Transcript from today's Ford Racing Teleconference with Bob Tasca III and John Force, February 22, 2011
NHRA's 60th season kicks off this weekend with the 51st annual NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.
Bob Tasca, driver and owner of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car, and John Force, who last season earned his 15th Full Throttle Series championship title at the wheel of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang, joined Ford Racing on a teleconference to kick off the 2011 season. Among the topics they discussed were the keys to keeping the Championship title in the Ford Family, the importance of family (most notably the Tasca's) in NHRA Drag Racing, and major moments in NHRA's first 60 years.
JOHN FORCE -- 15-time NHRA Full Throttle Series World Champion/ Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car
IT'S BEEN THREE MONTHS SINCE YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP AT POMONA WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM BOB (TASCA, WHO ELIMINATED 2010 CHAMPIONSHIP HOPEFUL MATT HAGAN), AND A LOT HAS CHANGED SINCE THEN FOR YOUR TEAM. HOW DO YOU CARRY THAT CHAMPIONSHIP MENTALITY INTO A NEW SEASON? "You just don't take a vacation. Like Tasca, he finally stole a day to take his kids to Disneyland. Me, I spent the winter in the gym, but I have some time for the family. Mainly it is about the transition for some employees -- you lose a handful, you got to replace them. New technology -- working on a new injector to make these cars react quicker. And the new BOSS 500 motor program. That's what we've been doing all winter. Tasca's taken delivery of some new stuff out of John Force Racing there in Indy, out of the BOSS 500 program. We just keep motivated. It's time to leap into the fire. It's been too long."
TALK ABOUT THE FAMILY DYNAMICS THAT PLAY IN TO THE TASCA FORCE RELATIONSHIP. YOU'VE BEEN LONG-TIME FAMILY FRIEND AND FORD PARTNER, AND ARE INDEPENDENT ON THE TRACK, BUT ARE YOU ALSO INTERDEPENDENT? "My introduction to Ford Motor Company, even though I was with Ford in my early days with local dealers, was through the Tasca family. And from that, from Grandpa Tasca (Bob Tasca Sr.), I learned about being a team and being a family. I took it one-step further to the ranks of even Ford's thinking today, and our program with 'One Ford.' We all race together. I don't know exactly how it works in NASCAR, but to see (the Wood Brothers), who had struggled for so many years, to jump up with that Motorcraft and Quick Lane car and get a win (with Trevor Bayne, at the Daytona 500) to kick off the season, it was exciting for me. I believe the Roush teams and the Petty's -- everybody is working together. That's what we're doing at John Force Racing, and Tasca, the family, is part of that. We'll have meetings this weekend with our crew chiefs. Even though we all race together, in the end, even my crew chief said there's a lot of our technology and things that we learn that go over there (to Tasca's team). I said 'Yeah, but if you build a good Ford race car, one day it'll pay.' I joke, but I'm really serious. 'The shot heard 'round the world' was when Tasca opened the door at Pomona last year to allow our Ford to win the championship when he took out Hagan. But the key was that motor program [Ford BOSS 500], which his crew chiefs worked on with mine...even though we're separate teams, Tasca's hot rod was flying, he got the win that opened the door for me. So it even made my own people understand - if Ford's going to invest money in this technology, we have to share it with the Ford personnel, and the Tasca family is part of that."
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE BIGGEST MOMENT IN THE 60 YEARS OF NHRA'S HISTORY? "Looking back, Don Prudhomme, [Don] Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Bob Glidden in the early days of Ford Pro Stock -- those were my heroes. Even when I went into Tasca Ford, I looked at the wall and saw a lot of the names and the Tasca Ford car and their drivers. There's so much history in drag racing, because it's American. It's the automobile. It's what it's all about. But when I look back, seeing Don Prudhomme race in Indy one year, in the final round against Tom 'the Mongoose' McEwen, when McEwen had just lost his son, and all of a sudden McEwen wins the biggest race in the circuit. That was a major moment to me, just because it was like God willed it to happen to a person who had sacrificed. We [JFR] know because, with the loss of Eric Medlen, we've been through it. That's why I fought so hard to get back myself. It was like I owed a debt back, to come back and build better racecars through the Eric Medlen Project. Don Garlits...Shirley Muldowney is a lady who did what women dreamed of doing, stepping into a sport like this. Danica Patrick, trying to go from IndyCar into NASCAR, it's a tough battle. In drag racing, Shirley Muldowney was a lady that won championships. My daughter Ashley (Force Hood) and Courtney and Brittany, they set their goals after those women, after those sites. To beat the men. But Garlits, as an innovator, the rear-engine dragster...again, that was engineering, technology things, the evolution of the car. But putting the motor behind the driver, that was really a cool deal."
