AFTER DEBUT OF TV SHOW, FORCE ANXIOUS TO GET BACK IN COCKPIT 13-Time Champ Back in Familiar Setting at Seattle Raceways SEATTLE, Wash. -- John Force took a big gamble when he agreed to do Driving Force, the real-life TV series airing Monday...
AFTER DEBUT OF TV SHOW, FORCE ANXIOUS TO GET BACK IN COCKPIT
13-Time Champ Back in Familiar Setting at Seattle Raceways
SEATTLE, Wash. -- John Force took a big gamble when he agreed to do Driving Force, the real-life TV series airing Monday nights at 9 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific) on A&E Network.
Drag racing's biggest winner opted to put at risk his own reputation as a larger-than-life icon for a chance to elevate his sport and secure his daughters' future in the family business.
The assets of the Force family business, including the patriarch's national record-holding Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, will be on display this weekend at Seattle Raceways, Inc., where the 13-time Auto Racing All-American will be bidding for his eighth Funny Car victory in the last 16 years in the Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals.
Force, who comes into this week's event trailing Ron Capps by just 26 points in the race for the 2006 NHRA POWERade championship, is in his element when he is behind the wheel of his 8,000 horsepower, 330 mile per hour Mustang.
After all, he has appeared in more final rounds (193), won more races (120), claimed more championships (13) and won more racing rounds (952) than anyone else in NHRA history. It's also reasonable to suggest that he's conducted more interviews, autographed more memorabilia and made more Freudian slips than any drag racer, past or present.
However, the single-minded focus needed to achieve such success, both on the track and off, has taken its toll on the 57-year-old Californian, whose difficulty in relating to daughters Ashley, 23, Brittany, 20, and Courtney,18, was brutally evident in the first two episodes of the series.
Accustomed to a usually favorable portrayal in the racing press, Force has had to deal this week with a backlash from viewers who complained about his lack of parenting skills and language that, while excusable in the heat of battle, appears to be less so in prime time.
Force, whose need to be liked by fans, rivals, sponsors and the media has in the past bordered on the neurotic, is trying to take it all in stride.
"They've said I'm a bad dad and that I swear too much," Force said, "but what you see is me. I love my kids with all my heart but trying to get through to them isn't easy. All I've known for 30 years is drag racing. I know how to talk to sponsors and the media and the racers, but I don't know how to communicate with my daughters.
"Watching the show, though, I've learned some things about myself and I'm really trying to do better. If my girls want to race, I want to give them every chance. If they don't want to race, then I'll support them in whatever they do."
For Force, after a painful week of introspection, returning to the cockpit of the world's fastest Ford is going to be like slipping into a favorite pair of shoes.
Despite the distractions of filming 10 episodes of Driving Force since the start of the season (with four more to go), the show's star and comic relief is determined to win back the POWERade championship he relinquished last year to Gary Scelzi.
Although he hasn't led the Funny Car points all season long, Force has kept himself in contention with the kind of consistency that always has been his hallmark. Whereas he lost 10 times in the first round a year ago, he's lost only one first round race this year and that was due to a mechanical failure -- a broken supercharger drive belt.
In fact, he's already done better on this year's Western Swing than he did a year ago when he lost in the first round at Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, an astounding contrast to 1994 when he became one of the five pro drivers to "Sweep the Swing."
Force's fortunes at Seattle have been checkered. Although he's won seven times, he's also been ousted in the first round four times. The last four seasons, he's sandwiched two victories between first round losses to Dean Skuza and, last year, to Cruz Pedregon.
"The TV stuff is great," Force said. "It's given me my family back but, bottom line, my job is to win races and win championships and I'm serious about my job."