Pomona II: This Week in Ford Racing

This Week in Ford Racing November 1, 2005 NHRA Funny Car For John Force to win an unprecedented 14th NHRA Funny Car championship, he must overcome 28 points and two positions in the standings in the season-ending NHRA Finals in Pomona,...

This Week in Ford Racing
November 1, 2005

NHRA Funny Car

For John Force to win an unprecedented 14th NHRA Funny Car championship, he must overcome 28 points and two positions in the standings in the season-ending NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 3-6. Force - who won titles in 1990-'91, '93-2002 and '04 - is looking to bounce back from an opening-round loss at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, one of 10 first-round losses he has endured this year. He also leads the series with five victories. The always-quotable Force talked about the points deficit and a possible national record during an NHRA teleconference leading up to the finale'.

JOHN FORCE - No. 1 Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

YOU WERE VERY FAST DURING TESTING IN LAS VEGAS. DID YOU FIND SOME MAGIC, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY TRICKS UP YOUR SLEEVE FOR POMONA?

"No, there's no magic. We found some consistency. That's what we've been lacking, and we'll see what happens at Pomona."

YOU SEEM A LITTLE QUIET.

"I'm just tired. We stayed up there and tested. I've got to back this weekend, my daughter's are racing, and I come back home and go to SEMA, like everybody else, so I'm just trying to get ready and see what we can do. It's very important, what's going to go on here in the next week."

HOW TOUGH WILL IT BE TO BOUNCE BACK FROM THAT FIRST-ROUND LOSS AT LAS VEGAS?

"You just get back in your hot rod and you go out and you test and try to get your mind right. Our strategy is going to completely change because we went into Vegas and we had a lead and we knew we got that because of a destiny that took place at Dallas put us out there. And we ran well. But, we can't count on luck to win this race. Scelzi and Capps, they have to fight it out the way they're going to fight it. We have to look at the point structure at 28 points. We can't count on them to make a mistake; we have to beat 'em. And, in the process of that, if there was one car to race against, we might have a different strategy. One car might make a mistake and be out, but not two of them - they're too good. So, we're kind of watching the weatherman, he's kind of the key to this. That's why we stayed and tested. We ran .74 at Vegas last year and went to Pomona and ran .60s, and we got our car down on a string from .78 all the way to .71, at Vegas. And we want to go into Pomona and try to set the national record because we may need that if we're going to win. Bottom line, we just went into Vegas and tried to qualify - I know this isn't exactly what you asked - we tried to put it in the show, and my car was so weak it smoked the tires. We always make sure we get it in on the first run. That way, the night session you can go for it, but at least you're in the show. So, we kind of goofed ourselves up, and then we were playing catch-up 'til the last session. So, we're going to go into Vegas, and like [Austin] Coil said, 'Could put you in a position. It's been over 20 years since you've not qualified.' And I said, 'Well, if we don't run good enough to beat 'em, then we might as well not qualify anyway.' So when we come out of the box, we're not gonna just put it in the show. We're gonna run as hard and push it t the max of what that track will hold, and try to get the national record. But, that's all about weather. It could be there for all of us - Capps, Scelzi, ourselves - but that's the way we're looking at this race."

IS THIS THE TOUGHEST YEAR EVER FOR YOU? HAS IT BEEN UP AND DOWN, YOUR SEASON, BUT SEEING YOUR TWO KIDS DO WELL AND DAUGHTER ASHLEY DO WELL, TOO?

"Ashley, we've been giving her a few shots at testing, but not really much because Coil wants to run all of the stuff that we're going to race the following week. We put her in the car - one run, two runs - the car was smoking the tires and a lot of stuff, and getting her out there, 300-400 people. Finally, we found some problems - she's 85 pounds lighter than me, and we never even addressed it, so we hung fire bottles, weight underneath the car, and after it smoked the tires on the first run we hung all the weight and she drove 'er right down there at the eighth mile, and I was very proud of that, and I felt confident now that she can make the transition to Funny Car in time, but it's a start for her. And she made two runs at the half track, and she came back, big ol' smile on her face, and she was like, 'You know, it's like Gary Scelzi told me, like it's another life out there.' She goes, 'Dad, it spun my helmet up over my head. I almost couldn't see.' But, she was excited about it. Before, she wasn't excited. And maybe I focused so much on Robert, Eric, Ashley and my two girls, littlest two girls, I forgot to watch Scelzi and Capps, and I hoping it's not too late. We do all that we can do. These kids - I say kids; Scelzi and Capps, they're veterans, but to me they're young, and they've earned a shot at this title. And so have I. We're going to give our best shot. You talk all you want, and you can be sick all you want; bottom line, it starts on Sunday morning. And we're going to try to start it on Friday when we roll in the gate. We'll just see. We'll see."

POMONA HAS BEEN A VERY GOOD TRACK FOR YOU. DO YOU FEEL YOU MAY HAVE A BIT OF AN ADVANTAGE OVER RON AND GARY COMING INTO THIS TRACK?

"No, not really. Scelzi's a veteran, he knows the game, and we all make mistakes but he knows it better than any because he's been there three times and won the championship - whether Dragster or a Funny Car. Same thing after you've driven both. Ron Capps, I'm sure Scelzi's hungry, but Capps is super-hungry because he hasn't been there, he's way overdue and he's really good on that Christmas tree. I hand it to both of 'em for what they do. I don't think there's any advantage. A lot of it, cloud cover can change the course of a race, and so, it's all about focus, it's all about right parts, right money, right crew chiefs, camaraderie - all three teams have this and they have multi-car teams. So, in the midst of all this, luck could be a factor here. But like I said earlier, I'm not going to count on luck to beat two of 'em. If I only had one, I'd be playing the consistency game and hope one of 'em will go down, but they won't both go down. And so we're just going to have to flat beat 'em if we can, and that means national record. I hate to throw that out there, but it's there. I wish we hadn't have set it at .66, I wish it was a little easier. If I try to look at 28 points that I got to go around further than those two guys, well, they're both going to be there, I believe in my heart, rounds into the race and the national record could be the difference for me. It won't be for them. All they've got to do is win, you know what I'm saying? All they've got to do is go rounds, and then it's over for me, and then it's between them, and I'm gonna get me a beer and I'm gonna get up in the stands. The truth is, you know, I love 'em both, and I'll really struggle who to root for. It's a struggle for me, but my own struggle is in 60 employees that want that bonus check that have worked hard for it. That's the hard part. I thank God that I've got all my contracts signed. I'd hate to be going up against a contract at my age getting whacked down. So it gives me chances to come back over the years. But we need that national record. That way, if one of them gets to the final, and I'm lucky enough to get there, I still got a shot at it. But, it'll be there or it won't. It's all up to the weatherman."

YOU ARE FRIENDS WITH GARY SCELZI AND RON CAPPS, AND YOU KNOW HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO MAKE A CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO HELP EITHER OF THEM THROUGH THIS RUN?

"No. Capps knows the game, and so does Scelzi. And they're winners, they know what's going on. If they win this year, either one, I'll tip my hat, or I'll tip my hat to both of them already and say to both of you guys, 'I totally respect what you've done, not just on the race track,' but what you've done, next to the psychological warfare that's being played, just the fact the way to read in the papers or watch it in the interviews, when they made the mistakes, they stood up and they took the hit, and when they did good they didn't run it down anybody's throat. In the past, I've seen the guys that struggled go one direction, and then bounce back and go another direction, and you say, 'Gee, a little bit different guy when you win, what about when you lose?' And these guys always played the game clean, and that's the way I teach Robert and Eric. I said, 'You watch Capps. You watch Scelzi. If they beat you, they don't shove it down your throat.' They may this time, okay, but bottom line, when they lost, they took their hits. Just honesty. And that's the biggest value that I look at it. That's the way you pick a driver - when a kid will give you the truth. And these two individuals give you the truth, whether they do good or they do bad. And that's what I like and that's what I respect, and if I'm going to go down, I'd just hate to lose to a guy that I thought was full of it. That just really bothered me. I don't want to lose - don't misunderstand what's going on here - but if I lose, I want to look a guy in the face and say, 'You did it, and now I'll roll out of Pomona and we'll do it again.' And that's the way we all look at it."

AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN AROUND THE SPORT FOR A LONG TIME, CAN YOU PUT THIS UPCOMING RACE INTO PERSEPCTIVE?

"Toughest it's ever been. This is tougher than my first championship. The caliber of the drivers that are out there - and I don't just mean Scelzi and Capps. I remember Marty Reed interviewing me and he said, 'Okay, what are your chances of getting Scelzi and Capps?' I said, 'I'm not even thinking of Scelzi and Capps. My focus is on [Del] Worsham. First round.' First of all, I wouldn't want Worsham to think I wasn't thinking about him. It would only make him madder, only make him tougher to beat. And then he took me out. It's going to be tough. It's going to be great for the fans, it's going to be great for the sport, and I love it, and I know that's the truth because we dominated for so many years, but it's going to be hell on John Force until Sunday night - and then I'm going to get over it. Either way it goes, I'm going to get over it."

WHERE DO YOU STAND, OIL-DOWN-WISE?

"Number one, we're putting our car on a diet. We spent three days in Vegas and my car is a dump truck, so they're starving me for a week. Number two, we're taking - I hate to admit this, maybe it's dumb but you get one shot to change history here and we need that national record, so we're pulling all the safety equipment off the car. We're gutting her down. We spent some money, brought a brand-new body in and put the tie tree in it to get this weight off the car because weight is a factor. It's not the difference in winning or losing, but that difference and that ET could be the difference, so oil-down is what you asked, I'm the worst. Coil said he could save some more weight, just don't put oil in the motor. That's a possibility."

ARE YOU IN THE PENALTY SITUATION WHERE IF YOU OIL YOU GET CHARGED?

