John and Ashley Force - NHRA interview

A Look Into the Future: John and Ashley Force on NHRA's "Second Generation" In the early 1980s, John Force and his wife Laurie had to choose between buying a cat and a new spare transmission. Force, then in his mid-30s, was desperate to...

A Look Into the Future: John and Ashley Force on NHRA's "Second Generation"

In the early 1980s, John Force and his wife Laurie had to choose between buying a cat and a new spare transmission. Force, then in his mid-30s, was desperate to become the next Don Prudhomme and needed extra equipment -- but the couple counted their extra quarters and had just enough to make one purchase. They bought the cat.

Through those days of rationing and sacrifice, Force gained a strength that propelled him to 13 National Hot Rod Association Funny Car world championship titles. His honest and sometimes eccentric approach to life draws crowds around the country.

Now Force, 56, is busy building his "Second Generation" of drag racing: a formidable stable that includes his own ride and Funny Car entries Robert Hight, his son-in-law, and Eric Medlen; and his 22-year-old daughter Ashley's Top Alcohol dragster. Daughters Brittany, 19, and Courtney, 17, will race as well.

In this Q and A session, John and Ashley -- the first father-daughter pair to win at the same NHRA event -- describe what it is like to build and maintain a premier professional drag racing team and how they approach working with family. Ashley also discusses how she handles media attention and an increasing fan base as a young woman in motor sports, while Laurie comments on her daughters' careers in the world's fastest sport.

From John:

Q: How far have you come in drag racing?

A: "I can remember Laurie and I, when we were first racing, in a pick-up truck with a trailer coming down from Seattle counting our money at a little coffee shop, and just getting enough money to go in there and get some breakfast. They locked us out of our apartment when we got back to L.A. We didn't have enough money to pay the rent because Laurie let me race. The race and fuel came before the rent. To have my whole family around, it's really a good time for me and racing. It's given me a fire in my belly to keep on doing this."

Q: Why have women in motor sports become so popular recently?

A: "I think when you look at the sport, it's always been kind of a male-driven sport, but yet you find in the stands the housewives, the single ladies or the mothers with children that are up there watching drag racing, and yet they want to root for who they want to root for, and that's the lady in the game. And Shirley brought that so far in the last 25 years, but I think Ashley's got the chance to move it to the next level."

Q: What are the plans for Ashley?

A: "Basically the plan is, you know, I'm 56 years old. I have resigned with Castrol Ford, all the sponsors, through 2012. I have a seven year program, but I'm looking to the future, and it's really about the next generation ... We're training in-house."

Q: Will you expand your stable to other professional categories when your daughters move up?

A: "I want to stick with the Funny Cars. We put (our daughters) in Super Comps because that's the category that NHRA has. We put Ashley into (Top Alcohol) because it runs the same style centrifugal force clutch that we run, has the pull break handle, everything we try to make it where she can make the transition."

Q: How did it feel to see Ashley make her first pass in your Funny Car?

A: "It's funny when you look through the windshield. A person's eyes, no matter how old they are, look the same. When you look through that window, you see your little kid. When you look in that window, you see that child that you used to hold. I've had it scare me."

Q: What advice do you give to Ashley?

A: "I keep notes on every driver. Besides the drivers, I study the race tracks. I know the goods and bads. I know the lanes. I know when the sun goes down in the afternoon, which lane is better. That's the kind of information that I can give to Ashley."

Q: How proud are you that Hight is now leading the category?

A: "I have to struggle with the pain that I lost the points lead, and (Gary) Scelzi was right on my bumper. My job is to win the championship -- one of our teams. We need to try to win, and as long as we can get that done, then I've done my job as a team owner. I'm not just a driver, I'm a team owner."

From Ashley:

Q: What is it like to be a female in the next generation of young drivers?

A: "I grew up in racing and I remember watching Shirley Muldowney when she raced, and I know her getting into racing was a lot different experience than what I've had. I've definitely felt very welcome and wanted. I know the guys don't like being beat up on by the girls, but there's a lot of women that are getting into racing. There's not as many women as men, but it's starting to build and I'm happy to be a part of it."

Q: How do people react when you tell them that you're a driver?

A: "For so long when I started racing, I was still in school, so when I filled out things at the bank or something I'd write student, but now when they ask what I do and I say 'race car driver,' I kind of get a strange look. I don't know if they think I'm joking or not. It's been fun, and it's fun to meet people and to tell them about what I do."

Q: In what areas do you feel you need to be careful in allowing yourself to be marketed?

A: "I'm not going to be doing any bikini shoots, or anything like that. I don't think my dad would be too happy about that."

Q: Did anything about your first run in your dad's car surprise you?

A: "It wasn't as different as I thought it would be from my (Top Alcohol) car. The first 60 feet, when we compared the numbers, it wasn't really too much faster. Being under a body, that was a little different. It was really the pass I made at 300 feet, that was a whole world of difference. Something happens between 60 foot and 300 feet. It was good for me to work my way up. Each time they let me go farther and I feel comfortable in it. I'm not going down the track scared."

Q: What will be the toughest part in your advance to professional racing?

A: "I think just getting accustomed to the car and everything. When the car is running a good, normal pass from A to B, that's not when it's hard. It's when they do something different. When they drop cylinders, or smoke the tires ... I'm happy taking my time. My mom likes me moving slowly through the ranks. I think that's the best for me."

Q: What have you learned from watching your father's career?

A: "We're different personalities, but the more I race, the more people are starting to say I'm becoming similar to him. But one reason why all of our teams have always done so good is he's always talked really big about teamwork, and sticking as a team. That is really important to me. I love my team. I have a great group of guys and my crew chief, we always kind of back each other up. That shows other teams that even when you struggle, you have your backing and you're supported."

Q: What is your ultimate goal right now?

A: "I think we'll probably run another year of Top Alcohol. I'm obviously excited to finish of this year and start testing some more in my dad's Funny Car. I'm hoping in the next few years to move up to pro and maybe be racing my dad."

From Laurie:

Q: What is like to have three daughters who race?

A: "I never envisioned it. Ashley kind of surprised me. She did Super Comp while she was in college, and then when we decided to maybe take it up to the next level she was going for it. Now that she has done it for this is her second year, she has really enjoyed it. Her sisters have kind of been watching Ashley, and they've seen her survive not only racing, but even more importantly her dad. Since they've observed that, I think they're willing to give it a try. It's very exciting to watch."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , John Force , Don Prudhomme , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight