John Force - Ford interview 2008-08-26

This Week in Ford Racing John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, is in sixth place in the NHRA POWERade Funny Car standings heading into this weekend's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. All four John Force Racing...

This Week in Ford Racing

John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, is in sixth place in the NHRA POWERade Funny Car standings heading into this weekend's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. All four John Force Racing teams have already qualified for the Countdown, which starts at Charlotte in mid- September. Additionally, Force qualified for this weekend's $100,000 U.S. Smokeless Showdown for the 24th consecutive year and 25th time in his career.

YOU'RE IN THE COUNTDOWN AND THIS WEEKEND'S SHOWDOWN. "Just to make the Countdown, myself, and be lucky enough to get in because I missed races because of my crash, we're very fortunate."

AFTER SUCH AN EMOTIONAL YEAR LAST YEAR, CAN YOU PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE WHAT THIS YEAR HAS MEANT TO YOU? "Basically, you win championships, you take it for granted, and you race every day and you think that you're invincible, you can't be hurt, and then we lost Eric Medlen in March of last year, and it was a wake-up call to all of us. I know his father, John Medlen, how he's handled this, he's handled dealing with it through building safety, that to make something out of his son's name. I give credit to Eric Medlen for saving my life, because we put that roll cage into the car after his crash, and four months later I crashed with the same situation - harmonics and oscillation, that tear a car apart. But the roll cage was protected, from the loss of Eric.

"Of course, now we've continued that car, working with Ford, to build the new car that is now an NHRA requirement, that we built out of the Eric Medlen Project, and at the end of the day it's going to save lives. So, what we did is we took a negative and we made it positive - not forgetting that our job is to win championships. Ford, we're in a tough market right now, we are fighting to get the word out - not just for the Ford Mustang, but for the Taurus, and for every car that Ford Motor Company makes, to build the brand back. We want to do our part. But, at the end of the day - it is about winning, but it's about safety, and I put them one to one on a scale, where it used to be winning was everything. If we crashed a car, drag a new one out. Don't worry about trying to make it better, just go out and win again. Crashes happen. But we realize now we can prevent them. And all of that safety will go to Ford. the cars that they build. that's what the project in Indy is all about. We've got 150,000 square feet, we've got another building going up there, and we're going to continue to build in the name of Eric Medlen, and working with Ford and their technicians and NHRA, we can get the job done."

THERE WERE A NUMBER OF UNKNOWNS FOR JOHN FORCE RACING HEADING INTO THIS YEAR - YOU MENTIONED THE SAFETY ASPECT WITH THE NEW CHASSIS, PLUS, A NEW DRIVER WITH MIKE NEFF, WHO WAS DRIVING THE NEW FORD BOSS 500 MOTOR. WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU AND YOUR TEAMS WERE GOING TO BE COMPETITIVE? "It's really funny, you know that you can win or lose, and luck is a big part of this game, but I believe in making your luck. But, I started out with a rookie driver, Mike Neff, that had won championships crew chiefing for Oakley. I teamed him up with John Medlen, but that was an unknown. But, of course, in the middle of it, I got hurt, and I was making my comeback when he was making his debut, and then Ashley (Force) coming from Rookie of the Year. Mike Neff's got a good shot at Rookie of the Year because he made the Countdown, and he's been in some final rounds. So, we're trying really hard, but there's been so much emotion.

"Last year, I've got to be honest, I was at a point, after Eric, we fought to get back, months later I crash, and it was like, 'I can't take any more,' and my kid is out there driving, and my son-in-law, and we've got a grandbaby,' and Ford Motor Company came in and said, 'We have the technicians. We'll step up to the plate.' We all chipped in, we all worked together. That's what it takes if you're going to build cars for the future. You know, NASCAR did it and we did it over here in drag racing. Of course, AAA of Southern California, everybody was involved, because their money was part of the machine - Castrol, naturally. But, at the end of the day, you get kind of gutted, you know what I mean? And you think, 'Now I'm building race cars. I don't know how to do that.' Working with the chassis builder, Murph McKinney, who built the prototypes, now we'll be building our own in-house. But, in the process of this, I almost felt as if my career had been blessed. I did everything I could do, and then where do I go on? Where do I move ahead? Then this new car came out. Last year, I was put out of the race, but Robert [Hight] was No. 2 in the points, missed it by one round - I took him out of races, I wouldn't let him run because of crash, until we got better cars. And then Ashley finished in the top 10. Everything was good except this crash right in the middle of it. Where do you go? Spending money that we didn't have, to grow. Everything. And when we unveiled that chassis and we had this motor that went into Mike Neff's car, the Boss 500, I had so many projects, I was on meltdown. But I had good people around me.

"I really believe that John Force Racing, not only me, physically, as a driver, but my whole team, the attitude is back to 100 percent. The car came out of the box in testing and was No. 1 qualifier for all of the qualifying events in a new prototype chassis, it was unbelievable. So I said, 'Okay, we've got a breath of fresh air. I've got a new driver here. I've got Ashley, Robert. I've got four of these cars to fight for Ford. We're going to be okay, right? And then we got into this season, and, of course, I struggled, physically I wasn't right; I didn't have my strength. But Robert and Ashley were killing 'em. Ashley finished No. 1 in the Shootout. Robert, I think, was No. 2 or maybe No. 3. He was in the lead most of the year. And here she bounces back, and we kept feeling, 'We can get there,' but at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Did they make the Countdown for the Championship? Are they going to be in the running? Because the last six races, even though we're all racing, they're only going to advertise the ones that are in and can run for the championship.

"And it was at Reading, Pennsylvania, that we pulled it off. And, I'll tell you there was a lot of luck involved, a lot of praying. We did our job and we delivered four cars in the race for the championship following Indy, and we delivered three cars into the Shootout. I needed three of the guys to not make it - two of them didn't qualify, the rest were in the cellar. There were like six people involved that could've passed us. And we just made it. It was like in just one weekend it all wound up. I was living on the edge, and I survived it. So, I think it was the weekend at Reading is when I felt that John Force Racing, that we had finally put this team back together - all of 'em, as a unit, because we had been ripped apart. I think we're back on track to race."

ON HIS RETURN TO RACING IN 2008. "Let me be honest here, you're only as good as the people around you, and I've got Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly - Coil's been with me 26 years, as long as Castrol's been with me. It's the people around you that tell you, 'You're going to be okay,' when I failed driving the car and I was slow on the lights. We put a push brake on the car because of my hands. I couldn't pull because of my fingers, and I hadn't had the strength back in them. I had hand surgery, skin grafts, and we just changed the car back, just before we went to Reading, to a pull brake, like I've driven for 30 years, and my lights went from terrible to great. There were so many things to get back in the groove of who I was."

WITH JUST THE SAFETY INNOVATIONS ALONE, WOULD YOU CONSIDER THIS SEASON A SUCCESS? "Major, huge, in my whole career. And we haven't won the championship, but in my career, this is the most successful season of my career. All the championships, all the awards, this is the most important."

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MOMENTUM? "I believe in teamwork. There's a thing called destiny, but you make your own destiny, you make your own fate. When you have heart and you believe, it just happens. And, we're going for this championship, four of us, as a team. All of the pain that we've had and what we've fought to do and the fact that we believed in ourselves, because what we knew how to do was win and we were failing, we pulled it back together in the last year and a half."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Austin Coil , John Medlen , Mike Neff