John Force interview

John Force - Defending his NHRA Funny Car championship has not been easy for John Force this season. Since earning his first championship in 1990, Force has been all but unbeatable, winning 12 titles overall, including the last 10. Only Cruz ...

John Force - Defending his NHRA Funny Car championship has not been easy for John Force this season. Since earning his first championship in 1990, Force has been all but unbeatable, winning 12 titles overall, including the last 10. Only Cruz Pedregon has interrupted the streak, snagging Funny Car honors in 1992 by a nose. Going into this weekend's CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Seattle, Force is in the No. 4 spot in the championship standings. He finally picked up his first victory of the season in Denver last weekend, and for the first time this year, Force is in the top five of the standings. Force admits he has no complaints about his other two Ford entries. Gary Densham and the Auto Club team has one win and is No. 5 in the standings. Tony Pedregon has not only earned six victories in 2003, but the Castrol Syntec team is the category's POWERade points leader. In this Q&A session, Force talks about what his Castrol GTX High-Mileage team is doing to turn the season around, how he can continue to juggle his multiple job titles and whether he is superstitious about winning POWERade championship No. 13.

Q: How are you able to juggle being both a team owner to three professional teams as well as being the driver of the Castrol GTX entry?

FORCE: First of all, I truly enjoy both jobs, being a driver and being an owner. Especially the driving part. In my mind it is a 24-hour-a-day job. You do it because you love it. So you get it up everyday, even on Sunday, to just keep this thing afloat.

Q: If you have a bad day driving, but a good day as a team owner, are you able to easily separate the two emotions?

FORCE: Yes, because I have been doing this for a long time. If one car is doing good, I am happy. If it is not mine, fine. As long as it's one of us. The bottom line is that this is all part of the game. After 25 years of doing this, I take the good with the bad.

Q: Is 2003 the toughest season you have had since your championship reign began in 1990?

FORCE: Only because we are losing, but this is no different from the first 10 years of my career when I lost all the time. People expect so much of this team because they have won so much. It has become expected that this team will just win. Actually I am in sixth place. I set the national record (for E.T. with a 4.721-second pass in Chicago in May). I've been the low qualifier twice. We're not doing that bad. It is just that my other two cars are better. If the other two cars weren't here right now, then I might be third or fourth in the standings. But that is all part of the game. I'm doing fine with it. You don't jump out and yell and scream (after a run) because you don't have anything to say. Even when you do something good - like set the national record - you don't want to make a big deal about it because there is an old saying, 'the proof is in the pudding' and we'll be able to tell at the end of the year what is and what isn't.

Q: Is it fair for people to hold you to a higher standard year in and year out because of all of your success?

FORCE: That is just the way people are. It is no different for someone like Elvis Presley. He made all those hit records and he has one bad one and they all thought he quit signing. It was just one bad one. Maybe he had a bad writer, maybe his mood was wrong. Who knows? We're just going through this deal where we have had some luck, but I believe that you make your own luck. There have been 12 years of being good and this year has just been average. There are a lot of other guys that have been down here in sixth place. I won't be here long.

Q: What do you think about the competition this year?

FORCE: There are a lot of good cars like Ron Capps, the Worsham team, Whit Bazemore, Gary Scelzi, Tim Wilkerson. There are a lot of good cars. That hasn't been my problem. My car just wouldn't get past the first round for a while. It was dropping cylinders and we couldn't stop it. Then I had a couple of bad lights and that threw us down in the cellar. The car is starting to run now and we are going to be OK. It is a combination of the whole team, what I do as a driver, what the crew chiefs do to tune the car and what each crew does in transition to make the car win.

Q: Are you still focused on winning?

FORCE: I can say that the problem isn't focus right now. It is struggle. We'll get through it. Same thing with (crew chiefs) Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. We've had championships where we fell out of the points and we didn't think we could get back. Actually we always thought we could, but other people didn't think we could. But we did. The toughest thing is that the very cars that we taught, we now race against. They've taught us too. Here I am, if we could get back in the hunt, I still have to beat Pedregon and Densham, or Bazemore or whoever else is up there. We'll see at the end of the year. We're just halfway through the year right now.

Q: What makes your team able to work through the challenges this season has produced?

