John and Ashley Force teleconference, part 3

Continued from part 2 HAVE YOU EVER LOST TO A WOMAN IN A RACE? DOES IT FEEL ANY DIFFERENT? JOHN FORCE: "The only woman I ever raced was my daughter, I think. I don't think I ever raced Shirley, not even in a match race. But I lost to Ashley,...

Continued from part 2

HAVE YOU EVER LOST TO A WOMAN IN A RACE? DOES IT FEEL ANY DIFFERENT?

JOHN FORCE: "The only woman I ever raced was my daughter, I think. I don't think I ever raced Shirley, not even in a match race. But I lost to Ashley, but, of course, she was my child, so I was excited to see her evolve and go to the next round. But, I tell you, I've seen a lot of drivers over the years, I won't name names, but they used to say, 'He's going to get beat. He's got to race a woman.' A lot of men got mental over women. They just didn't believe they could beat them. And I just turned that switch off. I wouldn't want to know who's over there. If I get a driver that's a killer on the lights, I don't want to know it. I want to play my game, drive A to B and do what I do. So, if I'm going to race against Melanie or Ashley or anybody, I'm just going to do what I always do. I just keep doing the same thing."

WITH WHAT'S BEEN SAID ABOUT WHAT SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY WENT THROUGH, IS IT BETTER THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO DEAL WITH ALL THE COLORFUL CHARACTERS FROM THE OLD DAYS? YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE GOING TO BE SO DIFFERENT. IS THAT GOOD OR BAD?

ASHLEY FORCE: "I think, just as far as being a gal racing and having to go through that, there's enough you're focusing on already as far as just getting the car down the track, the craziness of the schedules you get at each track. I couldn't imagine throwing in people not wanting me there and being vocal about it. On a personal level, I'm thankful that I'm able to go out -- I raced against Tim Wilkerson in the final last week and him and I just had a blast, going up next to each other, and I'm glad that that's the situation that I'm at, just because of the type of person that I am. I like people to be happy with me. I don't like when people don't want me around, so I'm glad the group that I'm with -- especially the Funny Car class -- they seem real close. They've all been racing for many years, and I'm fortunate that I've grown up around them so I've known most of them since I was in diapers, a lot of them. The stories, though, that I remember from Dad racing against [Al] Hofmann, I remember, I'm sure, completely different than Dad, but I have great stories. I loved it. I loved the excitement, and the two of them against each other. It's fun memories that I have, being young, when I first got into racing and loved being there, and I always remember the two of them. That was the big story from weekend to weekend."

JOHN FORCE: "We've lost so many people -- Pat Foster -- just a list lately, but Al Hofmann, he was something. I can remember when Ashley was like three, four years old, and how Hofmann came by the trailer, because he got mad at me, and I want to say this to Ashley, right now they all love you and you're John Force's little girl and a woman out there in a race car, but when it gets down to the crunch for this championship, a lot of the personalities are good people, but they're going to fight the fight. And they're going to use the head games, everything they can to beat you. That's what it takes. And that's what you're going to see as you stay in this game. But Al Hofmann, I remember one day he was so mad he got out of the car and punched a hole in the side of my race car. I went over and said, 'Are you nuts?' And he was nuts, but he had that drive to win. I remember him looking at Ashley, sitting in the dirt, playing with her toys, and he goes, 'Hey, I heard that's your kid.' And I said, 'That's Ashley, Al.' And he goes, 'She's too cute. I'd bet anything she's not your kid.' Just always throwing the mud at me. That's what he was. It was a fight from the beginning to the end. And, yet, later in years after he quit, I would get calls, and he'd say, 'Force, don't let that Ron Capps or Scelzi beat you. C'mon, stand up for us guys.' It was like he was part of that era with me and he didn't want to see me give it up. But yet last week at Vegas when me and Capps weren't in the show and we were both struggling, we made jokes in the staging lanes -- "Capps, here we've been, these guys who have fought for the championship for the last five years, and here we are not even qualified.' And we joked that we've got to get our stuff together, and if our cars ain't gonna run, you and I are good enough to fix 'em. Well, Capps fixed his. He qualified. I didn't fix mine, obviously. I didn't make the Show. But, we have those ups and downs. And, in the heat of the battle, we fight to get that win, because the head game is part of it. You don't mean to get into it, you just want your opponent to know that you believe you're going to win, at whatever cost."

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR DAD, BOTH ON AND OFF THE TRACK?

