 15 returns." He said with John Force, his name, he said they are calling back. He's excited about it. We're all looking at the economy, what it's done to us, OK. I've been spending some time with [NHRA President Tom] Compton because I'm getting hammered with questions about the state of NHRA Drag Racing, the state of our TV package. A lot of stuff that's turned into rumor isn't really true. Not because Tom Compton tells me, and I do believe him, but I look at the facts. I looked at ratings, and I sat with Tom. Yeah, are they down? Show comes on at 2 a.m., yeah, that's happened at times, but the ratings are still strong with comparisons to other sports and stuff. We create our own negativity, and then it grows and the media goes after it. We're not in bad shape. We've got to make changes. We've got to put people in the stands. ... We have our problems. Tom Compton admits. He was over here for five hours last week because I wanted some answers.
I did an interview with Hot Rod magazine, and all I did was dance because I didn't have data, and I said, "That's it." I want data, and I want to know the facts and where are we going in the future? What are we doing to protect this sport? How are we helping the kids? Get the younger generation in there. It's all being addressed. Just people get into a groove where they want to be negative, and they want to write articles sometimes that just bash what I work every day to try to grow.
What I'm saying is the bashings ain't helping. Yeah, they're reporting what they think they know sometimes. Well, they're not accurate. ... If we're going to build our sport and give our children jobs, let's be positive. What we've done, the ones that have given their lives that have been part of this, we're trying to bring it back. Let's build it. Let's talk about what's positive. Not about what's negative. We will fix the negative things, and I'm working with Tom every day to try to help. OK. So, sorry I got sideways there. And I'm not taking sides. ... That's about as much as I know. But I know this sport. It's a product. It's a good product. Yeah, they have financial troubles, rainouts, you know crowd down a percentage or whatever the number is. ... I did an interview a few weeks ago, and I'm sorry I did it because I didn't have the facts. I got programmed by the things I read sometimes, and it's starting to be too much. So we need to really evaluate it because I know I have sponsors that call me in and say, "Gee, look what I just read. Why do I want to get into racing?" And I say, "Well, I can't argue." Then I start reading a lot of this stuff, and it's wrong. It ain't because I'm chasing Corporate America because some of it is not wrong and some of it is not fair. I'm not taking sides with the writers or taking sides with the NHRA. Then you go to the writers, and they say, "You know what, I only wrote what another racer told me." OK, well, maybe the racer believed it. And I ain't saying they're all wrong. I'm not saying they're all wrong. A lot of it is the truth. But we create this energy that goes down a road and goes negative.
I find my own self saying, "Yep, that's bad." Then I walked and thought, "Why did I say that?" I read that. Well, that's why I called up Compton, and he came over here for five hours, him and his team to educate me. I don't let nobody fool me. OK? I can read a hustler right now because I'm a hustler. But right now, what I'm telling you, I never lie. I embellish. But right now, what I'm saying is fact. I believe in our sport, and it's going to get better.
I know when I'm with Tom, I can say, "Hey, let's talk about these things." Because certain things you talk about, you can't win. Fifty love you, 50 hate you. And man, I keep going into Corporate America, and they keep showing me stuff. Yeah, I ain't saying some of it ain't true, but some of it is wrong. I even call some of the writers. "What do you think of this? I only wrote what a guy told me." I've got somebody telling the story that ain't been in the sport for 10 years that's going to write big old stuff we all believe? The guy's a smart guy. I'm not saying he's stupid. But is he in the thick of what's happening? I hear these guys talk about we need to do long burnouts, we need to do things. I'd love to do it. Can't. Can't go back. These machines are exotic. It would be like changing IndyCar to F-1. Trust me, I'm trying to build new budgets to go back. I can't go back. I'm going to have to, but I have to go back to work, do more shows, more appearances. Because to change these programs that we have created, hell, the crew chiefs that run them if they went back wouldn't know how to run them the other way. Whoa, where did that come from? Sorry, guys. OK, let's get back to why we're here. Gainesville.
Q: Talk about Brittany and her racing to the final there in Phoenix. It's got to be disappointing on one side to see her not capture the win but exciting to go see her get that far. Do you see her breaking into the win column before the end of the season?
Force: Yes, but let me tell you something. Antron did his job on the starting line. They left pretty close together. He's got a better race car right now, and he's a great driver, and he's a champion. I've got no complaints. My daughter last year struggled mentally. "Dad, will I ever win?" And I said, "Honey, this is the best time of your life. This is about winning. This is what it's all about. It's about learning. It's not just about winning. You've got to learn how to lose to learn how to win." I've seen guys that jumped out at the first national event and won, and then they just took it for granted and never won again and got out of the business. I have witnessed it. I said, "If you don't have the pain of defeat, you'll never have the happiness of victory." When she got down there, "I had a chance to win, Dad, and I didn't win." I said, "No, but you were taught by the best. Antron Brown beat you. It's a learning lesson that he gave you for free. Not that you were late on the light, not that your car was wrong, he's better. And if you motivate yourself to be as good as him and you work harder on that Tree, then you'll be a champion. Otherwise you will fail." I said, "You realize I was almost 40 years old before I started winning races? Thirty-six, or whatever the age was before I started winning championships." My kid's already out there in the final round. You know what I mean? I went five, six years before I could get to a final. She's in her second season. No, I'm proud of her. I'm proud, and my job is to find a sponsor for her. I cannot set her on fire. You know what I mean? She lived in the hospital, her and Ashley and Courtney, they lived there with Eric. It was the most painful thing I ever lived. I can't imagine how John Medlen survived it.
I'm not going to fail my children. I'm going to try not to fail the other kids out there. Any technology I have, anybody can have. All they've got to do is pick up the phone. If they don't have it already, they can have it. Just like [team owner Don] Schumacher offered my kids, the first thing he offered. Sometimes people get mad at Don Schumacher. Not me. Call right up. You ought to put a canopy on your kid's car. I bought three of them. Because he cares about our children. The rest of it is just what we do on the starting line and how we fight every day because that is the way it is. I'm excited about her. Courtney is struggling, but maybe this new race car, you know, we looked at a couple of runs where she pedaled it where it didn't need to be pedaled because her head was rattling and telling her that she had to pedal it or maybe she'd be winning some races by now. But that's what makes this sport exciting.
I'm going to fight for this sport until I drop dead, and I'm going to give you everything I've got when I get to Gainesville. You've got me excited today. Thank you because I needed an energy push.
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