This Week in Ford Racing February 18, 2010 NHRA's winningest driver, John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, made his return to the winner's circle after a 40- race drought on Sunday when he defeated Ron Capps, at the...
This Week in Ford Racing
February 18, 2010
NHRA's winningest driver, John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, made his return to the winner's circle after a 40- race drought on Sunday when he defeated Ron Capps, at the 50th Annual NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. The victory marked Force's 127th win and the 186th win for John Force Racing. Force along with co-crew chiefs Austin Coil and Mike Neff participated in a Ford Racing teleconference yesterday.
AUSTIN COIL - co-crew chief Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SUNDAY'S WIN?
"Well it was great. It's been such a long dry spell for our team, it's hard to fathom. We're used to finding our way into the winner's circle every now and then, but boy we've really had a tough go of it. The thing about it all is that it takes everybody to do their job flawlessly for us to win, and Sunday everything really clicked for us. We have a lot of new people in the group, the crew guys that we have on John's car now are the guys that worked with Mike Neff and John Medlen last year, and they've come over with Mike Neff, and boy that's just been a breath of spring time to me. They're all younger guys and their ambitious, and they run and Neff is a smart guy. We put it all together and Force drove absolutely perfect all day. It's great, I'm thinking we're going to be doing a whole lot more of this in the near future."
MIKE NEFF - co-crew chief Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SUNDAY'S WIN?
"It was really exciting, especially helping John get a win. He works harder at it than anybody that I know. Ever since his accident, he's made some serious changes to his life in general and he goes to the gym every night no matter what time it is. I've been around a few drivers and I've never been around anybody who wants to win as bad as he does. That's exciting to have somebody with that dedication who's driving for you. It had been a while since he won, and he felt like he had been working hard and he just wasn't understanding why it wasn't paying off, so it was nice. We've got our own chassis that we built at the end of last year that I actually drove a couple races last year, and while it was good it seemed like it could have been a little bit better. We put John in that chassis and then working with Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, Jimmy Prock and "Guido" [Dean] Antonelli, we all just kind of talked about a lot of things and got all the cars pretty similar. Austin and I, it seemed like we were on the same page and fortunately, it just started off on the right foot on the first run and testing in Phoenix. We went down the track and it was a good run and we were just able to adjust it from there. We went to Pomona, we went down the track seven out of eight runs and the car seems to be pretty forgiving. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Sunday was definitely one of the most exciting wins that I've been a part of in my drag racing career."
HOW GRATIFYING WAS IT TO BE IN THE WINNER'S CIRCLE AS A DRIVER DURING THE LAST RACE OF THE YEAR AND DOUBLE THAT UP AS A CREW CHIEF AT THE FIRST RACE OF THE YEAR?
MIKE NEFF: "It was great especially going back to last year. The one thing that I wanted to accomplish as a driver was I wanted to win a race. We didn't know how long I would be driving, if it would be one, or two or three years, but the one thing I said from day one was that I really wanted to win a race. I wanted to experience that and kind of feel like you succeeded at it. We went basically two years and hadn't gotten a win, had some close calls, went to some finals, and to be able to finally get that win was just a huge weight off of my back. It got to the point where it was like, hey you'll get a win, hang in there, and then even when I won it, it was like finally, you got that win. Getting that win and to be able to experience that as a driver was a huge thing for me personally. Then to be able to go back to Pomona a few months later and be able to win there with John driving, it's just been great. There's nothing like winning. Myself, I was on quite a dry spell also, I basically hadn't won a race in a couple of years, so I knew what John felt like and the frustration he was facing. To be able to put two together in a row is awesome, that's why we do it and that's what really keeps us motivated is the wins."
YOU HAVE BEEN WITH JOHN FOR ALL OF HIS 14 CHAMPIONSHIPS. HAVE YOU NOTICED ANYTHING DIFFERENT WITH HIM THIS YEAR?
AUSTIN COIL: "Yes I do. I see John as being a little calmer, a little more focused and as driven as he has ever been. As Mike had pointed out, he spends every day in the gym. He started all of that as part of his rehab after the accident and he hasn't let up on it a bit. He says, as you get older you have to work harder to stay up to the job, and he is working harder. I haven't ever raced with anybody who has done as good a job as John did last week. He hasn't lost a thing in the 25 years that I've been here, and that's great."