ASHLEY FORCE: "I think the biggest thing that I've learned from him is how important your team is. And that's always been one of the top things that he would talk about, and how he loved his guys, they were like sons to him. And to really enjoy your team and not let it become such a business of racing, but you're on the road with them, you're traveling to different places with them, you lose together, you win together, but it's those guys around you that really are your closest friends. He taught me that, and I've really seen how important that really is. My guys, I'm so close to them, and my crew chief, we do team dinners each week before the race -- not even to talk about racing, but to talk about what's going on in all of our lives, and I think it makes us a better team. We're that much tighter come the race weekend, and if things are going wrong, we're there to work through it together instead of being against each other. I think it just makes for a more successful team. That's the biggest thing that I've learned from my Dad."

YOU SAID YOU'RE BACK TO 80 PERCENT OF YOUR MUSCLE MASS, AND THAT YOU'VE GOT YOUR RANGE OF MOTION BACK. WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU'LL BE BACK TO 100 PERCENT? ALSO, ONE DAY IT WILL BE TIME FOR YOU TO STEP OUT OF THE CAR. HOW WILL YOU RECOGNIZE WHEN IT'S TIME?

JOHN FORCE: "With therapy, they had me using big giant four-inch wide rubber bands to get motion and doing all of the things to get your body to bend again. And I reached the point after three-and-a-half, four months, that I wasn't getting anywhere and they okayed me to go to a gym to work weights. I'd lost 25 pounds, and I wanted to put muscle back on because if I'm going to compete with these kids, to race against the young people that are coming up and to stick around a while, I've got to be in better shape than I was. I haven't had a drink in -- trust me, nobody likes a beer better than me -- but I haven't had a drink since before the crash, because the doctor said, 'You need everything that you can, and one, you don't want to slip and hurt yourself, watch when you take baths.' Gave me all these rules, if you're going to be back to where you were. But I really looked at myself, in '07, and even though I was in the hunt for the championship, I wasn't the same guy. I didn't have the energy; I didn't have the strength. I was tired in the middle of day. Basically, Father Time was catching up with me. So through the crash -- and I've always said I'd do anything to have Eric Medlen back, we can't change that, but I would not change my crash. So much came out of it. Not just, mostly in technology in the things that we learned, but what I've learned about my own health -- how to eat right, how to get my sleep and how to work out every day. And I've got to say it's a religion and it's hard to do, but I think therapy got me into that. So, when I come back as a driver, when I get back 100 percent, John Force is going to be better than he was. And this ain't a bulljive story. I don't say something I can't back up. But I'll come out better, my reactions will be better, my timing, everything that I do, experience that I have, is going to make me better. Seat of the pants, like Ashley was talking about earlier, just doing it and doing it and doing it. But my health is going to be stronger, because I'm getting my strength back. I'm never going to be 25 again, like Ashley, but I can stick around. I just signed for five more years last year, so I've got four years. But, as long as I can drive the car, as long as I can cut the light and as long as my heart is good to where I can do this, then, like I said, I'm going to drive until I drop. The day that I can't do the job for the sponsors or that I've failed the team on the race track, then I have no right. These kids work too hard to give you a winning car that as a driver that you fail them. And, as long as I can do that, and that's where my drive is -- I go to the gym some mornings and it's like, 'Ah, man. I can't do this. It's been six days in a row. It's the seventh day. I can't do it.' But I say, 'Well, then you're going to have to give up your seat.' And, buddy, that scares me to death. Because I don't know anything else but driving these hot rods. We got into Hollywood, we got so caught up into making movies, and racing, it almost became secondary. And that was a big mistake I made. I'll never make that mistake again with myself or my family. We're back to racing. I got a second chance. I'm being with my kids. I'm going to be in better shape and stronger. At the race track, people tell me, 'You lost your gait.' I didn't even know what that meant. Don Prudhomme had the walk we all used to imitate, and John Force has his walk. But I don't have it anymore. When I'm tired, it's all I can do, from one hip to the other, but I'm going to get back, and that's my whole goal in life right now. And the other goal is to be with my family."

DO YOU REALIZE WHAT IT'S TAKEN FOR YOU TO LEAD THE POINTS? AND, DO YOU THINK THAT SOMEDAY YOU'LL REACH 500 EVENTS, LIKE YOUR FATHER?

ASHLEY FORCE: "Well, that's a long ways off. I'm only in my second year in Funny Car, but I've been racing now seven years and I've grown up at the track; and I think it takes all that background. These cars, there's a lot to them, you know. It's not just going straight down a race track. There's so much physically and so much emotionally and mentally that I didn't realize was a part of it until I moved into the Funny Car class. I also am fortunate to have a great team behind me. So many times, people want to talk about being a woman and this-and-that, but you've got to remember that I've have a team of 10 guys behind me that give me this awesome car to race and they give me a safe car to race. So you can't take the credit. I am the female in the driver's seat, but they're the ones that get me up there to the line, that tear down my car, put it back together in our 75 minutes between rounds, so they're just as much a part of this as I am. It's nice to be a female in it and to be doing well, but I absolutely would not be there without them."

