Continued from part 1 YOU MENTIONED SAFETY A COUPLE OF TIMES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE THINGS YOU'RE DOING NOW? JOHN FORCE: "From Eric's crash, the first thing we did was, why did this happened? Why did he have head injuries only seen...
Continued from part 1
YOU MENTIONED SAFETY A COUPLE OF TIMES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE THINGS YOU'RE DOING NOW?
JOHN FORCE: "From Eric's crash, the first thing we did was, why did this happened? Why did he have head injuries only seen in helicopters and high-speed vibrations? It was a whole new thing that was taking place in our sport that we've seen over a period of time in the last four or five years, but we couldn't really pin it down until Eric's crash. So, we went after the roll cage and we went after the neck restraints. Our restraints were only made for impact, forward and backwards, there was no side-to-side. It was like, my God, Eric's head had the damage from side-to-side. Catastrophic what took place, the doctor's said, 'my God, what does this guy do?' They had only seen this in stuff, in military air force type, pilots that were injured through the vibration in the air. We talked about all that before, but out of that came the roll cage. And it was just a simple thing; we can't put padding in there to protect the driver if we don't widen the roll cage. Well, why did the roll cage get so narrow? If you look back, it's because we streamlined the cars over the years. If we streamlined them, we made the bodies narrower, so we made the roll cages narrower. And we forgot about the driver's safety. And that's what we're trying to get back to open our eyes. Out of that crash, that I crashed, then Ashley crashed it at Seattle, hit the wall a number of times. Robert crashed at Topeka, none of them had head injuries, they didn't even have headaches. I know that big Jim Dunn, and I love him dearly, when his car crashed, hit the wall three times that he came back yelling at me, 'I don't have a spare car. This is your fault.' Because we're all trying to get new cars built. And I thought to myself, 'yeah, but you're driver's doing an interview.' And that was a terrible crash, nothing like Eric or mine, because ours was more harmonics than isolation but the impact of totaling a car, bending it in half, the guy walked away without a headache. So, that came out of that. And then of course, for my crash, we woke up again. The car broke in half and hung the driver's legs and arms out. So, we went after that. We looked at F1. We hired people. We worked with NHRA. We worked with SFI, with Murph McKinney, the chassis, all the people that we created the Eric Medlen project, that we build and we continue every day. We put tubs in these cars. We're out of pocket a lot, but it doesn't matter. Every day I look at the safety of these cars that my children have in their A/Fuel cars, what we have in these Funny Cars, I feel like we've done everything we can for now, but the process continues. At Ford Motor Company, God bless them, it was their technicians and their laboratories that they put our cars in. They shipped them, they broke them, they sawed them up and they gave back to us how to build a stronger car. And the new six-wheeled car is probably seven times stronger. We may never know how much better this car is. But we know it's cost efficient, it wasn't that much more. It cost a lot to build it, but not hardly any for the other teams to order them. And they're all ordering these cars now. Number two -- it's 100 pounds heavier with the new safety rules, but guys are still there running and it's mixed the pot up a little bit. A lot of the guys like Wilkerson and Jim Dunn and Gary Densham and Worsham, they always had heavy cars. So it's put them right up in the ball game on winning races. In the big picture, the safety's there. There's been change, like the Car of Tomorrow with NASCAR, it's a shame that we have to lose, give someone's life to give us a wake-up call. So, so much change has come out it, the little black boxes that Ford's put on all the cars on dragsters and Funny Cars at their expense, so we know what happens when they just have simple tire shake."
WHICH GIVES YOU MORE PRIDE: YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO WIN 1,000 ROUNDS OR ASHLEY LEADING THE POINTS?