"Oh, yeah. Yeah. I'm in bad shape right now. Mentally, I'm in good shape. Maybe I'm not talking a lot, just don't have a whole lot to say. Usually, I'm happy because everything's going my way, well, right now, stuff's not going my way."

THIS HAS NOT BEEN A TYPICAL JOHN FORCE YEAR, WITH 10 FIRST-ROUND LOSSES AND ALL. WHAT'S BEEN THE DIFFERENCE?

"We ran .60s two years ago, and somewhere we ran .60s coming into Pomona in the opening qualifying run, the only car quicker was Tony Pedregon. I got a lot going on, a lot of teams, a lot of focus, but I drive my car on race day. But Coil said, 'You just don't drive it on race day, you drive it every day of your life,' and maybe that's where I was guilty of focusing on Robert. I was more chasing Robert in the points - you know, I was taken out four times by my own guys. And then I lost 10 first-rounds, so I've made some bad mistakes. Driver error. I had red lights. I was late on the light. My car didn't perform. And I got taken out by guys that I didn't think could beat me. So, my approach was wrong. And now I'm down to the wire, wishing I had some attitude back where I should've had it. As a veteran, I personally made some mistakes. Maybe I can turn it around, maybe I can't."

DO YOU DREAD POSSIBLY LOSING TO GARY AND HEARING ABOUT IT FOREVER?

"No. My sponsorships are secure, that's always important, for long range, and so it's not like some people are put on the edge, if they don't do well you can lose your deal. My deals are secure. The kids that worked all year for the money. I just heard Scelzi and Capps say they don't care about No. 2, but I do. If I can't get No. 1, I want No. 2. Just to generate the revenue for these kids that get that bonus check at the end of the year, because they work night and day. They work like we do, it's hard. It's just something you want to do. Yeah, No. 1 is the deal. I always thought winning the championship, when they talked about Ed McCullough never winning, but yet he won Indy nine or 10 times, is like, 'Wow!" You're lucky if you can win Indy once. I've won it a few - I don't know how many times I've won it - but what's he's done is way beyond anybody. The bottom line, everybody wants a championship and some want more. Maybe 10 years from now, because Cruz came up to me at Dallas and said, 'I'm pulling for you,' and I said, 'That's nice of you, Cruz.' He said, 'Yeah, I want to be the only guy, me and my brother, to beat you.' It kind of took the thunder out of it. I thought he actually might've liked me. When I red-light, I put it to bed right away. If I make a mistake, I put it to bed. If I get beat, I'm putting it to beat. I'll take my whipping and go home. The real truth is I really consider that I'm very good at what I do, and if they can beat me, well, that makes them very good, and I like good opponents, and I have good opponents right now. And if they can beat me, like I said, I'll congratulate 'em and I'll go get ready for next year."

YEARS AGO, YOU SAID SCELZI AND CAPPS WULD BE CHAMPIONS ONE DAY. WHAT DID YOU SEE SO EARLY IN THOSE TWO?

"The same thing I saw in Eric and Robert Hight, Eric Medlan. The energy that they had, how bad they wanted it, everything was focused, everything was going in one direction. But, really, I said it earlier, the honesty. The honesty of these two individuals. Have you ever had a conversation with Bazemore? And I like and respect Bazemore, but I never know where's he's coming from. I don't know if it's just the way that he plays the head trip with you. He doesn't want you to know. These guys tell it right out. We stood in the staging lanes at Vegas, the three of us, Scelzi and Capps, and we all talked about how nervous we were, and that I was nervous, too. And Like I told 'em, I joked with both of 'em, 'You know what fear is? When you're young and you're poor and you're sitting at the dinner table and you look across the breakfast table, and your brother Louie is across the table and he wants that piece of sausage. That's nervous. If you reach for it, he'll put a fork in you.' Everything has perspective of what creates the pressure - and these guys talk about it. They're going to tell you that they're going to beat you or they tell you they're going to lose, but they don't give you no bull. Maybe I've listened to so much of my own I just respect hearing the truth, I guess. I've just grown to love the two of 'em, and it's a struggle for me. If the two of them are going to win, I don't know who to root for. I really don't, because I look at both of them as drivers, because they have that ability, they have that talent, they have the gift of gab, they have the looks, they have the whole package, and I knew one day somebody would knock me off, and God's truth, I really thought it would be one of them. And I hope it's not this year, I hope it's next year."

HOW DO YOU WORK TO PUT THE MEDIA FOCUS ON YOU?

"I got, swear to God here, that I've had more, maybe more that what matters media, because of the battle with these two kids. If I'm just winning again, nobody cares. Now I'm getting smacked around. Even Castrol said, and Ford, 'You're getting a lot of exposure just because you're not dominating. And it's all a matter of everybody wants something different. Same old thing gets old. You know what I'm saying. But I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. Great for the sport if they beat me, but greater if I can't win, and I'm not being negative because I'm going to try to win, -- I could've made a big move at Vegas and I didn't. We dropped the ball. So now, the focus, even if I lead, trust me, in January, me and Densmore will have a new package and how we're going to go about business to get that title back because that's what it's all about."

-ford racing-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi