Part 2 of 2: Q: What did you do to celebrate this one? Has anyone contacted you? Force: I think as racers, we all have our thing. We are all on overload. They know. They see the coverage on RPM 2Night. It was really good. I haven't even...
Part 2 of 2:
Q: What did you do to celebrate this one? Has anyone contacted you?
Force: I think as racers, we all have our thing. We are all on overload. They know. They see the coverage on RPM 2Night. It was really good. I haven't even checked my voicemail or e-mail. The office says we've got a ton of e-mail. Sometimes I will call Rusty (Wallace) or Dale (Jarrett) to congratulate them and they will call me. After the win we had dinner at the Outback Steakhouse and we didn't celebrate. In fact, I sang happy birthday to some guy who was celebrating his birthday there because his wife asked me to do it. I don't need to ring the bell or jump up and down. We've done it so many times. Ron Capps and a lot of other drivers congratulated me. Everybody did that was there at the race. The plan was to get to bed and get up early the next morning. The race at Bristol is coming and my daughter is going there to race. We've got to prepare for the next race because we have a heavy schedule. I used to party in the old days and wake up feeling so terrible. I want to wake up feeling good and read the paper and get to the next race. That's kind of how I live my life now.
Q: What's next?
Force: My boss from Castrol called me and congratulated me. I wanted to clarify that they've hyped this 100 thing so much that it almost makes it look like I am retiring. I have signed a new contract with Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools and MBNA for five more years. I have no intentions of retiring. It is only a stepping-stone in my career. It's great for the sponsors because it sells product. I gave thanks to Castrol for the 16 years they have supported me and they were there for the 100th win. I went home, hugged my babies and told them that we have a job to do and we didn't even have dinner.
Q: What is the status of your Top Fuel plans?
Force: The issue with the dragster was that in Funny Car when you've won 100 races and 11 championships and breaking Glidden's record, I started to think that maybe it was time to go to Top Fuel. We had a gameplan: I bought a new truck and trailer, bought a dragster and hired Jimmy Prock (crew chief). There's TV out there for Funny Car, Top Fuel and Pro Stock. There's other categories coming up, like Pro Mod. I looked at myself and where I am at. I looked at Tony (Pedregon) and Gary and the five-year plan. We talked to our sponsors. The question was asked, 'do we want to move John or Tony over to Top Fuel and lose something that we dominate in?' Why change something that is working? If we had lost the championship there might have been a reason to make the transition like (Kenny) Bernstein or (Don) Prudhomme. So we talked about it. Then there was a new thing that came along. The folks at Ford said there's no way they can sell Ford Mustangs if I am in a dragster. Ford said that they weren't going to sign me for five years and have me run off in a dragster. It was Ford Motor Co. that really changed my plan. I listen to the people that pay me. Dan Davis of Ford said don't forget why we came. That's when I created the third Mustang with Gary Densham, to give us another Ford Mustang on the track.
Q: Why do you think you are so admired by other competitors in other racing series?
Force: I have friends in NASCAR, but I don't get real close to people. I probably get closer to the fans than to my own kids. It's sad to say. My kids and I have really been talking lately and you find that sometimes you start treating your really close friends like family. Like with Austin Coil, I love him like a brother. When you run into a Dale Earnhardt and he takes a few minutes to acknowledge you like he did to me that year at the Driver of the Year, I stood for a moment and thought that you couldn't have a greater individual give you a pat on the back. Not meaning that you are a super-star. Just because of his accomplishments. That's an individual who dedicated his whole life to something, just like Richard Petty. His whole life. He gave up everything to be the greatest person he could be in that sport. Not just because they won. I base them on their fan following, not how many races they won. I look at Richard Petty, years after he retires and he still has this big fan following around him. Are they there because of 200 wins, or are they there because they know he will take the time to sign an autograph. I listened to Darrell Waltrip, I think he is one of the best speakers I've ever met. I loved John F. Kennedy when I was young, the way he could capture you in the conversation and totally make you want to listen to things that you didn't understand about the world. If I can be a friend and say that I had a few friends in my life that accomplished something, that's what it's all about. Like (NHRA president) Tom Compton, I've never been to dinner with him, but I consider him a friend because of what he's doing for the sport. I pick my friends a little differently, not from what they've done, but what they are trying to accomplish and what they're getting done.
Q: When you started in the sport, did you ever think you would be so successful?
Force: I was a dumb kid that was in love with the magic of Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Shirley Muldowney and Big Daddy Don Garlits. It was like I never thought I could ever win anything. No kid is ever born thinking they're going to be President. No kid is ever born thinking they can be an NHRA champion. You just go down the road because you love it. I never thought I could be a legend, but I did pursue the dream because I thought I could be one of the guys in racing. I had to quit for a while because I ran out of money. I tapped my mom and dad out and they ran their credit cards up. I remember running out of diesel fuel and having to negotiate with local companies to get money to go on to the next race. There was always something like that going on. One time I ran out of money in Houston and called my dad to tell him I was broke. He said we're all broke, but there was a guy at a track in Houston that would pay me $4,500 to come out and match race because Prudhomme had to cancel. I went there and that gave me the opportunity to continue on. Every time it looked like it was over, it was like God put a beam of light on me and led me on to the next stop on the journey. I was just an old dumb truck driver. Why did they want me? I guess because I always liked the big burnout. I knew I couldn't win anything, but the fans loved those big smoky burnouts. Even when I lost, I was willing to talk more than the guys who had beat me. Then that became almost as good as me winning races. That's what got me here, talking and telling stories.
Q: What was the most difficult thing for you in earning your 100th victory?
Force: We know the caliber of our car and our people. We had the heat of battle. We were fighting the new Goodyear tire that's really tricky on a new race surface. We were fighting the heat. Instead of trying to run the big numbers for qualifying, we were focusing on trying to run consistently in the heat. It was all about how to not be aggressive and adapt to the tire. We do a lot of testing. Austin Coil is brilliant and throw in Bernie Fedderly and how do you beat this team? When the fight goes down, we know what they're trying to do. They want to break up this dynasty. When you take one brick out of the wall, it may not hurt you today, but five years down the road the wall will fall. We are intelligent people and we will not allow that to happen. We have a pact, that we will not break up the team. Rome fell. Everybody falls at some point. We are trying not to let that happen. We try to reinvent ourselves and start all over again and keep the machine hauling. When you don't the money will go away and you will never recover.
Q: What has allowed you to win 100 races?
Force: Maybe it was the dedication. That's the key. There's other people who have money and didn't win. There's other people who had the talent but didn't win. The Bernsteins' have won. The Prudhomme's have won. The ones who won more than one or two, I believe they were dedicated. I am not trying to take a lot away from other racers. They are all dedicated or they wouldn't be in this sport. I've watched (Whit) Bazemore sleep in his truck and drive a race car with a busted leg. I've watched Gary Densham try everything to get a win and couldn't do it until he teamed with me. I've put together the right combination. Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, No. 1; Castrol and Ford, No. 2; and No. 3, luck. I built the best football team. When it got tougher, I built another team, and then another. If it continues to get tougher, I will build another if that's what it takes. I help some teams financially because they were just like me years ago. No one needs to know about that. I see the potential, because I see the heart and I'm glad to help. It's all destiny. Destiny can snake bite you. There's a lot of kids out there who could be world champions, but for some reason they aren't. Why am I here? I don't know. Would I ever change anything? Hell no. I just wish I had more time to spend with my family and my sister, who raised me. Nobody knows the friendships that you make when you sleep six people in one room and share one bologna sandwich. Someone asks, 'why do you do it?' Because we love it. We love it. That's what we gave our lives for, a dream no different than Prudhomme and the other kids coming up.
Force 100 Wins: Part I