JOHN FORCE: "Her leading the points. But I told her, I said, 'Baby, don't get caught up in the points deal. They'll take it away from you next week, and you'll try to get it back, or maybe you'll keep it a week or two. This is going to be a slugfest, is what it's going to be. And you're a woman in the middle of this. And that's why I'm excited. I like to see Melanie Troxel go out there in the Funny Car because it kind of gives Ashley somebody to know that she ain't all on her own. It's not a man's world. There's two of these young gals fighting it out. But, it's going to be tough. I know I'm supposed to be hyping records, I come in my building and I see all these trophies, and I want to win again, but none of it is no good to me if I can't win again. But right now I'm excited the way Ashley has been learning, and I don't mean just driving the race car. I stand behind it in the lights, her car, and I watch it and I watch it run after run, so many runs, hundreds of them, and I watch her go in the last couple of years and it's like it's out of the groove and it doesn't come back. But now I'm starting to see it suck back into the groove. I worry about her body strength because I'm in the gym every day doing weights, I build my right arm for my push brake, I build my left hand to steer it with one hand. I'm doing a lot of exercises just to drive my race car. Heck, I have people come in and say, 'I've never seen anybody do that kind of an exercise.' Why? Because my trainer has taught me what I need to do in the gym to get certain things to handle my race car. You know, I've got a big old ego and I love the pat on the back -- what I want to do is I want to go to Atlanta and I want to win a drag race, even if it takes beating this girl -- you know what I'm saying? -- My own child. I want to get back in the game, I want to be a part of it; I love it. I can't tell you how I love it. I was taken out for six months and it broke my heart when doctors said, 'You may never drive again.' I'm like, 'What are you saying here?' It gets a man. I want that feeling back. I want it to be fun. You know how you write some stories; it's just another story? Some days you write a story and get all caught up in it? Well, that's why I got caught up in the gym. The gym is my only chance of getting back, to be with my kid, to grow the technology, and to win again. So, I'm coming to Atlanta. I joked yesterday -- they said, 'Schumacher's going after number 500. He's coming after you.' And I love ol' Schu, and I told him, 'Well, he ain't going to catch me until I drop dead, because I'm going to drive this old thing until I drop. So, that means I'm going to keep showing up at the races, as long as I can halfway do the job. Because I'm just falling in love with it all over again, and that's why the politics are political. Some days I want to just puke. I want to get so mad at people, but you have to look at everybody. I saw a movie the other night called The Boxer and it was about Ireland and it was about the Catholics and the Protestants and they were all fighting each other and killing each other and burning their houses down, and yet they were all right. Both sides; the wives, the children, and I said, 'Why can't they get it together?' And they're still fighting. When I look at our lifestyle, it's a continual battle. Maybe that's what it takes to grow this sport. So, I'm just going to stay in the fight and suck it up, and have the good moments that I have when I see Ashley out there doing what her old man fell in love with his whole life, 30 years, and that she's getting that opportunity and she's got a dang good team behind her, and she ain't too bad herself. She won't blow her horn, but let me tell you, in two years, she ain't doing too bad."
WITH THE ATTENTION THAT DANICA PATRICK IS GETTING AFTER HER VICTORY, HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE IRONY THAT IT HAPPENED AHEAD OF YOU TAKING THE POINTS LEAD INTO ATLANTA? AND, WHAT KIND OF BUMP DO YOU THINK THAT WILL GIVE WOMEN IN RACING?
ASHLEY FORCE: "I think it's a really great time right now in all kinds of racing, that women, we've been involved in it for many years, but now we're really starting to show and prove what we can do in it. And I think any for driver, male or female, it takes years to kind of get into the groove of things to succeed. So, it's fun that I'm in a time when there's so many women that are successful in it, and I'm very proud to be a part of that. Because there's still people, and I don't hear it very often, you know there's people who wonder, can girls do it? This is a male-dominated sport. And it's fortunate that I'm in the drag racing side of things. I think women are very much welcomed in drag racing. The fans are excited to have them. The male competitors are excited to have them. I don't know if I could take the criticism and the things that Shirley Muldowney went through when she raced. I don't know if I could've handled it through that. But thankfully we've come to a time where the men are happy to have the women there, they still want to beat them, but equally as much as the women want to take everyone else that they compete against. When I race, I don't care if it's a male or a female in the lane next to me, I just want to win that round and go on to the next round. And I feel that probably every driver feels the same way."
WHEN YOU SEE THE TYPE OF CRASH THAT NASCAR DRIVER MICHAEL MCDOWELL HAD AT TEXAS, AND HOW HE BASICALLY WALKED AWAY WITHOUT A SCRATCH, DO YOU THINK ABOUT HOW FAR RACING SAFETY HAS COME? AND, HOW FORTUNATE DO YOU FEEL AS A DRIVER TO BE A PART OF THAT AND TRY TO MAKE IT SAFER?