FORCE: We have a lot of talent and there is a lot of drive and motivation on this team. But mainly we have great leadership by not just me but from Austin Coil, Jimmy Prock (Densham tuner), and John Medlen (Pedregon tuner). We all do our thing to lead. But I think the key to our success is partnership from the entire group. We are all on one team.

Q: What is the most fun outside of the race track that you have had in the last 12 months?

FORCE: Being at the race track doing some match races with my daughter Ashley. Really, this is all I do. I don't fish. I haven't even had a chance to ride my motorcycles this year. I just haven't had the time. But this is what I love to do. I'm a racer and I truly do enjoy it. I am very fortunate and lucky that I get to do this. I've got so much going on. The new shop in Indy is being built and I am renovating my Yorba Linda (Calif.) shop is going on. We are creating Graceland on my land in Yorba Linda. It is going to be 40 percent bigger and that is exciting to me. They are going to be starting next week on my shop in L.A. for the museum, to make it two stories. It is going to be a lot bigger and a lot nicer. I have my shop, the museum, and the apparel store just opened last year. It is doing very well. That's the John Force Race Station. Then right across the street we are taking my dealership where the two-story parking is, that is going to have a glass dome on it with elevators. Elvis will get his own special room. We just closed the deal on the shop in Indianapolis. We're going to have a big ground-breaking ceremony in Indy soon. The shop in Indy will be done in December and my shop in California will be done in December as well. I've got a great organization. We have car shows one Wednesday every month in Yorba Linda. We just did a Ford Mustang show there recently that was packed with people and cars. Those are fun for me to be with all of the people. We have drawings and gifts. We are going to build a theme restaurant with race cars and memorabilia. You can stay at the hotel, eat in the restaurant come over to the apparel store and see the museum. It is just my version of Graceland. It's as big as Graceland, which was built on 14 acres. I think ours is a little bigger.

Q: How do you maintain the energy to keep up with all of your projects?

FORCE: I just do it. I love it. I get tired. The ropes are getting tougher and tougher because the crowds are getting bigger and everyone wants an autograph. If you don't give it to them, the people get mad. We keep doing it but it's tough sometime. I keep a list of all the things I need to do in my briefcase. Kelly Antonelli gives me a schedule of all of the things I have to do. I've still got my ranch, but I am trying to sell that. The ranch was so that everyone could move the shops there and do everything, but the community grew up around it and I just don't want do it. It was just too much.

Q: You are going for championship No. 13. Are you a superstitious person?

FORCE: No, I believe you make your own luck. I pray continually, if you call that superstition. I believe that if you do good things for people, good things will happen to you. I try to do right. I'm not superstitious about the 13th championship. I am the one that named it 'Lucky 13' that was the T-shirt that was coming out for that. You make your own luck. My car will come around. The car is starting to run.

Q: What is the best thing about this season so far?

FORCE: Tony. Tony is my partner and he is part of my team. I have nine years invested in Tony. I would really be sick if he wasn't in the championship hunt. But he's out there. I've hired a new agent to go to work. He's been in Formula One, IRL, CART, NASCAR with sponsorships and he said that drag racing is finally got something really big to offer because the other guys have priced themselves out. He's out there and he's signed huge deals and I'm the only drag racing driver he has right now. He's out there chasing money for us. We've got to find money for the future. I'm still always looking for sponsorships too. This is what I do. Time off? I work straight through the winter. I went up to Tahoe a little after the championship. I look forward to going to Seattle and all of those places that we race. The area surrounding the race track is beautiful. I'm also looking forward to being back in the hunt. I've always learned that even when you think you are hot, as soon as you say something, it will defuse. Babe Ruth pointed to left field, and took it out of the park. That took a lot of nerve. It's not just me, there are 10 other guys working on this car. Then there is the race track. If you run low E.T., the dumbest thing you can say is that you are going to win. Because you are the quickest already and you are the most vulnerable to lose. People say that I am not talking like I used to, but I am not going to make a fool of myself. First of all, I have the credentials. If someone is going to beat me to the championship, they still have to win 11 more just to tie me. I know what I have accomplished, I know what I can do. I am building teams. I was not happy for two weeks until my daughter (Ashley) won her first round (in St. Louis). That was great. It's like when Tony and Gary win. It is the same feeling, especially with Tony right now. When my kid wins a round, it just changes my personality. I know what she is going through losing. She is in the top 10 right now. She has a long road ahead of her, and she has got to learn a lot as she goes along.

Q: Last year was Ashley's first in the driver's seat of a Super Comp car. Are you enjoying watching Ashley race again this season?

FORCE: Yes, I enjoy it, but it also makes me ill. I know how bad it hurts her when she loses. When I started racing I was so busy chasing money that when I lost I would jump out of the car and I would get out and start looking for deals. I didn't have time to be sick over the loss. She is strictly racing and going to college. She is going to be graduating in December. She will have earned a four-year degree in three and a half years. She didn't get great grades when she was in high school and even during the first year of college. But then she got into racing and I don't know how, but she wanted it bad enough to study harder to get the work done and she has gotten better grades. I have been very impressed. Her mom has said that instead of making her nuts like it always did me, it made Ashley more positive about school and work harder to get it all done. She got very organized. She is doing very well. You have to love this sport. The trick to this sport is learning how to get out of bed every morning and find the race track. Get your car parked and get to your trailer so you can sign autographs. At the end of the day, load your stuff up. All that other stuff goes in the middle. People focus on the wrong things and they get their priorities wrong. You have to learn the basics and with that the love comes. If you don't get the love, you won't be here long. I have had guys come out here and they never have the love and they are gone. They couldn't figure out what it is. What it is involves standing at the ropes all day long and figuring out how to keep all the people happy.

Q: What do you love about the sport of drag racing?

FORCE: I love the competition. I love Sunday mornings. I love the fanfare. I love getting up for the fight. Even though I am not chasing (Bazemore) in the points just yet the fact that I took him and Capps out (at Columbus) to help Tony in the points. Tony never said a word to me, he just smiled when he went by. We know our job and what we have to do, but he was basically saying 'thanks'. Of course, I turn right around and go after him in the final. It is just what we do. That is a real good feeling. Even though you are not in the points and staring at the championship, even though I will be in time. But I don't focus on that right now. I am focused on fixing the car and winning rounds and taking out the competition that can hurt Tony or Densham. That is my job and that is my focus. My energy has changed from what it used to be. My strategy has changed. But as soon as I get back in the points and get back in the hunt, then I will approach it differently. I almost don't want to go up there and run low E.T. because I would rather Tony get the points. But you can't control that, the car does run low E.T. Bazemore and Capps are good guys, but it is extra special to beat them. That's what they say about me.

Q: You have been involved with the sport for 25 years, setting numerous records along the way. Do you ever think about retirement?

FORCE: No. I wouldn't know what to do. I want to stay in this business because it is fun. I love it at night when the sun goes down and the cars are in the staging lanes and everybody is hoping for that victory or low E.T. and it is just really awesome. I love racing at night when you can see the header flames coming out through the pipes. Your guys are looking at you through the window. That is stuff that people don't talk about or they say it and don't really mean it. But to see the look in Coil's face when we lose or the look when we win. It is something that we are really lucky to be able to do. I'm signed with Ford through 2007 and I am not quitting. I don't want to quit. Now I am just doing things a little different. I am going to build my Graceland. I'm going to build a bigger shop in Indy for my children. My daughter Courtney just turned 15 and is going to driving school, but I got her in a parking lot to learn how to drive a car. My 17-year-old daughter, Brittany, is a cheerleader. She starts Frank Hawley's Driving School next month. You want to know what color driving suit she wants? She wants pink with stars. I told her I wasn't sure if she really wanted stars, but she knows she wants pink for sure. She is just a beautiful kid. I am really worried for her. I knew Ashley could drive and I knew that my oldest daughter Adria could also drive. Courtney is the one who gets in the car, steps on the gas and has no fear. In a go-Kart, Brittany is the one who, when you tell her to push on the gas, she will look at me and say, 'Now?' before she does anything. Ashley was talking to her about shifting the cars and what you have to do with the trans brake and all that. Brittany was like, 'Whoa, just tell dad to fix it' but dad is not out there with you. She is the one I worry about. Sometimes the one that you don't think can be the one, will be the one. That goes for anything in life.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Austin Coil , Frank Hawley , John Medlen