WHEN YOU SAID HE'S CALMER, DO YOU THINK IT'S BECAUSE YOU HAVE SOME CONFIDENCE BACK?
AUSTIN COIL: "John has always been kind of a radical personality and we had a lot of talks over the winter, me as well as him, that to keep the proper team spirit up that you've got to be human enough in dealing with all of your companions and partners in this game. Being too ambitious tends to make people holler and scream and be radical, kind of like the football mentality where we're all kind of jumping up and down and screaming and yelling so that we can get that extra horsepower and throw the ball a little further. In this game it's a little more mental than it is physical. It's a good thing to stay under control and John has managed to pull off a fabulous job of it. I think he has confidence in the new group, and it's been a real pleasure to have Mike Neff join our group. He reminds me of me when I was 20 years younger."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM WORKING CLOSER WITH AUSTIN COIL?
MIKE NEFF: "I've been fortunate to work with a lot of great crew chiefs when I was learning like Allen Johnson, and there was a few of them at Tony Schumacher's. Somebody has to teach you and you just kind of pick up things. The one thing that I've noticed by working with Austin Coil is that they're just a lot more detailed and in-depth on just how it all works. They have the blower-dynos, the clutch-dynos, they study all of that data, their formulas for figuring out the air, the weather conditions and all of the adjustments they make is just a lot more scientific and detailed with the way that they do things. From where I come from, it wasn't that detailed. It was more shooting from the hip, just kind of feeling your way through it somehow. I've learned a lot from being there at John Force Racing with what those guys have all put together. It's an honor for me to work with someone like Austin Coil. He's won more races than anybody out there. He's in all the history books, so for me, someone who plans on doing this for another 20 years, to be able to have the opportunity to work with him and learn the ways that he does some of the things it's definitely a huge thing for me. It's something I'm honored to do and it's exciting. I definitely enjoy going to work."
WITH ALL OF THE ENERGY THAT JOHN HAS, HAS THERE EVER BEEN TIMES WHERE YOU HAD TO GO AROUND HIM TO GET YOUR JOB DONE?
AUSTIN COIL: "Oh sure. I'll admit it, the vast majority of the time I don't wear a radio because, I'm pretty sure when we get down to crunch time and I'm trying to make a last second decision that John would be carrying on in my ear enough to where I couldn't think. That's just how I've learned to be. John is one of those guys where the more the pressure is on, the more he talks. He wants to talk while he's staging, most drivers don't, but that's John and nobody does a better job. He's got to do his job his way, and we've got to do our jobs our way and make it all come together. It can be a difficult thing, but we certainly have a group that's jelled. I've been around a lot of groups of people, working for John as well as back when I had my own car, and it's important to have a team. There is no I in team, you've all head that statement a lot, but it's the first thing that I mentioned to our group. I noticed that our group works so tightly together that if somebody drops a wrench, the guy next to him grabs it and hands it to him before he has time to go get it. The groups that we had in the past, if somebody dropped a wrench, well the guy next to him would stand back and laugh. It's all that kind of atmosphere between everybody. We don't want to cut out the other guys because they're all driving Fords and we're all one big team as we've said many times. This is not three teams right now. This is one team that has three cars. Jimmy Prock, Guido and Ron Douglas and Robert and everybody just puts forth an effort to keep us all greatly informed. Most recently track specialist Lanny Miglizzi has joined our group and he gives us up-to-the-minute information on the conditions of the race track by many methods that we weren't too familiar with. Lanni has done a great job on keeping us updated on the conditions of the racing surface and putting all this together is just what it's all about."
WAS JOHN STILL NURSING INJURIES THAT HE DIDN'T LET US KNOW ABOUT LAST YEAR?
AUSTIN COIL: "I had several broken bones back when I was 16 years-old, and I can't say to this day that they're totally 100 percent. You're never through getting back to shape, but I don't know. Last year John was in pretty good shape. At one point in his training I believe he could do 100 chin-ups. He said don't tell anybody that because I sure couldn't do that everyday, but it's like he works so hard at being back in-shape that, yes he was physically able, but a man like John isn't going to let on if something hurts. I think you can watch him jump in and out of the car this year compared to last year and say yes, he is in better condition now than he was last year.
DO YOU THINK THAT JOHN HAD SOMETHING TO PROVE ABOVE AND BEYOND WHAT HE USUALLY DOES?
AUSTIN COIL: "Well I would think that would be a pretty good bet. He's been the one saying that we've got to have some change here if we're going to have things work right again. Times are different and he is thinking that he better not be the one not holding up his end of the program. I bet he was focused and absolutely not trying to say that, but would he squeeze out that extra little bit? It seemed like it. He was just a crusher. That doesn't come easy. The whole situation as a team, if you have a fast race car, you've got a group of guys that don't make mistakes and put it together quickly enough where you have got time to think. You've got all the track information you can have, you start to look at all of that, and you think, we're supposed to win now. Of course racing doesn't always work like that. The driver's going to be looking around him saying, better look at that man in the mirror too, and make sure he's ready."
WHAT CONVINCED YOU TO BRING THE CHASSIS IN-HOUSE THAT YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD DO BETTER THAN THE OTHER CHASSIS BUILDERS?
AUSTIN COIL: "John Medlen heads up our chassis program with a lot of help from Ford Racing and some stress analysis and engineering from their people. We've scienced all of that out and carefully examined the chassis that we have purchased. We just sat out to bring the consistency of it all to a new level. We were foremost, with a lot of help from Ford, in analyzing the metallurgy of the chassis that we had problems with back in '07, and we've done that. Also, there's just so many things about, just because the chassis is built in a jig, the pieces need to lay in the jig without any interference or stress. That can be quite a time-consuming proposition, but the majority of chassis builders don't do that. They just clamp it down and weld it up. We have every reason to believe that our chassis will not only be better, but they'll be the same. John Medlen has worked night and day on that project. This is the first one that has been on the race track, and it sure works pretty well. It's a difficult part to analyze because you can't really run two different chassis at the same time, the conditions are always changing, but I'm certainly happy with it."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT WITH THE TRACK IN PHOENIX AND RUNNING IN THE DESERT?
AUSTIN COIL: "I would say that Phoenix is always been a pretty good racing surface, although it can by a little finicky early in the run. It usually produces some really good times. We tested there about a month ago and we got down the race track with John's car more frequently than anyone else. That seems to be a pretty good sign. I don't see any reason to have anything but optimism right now myself, how about you Mike?
MIKE NEFF: "We had a good test there, and last year the track was really good for the nationals. Our cars ran really well there. I would have to say coming off the weekend we just have, I definitely feel good about our chances."
AUSTIN COIL: - "Can I take this opportunity to talk about something that we've kind of left out of the equation with this BOSS 500 engine we've been running. We've run it for the last couple of years, but it just keeps getting better and better. We ran the same engine in the car the last couple of days in January and in the entire event in Pomona, and it seems like the crank shafts live longer with the sturdiness of the BOSS 500 block and just everything in that department is working so well. Of course that helps eliminate some confusion in the pits when you don't have to change motors all of the time too, so that's been another asset to us."
JOHN FORCE - CASTROL GTX HIGH MILEAGE FORD MUSTANG FUNNY CAR
DO SOME WINS MEAN MORE THAN OTHERS? IF SO, WHICH ONES IN YOUR HISTORY MEANT THE MOST TO YOU?
"We've had so many wins over the years and somewhere in the last couple of years of all the stuff we went through, with my crash and building the BOSS 500 engine, the new chassis, with Eric Medlen, we couldn't seem to get a win. We just struggled and of course a lot focus was on Ashley and Robert Hight trying to win the title, but it was time for me to get in the game, that's what Ford pays me for - to go out there and win. We had to shuffle the cards a little bit. Mike Neff because of financial reason, we couldn't run the fourth car this year. It only made sense, since he was a crew chief that beat Austin and Bernie and me in '05 with Gary Scelzi, was to put him in the mix on my team. We put a young kid with the older generation and to go out there and mix it up a little bit and they gave me a good hot rod. So, to get a win after so many losses, it was big, but to win the opening race of the season, the 50th Anniversary of the Winternationals, for Auto Club and NHRA, it was big. But what was really big, it was the all-Ford chassis and it was the Ford BOSS 500 motor. That thing ran and it made the driver look good. It just whipped the numbers out."
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE IN THE PROGRESSION OF THE NITRO FUNNY CAR YOU SEE CHANGING AND BRINGING IN HOUSE TO JOHN FORCE RACING?
JOHN FORCE: "When we lost Eric Medlen in '07, it was a wake-up call to the reality of these cars. You can make them better. You're just so busy to run them, you make them faster, but you don't make them safer. We couldn't have done this alone. Ford Motor Company, the engineers, the technicians and all the testing that's gone up there that built not only the BOSS 500, but the chassis that came out of the shop the Eric Medlen Project in Indy. It was their people working with John Medlen that made this happen. This car, we believe its better. I know we've got some of the competition over wanting to buy it. This is our first in-house chassis. When I look at how to run the next stage and where we're going in performance and safety. If I'm going to do it, I can't just build it for my team. I've got to build it for others and for Bobby Tasca, that's who's in line next. I always promised Grandpa Tasca I'd take care of his grandson and I love the kid. We're going to get him in our motor program. We're going to get him in our chassis program. Number one, I want to keep him safe. He's got the car that comes out Murk McKinney and it's a great race car, but we want to get him the car out of John Force Racing. There are so many places that we're going wit the new car. We built into the new car; the automatic bow instead of the slip tube and that came out of the engineers at Ford. That bow is what we think is giving the car traction because we went down race tracks that nobody else could go down, even in the heat of the day. So, we're learning every day and we're going to continue moving ahead with Ford. And we're going to build cars. We want to get John Force Racing back to when it used to dominate. When the competition chased us. We had that this weekend - we had three of 'em. Pomona was the proof in the pudding. Let's see if we can do it again at Phoenix."
IN YOUR POST-RACE QUOTES FROM POMONA, YOU MENTIONED SOME OF THE PHYSCIAL LIMITATIONS YOU HAD. WERE YOU STILL RECOVERING LAST YEAR FROM YOUR LEG INJURIES? WERE YOU HIDIING INJURIES FROM US LAST YEAR THAT YOU WEREN'T FULLY RECOVERED FROM?
JOHN FORCE: "I can tell you now, yes I was hurting, but I can't go on TV or to the media and cry about how bad of shape I was in because my sponsors are paying me, they pay for the best. Castrol and Automobile Club, MacTool, BrandSource, all those guys, they pay me and if I'm not in shape, I should get out of the car. But I couldn't lose the time in the car. I needed that time to build myself back. Last weekend my two youngest girls, Brittany in the BrandSource's dragster was No.1 qualifier, Courtney was No. 2, and she drives the Ford. Drive One dragster and she was No. 2. I sat with my youngest daughter, Courtney, this morning. She said, 'Dad, when do I get to make the change?' I said, first of all, something that I never realized, that I never really addressed with Ashley is that when I got injured, I never realized how important the muscle tone, your body weight, your strength, not just for your mental, to be able to react on the starting line. I thought it was all in the brain, all in the mind, the reaction. It's also in the body muscle and the structure and I had none of that last year. I'd lost my legs. My arms couldn't pull the brake handle the way they needed to do it. Because you need to roll in, put on that tree and not think about it. When you're thinking about it, 'Oh, I pulled too hard,' or 'I didn't pull hard enough,' you lose that magic that won me 14 championships. When I spoke with Courtney this morning, because she wants to go pro, she wants to go out there and drive for Ford, that is her dream. She said, 'Dad, what do I need to do?' I said, 'At four o'clock this afternoon when you get out of school, we head to the gym. Because the gym is my life now.' I go almost every day of the week. At first I got into it, it was tough. But when I realized that I couldn't perform in my car, it's what drove me. My trainer was out there this weekend, a guy named Horn from Fanatics, he said, 'Well, it's starting to pay off.' There were days that I was embarrassed. I sat in the gym and I cried because I couldn't get through my workout. I just couldn't do it. I was an embarrassment and here I am, supposed to be the champ and wanting to lead my kids and you couldn't tell anybody. It was bad. But now that it is over and I got through it. Last year I set the No Excuses Tour, I couldn't hold the clutch pedal down. I still got six pins holding my left foot to my leg, but the muscles around it are strong. I ain't going to cry about it. Now that it's over, it was [awful]. It was get home at night, soak the legs after the race. Sit in there with the Epsom salts go through the stuff to build the muscles, pumping down them boiled eggs, drinking the power drinks - the Muscle Milks, I was a joke at the local kiwi store. You eat the same stuff every day, but it paid off at Pomona. I had energy. When you're going up against a kid like Robert Hight or Ashley or your going to go up against Ron Capps in the final, you better be able to do what he can do. Even if you've got the best race car. Because if you noticed Capps ran identical runs and that was won on a hole shot. I couldn't have done that last year. The year before, I couldn't even get in and out of the car. I'm back. I can say it to the sponsors. They'll probably all be mad now that I'm telling them, maybe they could have had a win if they had a good driver last year. But I've got a better race car too, so we'll just see where it goes from here. It's too early to tell, but me physically, I'm ready to fight."
HOW SPECIAL WAS IT TO WIN THAT RACE ON VALENTINE'S DAY FOR YOUR WIFE?
JOHN FORCE: "My wife Laurie, I always joke, she loves me, she just don't like me. We've kept this family together because it's about family, just like the sport of NHRA drag racing. That's why I thought Ford going over and becoming the official car, that is really big. NHRA needed that; they needed to have a good partner for the future because it is a family deal. Those are the people that buy the stuff that Ford builds. It is about family and my wife would go to the gym and she would do her workout. She could knock her workout out in an hour and if you look at her, she is a pretty nice looking lady, a pretty beautiful lady. I'm really proud of her. But it would take me two hours to get through the same workout. Now I've moved to get into weights, but she was always there with me. She would sit for hours to talk to me about the kids, to remind me why I was doing it.
Sometimes you start losing faith in yourself when others didn't. Even my daughters, Ashley said, 'Dad, you can win this race. Remember who you used to be? You're back in shape now,' my kids joked, they want me to flex my muscles for them at night. Don't get me wrong, I ain't no body builder, but I'm in a lot better shape than I was. To win it for her, for the woman in my life that kept this family together and to win it in front of my kids was a thrill. My kids were too young to see my heydays, I won on '06, I lost in '07 when we lost Eric, I crashed in '07, and I lost in '08 and '09. I'm going to get back and win in '10. That's my plan. To show my children and to get her that [win], to her it was the best flowers I could give her. To win that Wally on the 50th anniversary of the Winternationals that was big. Laurie and I have been married for 28 years now. That's a long time for a woman to put up with me. If anybody deserved that honor, and yeah, I was emotional, I lost my voice, I was almost in tears, it was all I could do to get through the interview. But I've got it behind me now, and now I'm going after wins. I'm hungry guys, I'm hungry."
DO YOU AGREE RACING IS A SERIES OF LEARNING CURVES? IF SO, WHAT TYPES OF LEARNING CURVES HAVE YOU HAD TO FACE THESE DAYS?
JOHN FORCE: "It's change. Obama may be struggling with change, but John Force isn't. I changed last year. I knew Robert Hight could drive a race car. I knew he could win a championship. I knew that Jimmy Prock could tune that car with Eric Lane, but there was something wrong. I just wanted to get into that car and I got into that car, and I was only in it a weekend and went back to my car because Austin got sick in Indy. I was going to drive that car for a few races and shuffle around drivers, crew chiefs and see. Sometimes its right in front of you and you can't see it. There were things over there, getting with Jimmy, having fun with Jimmy Prock and seeing how he goes, the battle, Robert getting over there and getting the change and then we put it back together at Indy and Robert's car just flew. Jimmy's car flew when I got it in. I've got to say, Jimmy Prock made the changes that fixed that race car and it sure wasn't me, and it sure wasn't Robert Hight. Robert went on to win the championship. But change is good. A lot of times the older guys get stuck in their way and you need the change of the young kid. A lot of times Coil worries about how to make the budget fit. He knows we've got budget crunches right now, and where can we save, and you get so far saving money that you forget how to race, but you've got to do it. Then you get Mike Neff and he comes in with another attitude, how to hit it and Mike Neff and Coil together with Bernie Fedderly, I'm telling you, what a brain trust they just gave me a car that came out of the box and just ran twelve's and thirteen's when nobody else could. Jimmy Prock, I believe he would have, he got snake-bit first round, but he'll be back. I'm going to have three strong Fords, but there is another Ford out there that's tough and that's Wilkerson. He's teamed up out there with Bob Tasca III, and that kid is ready for a win and he was taught by the best, his grandpa who raced in the early days, Bob Tasca Sr. 'Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.' I loved him, he's passed, he's gone and I miss him. The Tasca kid is going to be great. I'm still trying to get the boy to team up with me, he's an independent, he's just like grandpa and he likes to write the checks, but we're going to be working together."
-source: ford racing