JOHN FORCE: "A lot of people, and I want to say this, that it looked like I was on a campaign that race cars were not safe. They kept me alive for 30 years -- on fire, rolling end over end. That isn't what I was saying. It was time for change. The horsepower, the speeds that we're running, NASCAR and IndyCar, F1, everywhere, you have to have change. And it's sad that we're so quick to get an ET slip that we just crash car and drag another one out and stuff our driver back in it. And when I lost Eric [Medlen], it was a heartbreak and it made me realize something's got to change here. We've got to open our eyes and get our heads out of just trying to win. But win is what you sell a sponsor. Ford doesn't want to hear, 'I want to build a better car, then I'm going to try to win.' They want it all at one time. And they understand the business. But when you look around, look back when [Ayrton Senna] was killed in F1, it took that to make a statement to make people go to work. It took Dale Earnhardt, he was old-school like me. I've got to be honest, it was one of you media people, I'm not going to embarrass you, but it was one of your media people that came to me and said, 'You're as stubborn as Earnhardt.' Well, what are you talking about? 'You won't wear a neck brace.' No, I don't like a neck brace, I can't turn my head, I can't see the Christmas tree. 'Yeah. Isn't it enough that we lost Earnhardt? But what's making me mad at you is that you are showing your drivers that they don't have to wear head restraints, and somebody's going to get hurt.' And I said, well, that's the way I am. So he said, 'That's the way I am. I'm going to write a story about you that you ain't going to like if you don't get the neck restraint on. I went home, madder than hell, and ended up later, about a week later, I said, you know, he's right. Because there is safety in it; that's why they make it. And I put that restraint on and I made my other drivers and we all got used to it. And we've all grown from there. So I thank that guy. I don't want to embarrass you, Jeff Wolf, but it was you that did that to me that made me so mad. Like, what does a media guy have the nerve to tell me to wear a head brace. But he did and he was totally right. So I thank you from that and we evolve from there now with multiple restraints to protect us because we haven't even touched the iceberg, we haven't even started to where we're going in the future."
WOMEN IN NHRA HAVE HAD A FAIR AMOUNT OF SUCCESS OVER THE YEARS. DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON WHY WOMEN HAVE BEEN MORE SUCCESSFUL IN NHRA AS OPPOSED TO OTHER SERIES?
ASHLEY FORCE: "I believe there's just more opportunity in NHRA drag racing. There's so many different categories, there's so many different levels of categories that you don't have to just jump into a professional team with big-time sponsorships. You can start with street cars. You can race Sportsmen, Super Comps, Comps. You can do that with your family on the weekends. I think that's where a lot of the female, and male drivers came from -- they started in those lower ranks, junior drag racing, they offer that for kids seven to 16, I think. And that's where that love of the sport starts. And then as you grow and you learn and the more you're growing up in racing, as I did, and a lot of the other females in drag racing did, you move through the ranks and then you end up in the professional categories. So, I think that you'll just see more and more women as the years go by. It's just taken this amount of time to get all of us up into the professional ranks, but I know there are a lot of girls who are in the junior dragsters who they will show at the races, they'll show pictures of the cars that have won races, that have just done amazing things and they're eight, nine years old. It's awesome. They'll be the ones down the road that'll be competing against us in the pro ranks. I really think that's why. It's just opportunity. And that the people involved in racing, sponsors, NHRA, the other competitors, they welcome the women, they want us there, and it makes us want to be a part of it."
JOHN FORCE: "There's something I can add to that, and Ashley knows this because she has love for a lady that helped open -- there's been a lot of women over the years that have been in the sport. But as I was coming up through the ranks, and I'm going back 25 years ago, a lady named Shirley Muldowney, you all know, they tried to shove her out. I was there. I watched it. And I watched her stand her ground and fight like nothing I'd ever seen in my life. And I'm telling you, she'd fistfight with anybody that tried to get in her way. You know the movie Heart Like a Wheel? And I ain't trying to refer to the movie, but this woman was not taking 'No,' for an answer, and that's what I tell Ashley. When the guys get on you and try to make it like you don't belong, then stand up like Shirley. And let me tell you something: Shirley would punch it out with them. I was there. I saw it. That's why I love her to this day."
Continued in part 3