CAN YOU COMPARE THE RIGORS OF YOUR RECOVERY TO YOUR QUEST FOR CHAMPIONSHIPS?

JOHN FORCE: "You know, it's a complete different way of life. But you have to dedicate your life; it's sad, but when you dedicate to be a champion -- I don't mean just to win a race or to win a championship -- when you do the things like the New York Yankees did, when you do things like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, to where you dominated, you've got to give up something because you've got to live it every day like an addiction. I see Robert Hight the same way. My daughter Adria says 'Daddy, he gets off of an airplane, he hugs me, he hugs the baby and he goes straight to the shop,' because the race car is an addiction. You live it. It becomes a way of life. And that's what it took me to dominate. And once you win a championship then it starts all over again and then you become this trained machine and you just go, go, go, go. And you're winning, you're winning, you're winning; you even take the Winner's Circle for granted. You're getting awards and records -- I've walked into banquets and they said 'Do you know why you're here?' Well I really don't. I just know my schedule says be here. 'Well you're getting an award because you did this.' It's not really about the awards. Am I proud to be making 500? Well yeah, that's something in a lifetime. I kind of joke about it; 'If you stick around long enough you'll get to 500.' What I'm more about is getting qualified and winning two rounds to get to that 1,000 or winning four rounds. You know, I couldn't even get qualified in Vegas to win a round, so I've got to get my stuff together. But in the same comparison, when I went into the gym this doctor that I met, Robert Ortmayer, this therapist, he said, 'You want to be ready in two-and-a-half months?' I said, 'Yeah that's testing.' Well, two other therapists didn't want the job. They said, 'You need six months and then we'll take a look at you.' I said, 'You don't understand. If I ain't back in my car for testing, I've got to turn the ride over to another kid and that means I lose the season and I've got to get back for sponsors and a lot of reasons; and because I want to.' Then the guy said, 'Well, then be prepared for a lot of pain. That means that your body doesn't bend. You've got to go into this thing and you've got to live it.' To the point that I remember having my arms and fingers bent until I cried. I was so mad some days I wanted to slug him, it was like he was being mean to me. He said, 'No, I told you. You have to live this, everyday.' I remember Bazemore, the one thing Bazemore said to me that stuck in my head -- he called me and said, 'You've got to go to therapy because I went through it and I only had one broken leg. I didn't have broken leg, broken arm, burnt off fingers, cut off fingers, burnt off toes, knees screwed up.' He said, 'You're a mess. You better go to therapy, you know what I mean? Like you've chased those championships in the last 15 years, because if you ain't loving it, you'll never make it. It better be Disney Land,' he said, 'Everyday. Don't let anything, don't take your cell phone, don't let business' -- and I turned the business off and I've got to say, my people ran it really good while I was gone. So, to compare the two; completely different, but the same drive, the same motivation. In fact that's how I got hooked on football again. I hadn't watched football since I was a kid when I played it in high school. I found that I could get up at four in the morning, five in the morning, turn on ESPN, start watching the football, the Tony Romos, all this stuff. And it would help me motivate to get me back; and they were showing it all day and all night. Luckily, through my rehab, football season was over and I was ready to move on. I don't know what I would have done without it. It just got be caught up. Everyday I'd live by it -- what the teams were doing, what they were doing in training -- and I got another addiction for it. And that's why my wife says, 'John, you never take a break, you go everyday.' Even when I'm on the road, I go to the gym at the hotel. If the gym ain't a good gym, I get the rubber bands out and my putty and I go to work with the barbells that I carry in my suitcase because you've got to live it. Getting well, you've got to live like you live winning a championship. And if a man wanted to save his marriage, you better live your marriage the same way. That's where I failed."

ARE YOU OFTEN AMAZED WHEN YOU SIT BACK ND LISTEN TO YOUR FATHER GO ATHROUGH AN INTERVIEW?

ASHLEY FORCE: "It's really interesting to see how far off of a question he can get -- and, like, I try to remember the question, and I can't remember it -- somehow he always sums it all up and it's a funny story. But he rarely actually answers, I think, what you guys are asking."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Al Hofmann , Ron Capps , John Force , Richard Petty , Don Prudhomme , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight