The moment John Force had been waiting for since February finally happened last weekend at Bandimere Speedway near Denver – he earned his first win of the year. It was a long time to wait for Force, who is defending his 15th NHRA Full Throttle Series championship title this year. Now he’ll head for Sonoma, Calif. and Infineon Raceway, the second of three stops in the famed Western Swing. He’s the only Funny Car driver in NHRA history to do “Sweep the Swing” – win all three races in the same year.
YOU’VE HAD A FEW DAYS TO CELEBRATE YOUR FIRST WIN OF THE YEAR. WHAT HAS THAT BEEN LIKE FOR YOU? John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang: “Well first, if you look at the Fords that are out there, we’ve been dominating. Mike Neff in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang winning four races; Robert Hight in the Auto Club Ford Mustang, winning four races. We’ve had a Ford in every final round this year. Just Bobby Tasca, Tim Wilkerson and myself, we can’t seem to get a win. The Fords are good; it’s just that only so many people are going to win. Bobby (Tasca) and I talked about it, that we needed to step up and show our stuff. We’ve got everything the other cars have, so let’s see it happen. I was lucky enough to get the win in Denver. My car ran real good, even after Saturday night, when I had a major fire and blower explosion, blew the body 300 feet in the air. But those Mustangs are built strong. We were able to bring it back. (The body) went to Indy to be fixed. It was a great weekend. Moved me up in the points. Neff is in the points lead and Robert Hight moved up into second around Jack Beckman. So we’re OK. Just Bob Tasca III and myself, we’ve got to focus on these hot rods and get into the winner’s circle.”
YOUR TEAM LAUNCHED A HUGE FAN OUTREACH IN THE DENVER AREA, WHERE YOU PLACED CARS IN AREA WALMARTS. AFTER WINNING THE EVENT, YOU FLEW TO OSH KOSH, WHERE THE JOHN FORCE RACING EXPERIENCE WAS ON DISPLAY FOR FANS ATTENDING THAT CITY’S AIRSHOW. HOW DO YOU KEEP IT ALL IN CHECK? “I’m trying to activate in areas outside of just drag racing, that for my sponsors – all of them – to get more exposure, so we can sell more Fords anywhere we can go and can preach the gospel. So I created the John Force traveling road show. I’ve got three 18-wheelers and I’m hauling race cars. Not just the Fords we’re driving now, but the cars of my past. My Driver of the Year car, my Elvis car, Superman…the list goes on. I’ve got like 60 cars, and I’m reproducing the cars from the early days. I’ve got Coca-Cola, Wendy’s. Just the cars I came up through the ranks in. Some the fans don’t remember, some the fans have never seen. The Road Show went into Denver. It was on the street for seven days. It was in five Walmarts 24-hours a day, and boy, it was just a huge promotion. And understand, the Road Show – it’s educational. It doesn’t just teach them about drag racing or tell you when the next race is. There are giant TV screens that we got from BrandSource. It educates you on IndyCars; it educates you on NASCAR also. And the comparison of the cars, so the fans can come and learn about racing. And they can sign up to win a Ford. They can sign up to win a vacation from Auto Club. You can win my motorcycle with Castrol. There are just so many opportunities for fans. You can win TV’s and washers and dryers. That’s the key. I worked with the sponsors to have give-a-ways. And they love winning those Fords, let me tell you. It worked really well. I heard there were over 200,000 people who stopped by. I was there. Robert flew in. But just in a few days over the seven-day period, there was over 200,000 people within those stores. So it was a huge success. And now the air show, where I get to sign autographs with Edsel Ford. He’s just a great guy. He’s always helped me with Ford Motor Company. And I get to see a great air show. I’ve heard Tom Cruise and John Travolta and Harrison Ford might be there because they’re big airplane buffs. Ford’s got their big theatre there and will be showing ‘Top Gun.’ I’m excited. Tired. I got out of Denver and just got home yesterday (Monday), and I’m turning around and heading there today (Tuesday). But I’m excited about it. I’m on a plane out of there Wednesday night and I’m headed to Sonoma (Calif., for the NHRA Full Throttle Series race this weekend) to see if I can get a win out there. But I like the way Ford promotes, and I like working with the people, so I’m going to get up there with Edsel and we’re going to have some fun.”
ONCE YOU GET TO SONOMA YOU WON’T HAVE A LOT OF TIME TO REST, BUT YOU’RE USED TO THAT. TELL US HOW YOU’LL APPROACH THAT RACE. “First of all, you can’t race without money, and that’s why, when I say I’m overloaded on TV – I’ve got four or five corporations that I’m working on. We’ve got the TV studio, we’re trying to get our TV show back on the air in prime time. We just finished a new comic book, which was a major job. My daughter Ashley’s handling that side of the business. We shot commercials for the Charlotte race coming up later in the year. So we’re really excited about the stuff that we’re doing. But in this economy, we’ve got to all work. The executives from Ford Motor Company, we’re all working. Nobody’s resting. And so is John Force and all our team’s drivers. And all the teams. For me, the Western Swing? I’ll be ready. I’ll be rested. I can sleep on airplanes, trust me. When I get to Sonoma, we’ll have some media work there and we’ll go right to work. I think I’m the only Funny Car driver to ever sweep the three – Denver, Sonoma, Seattle. I’ve got pretty good luck with the Western Swing, and luck’s a big part of the game. We’re going to try to do it. I think I’ve struggled so much this year. It’s time to step up and get the job done. And we’re sure trying.”
DO YOU THINK THIS WIN IS A SHOT IN THE ARM FOR YOUR CREW CHIEFS, DEAN ANTONELLI AND RON DOUGLAS? “You know, with us coming out of (winning the NHRA Full Throttle Series Funny Car championship) last year, Dean Antonelli, it’s not like he’s new to the game. I wanted to drive my daughter’s car (Ashley Force Hood is pregnant and stepped aside from driving duties for the year, handing the seat to her father), the car that Dean and Ron Douglas tunes. That car won Indy two years in a row, and it’s a great hot rod. I was low qualifier four races in a row. I just couldn’t seem to get the win. And I think to win, I was the problem. It was Robert Hight that stepped up and told me. I told him I didn’t seem to have any luck and the car didn’t have consistency and I’m off my game. And he said ‘the only problem was you.’ I made him president (of John Force Racing) and I love it. He tells you what he believes and that’s the kind of people you want to have around you, that just don’t tell you what you want to hear. I went to Guido and I said ‘When I get to Denver, I’ll put my head in this race car and I won’t talk about nothing else.’ If you’re winning multiple championships and you’re going to keep winning, you’ve got to live it seven days a week. And I’m living it. And we delivered. So, yeah, Dean Antonelli – I congratulate that team. We’ve struggled all year, but we’re back in the game.”