WAS LAST YEAR'S CHAMPIONSHIP THE SWEETEST FOR YOU? "They all mean something to me. There are so many. But probably in my career, your first is always your greatest win. But to come back after my crash and then to be champion. Everybody laughed, a Castrol driver danced on the hood of the Ford Motorcraft because I was there. Robert Hight worked all year to help me win that championship. You know that Ashley Force Hood, my daughter, she fought to help. They all wanted to win, but we took out the competition. Down at the end, they were all hoping, praying, trying. Robert was trying to motivate me to stay in the fight. All that energy around me, and then Tasca -- when he stepped up and did what he did, it was just a mental thing to me, that this whole thing made sense. Through hard work, through dedication, through people sticking together. That's the Ford concept -- 'One Ford.' We pulled it off, right Tasca?"
BOB TASCA III -- Motorcraft/Quick Lane Auto and Tire Center Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car
JOHN CALLED IT 'A SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD,' BUT YOU HAD A STRONG SEASON ALREADY IN THE BOOKS PRIOR TO 'THE MOMENT' IN POMONA. YOUR TEAM RETURNS EVERYONE FROM YOUR CREW. WHAT IS THE KEY FOR YOU TO BE HOISTING (THE CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY) IN POMONA THIS YEAR? "I think it's just picking up where we left off. This is the first time we end a season with the tune-up that we start a season with. Over the last three years we've gone through a lot of transitions with different set-ups and combinations and we made that 'One Ford'announcement last year, and it was a huge momentum boost for our program. Just for Marc (Denner, Co-Crew Chief), Chris (Cunningham, Crew Chief) and the guys to roll into Pomona with basically the same set-up we left with, with some minor changes...we are running the all-new JFR (John Force Racing) Ford chassis. We did a lot of testing at Palm Beach (International Raceway) and had some of the quickest 330 times of my career, so we're real happy with how that car's reacting, and really, truthfully just can't wait until Pomona."
TALK ABOUT THE FAMILY DYNAMICS THAT PLAY IN BETWEEN THE FORCES AND YOU. YOU'VE BEEN LONG-TIME FAMILY FRIENDS AND ARE INDEPENDENT ON THE TRACK, BUT ARE YOU ALSO INTERDEPENDENT? "I've described my relationship with John a number of different ways. If you're a basketball player, you dream of maybe working with Michael Jordan. If you're a baseball player, maybe it's Babe Ruth. In our sport of drag racing, there is none other other than John Force. I have the ultimate respect for him, as a family man, as a business man and as a racer. What I've been able to learn from John -- it ain't no secret. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for John Force."
JOHN FORCE CONTINUED -- YOU MENTIONED THE HISTORY AND THE TASCA FAMILY'S INFLUENCE IN THE NHRA. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TASCA AND FORCE ROLE IN THE NHRA ON THIS 60TH ANNIVERSARY? "I had known of the Tasca name. I knew the Tasca's were big but I'm a West Coaster, I had never been over the East Coast. When I went into that dealership that day, the Tasca family walked up, Grandpa, Bobby's dad, and all of his brothers, they looked like the Wyatt Earp family, I thought who are these guys? I was there to either rent a car or buy a car because I needed a four-wheeler in the snow. It was the way that they had taken me in, and to listen to Grandpa preach the gospel. We're raising all of the girls here in Yorba Linda and Bobby's family, he has four sons, and we're going to have plenty of drivers for Ford in the future. What was really amazing was to look at the history on their wall, all their drivers. I've read Grandpa Tasca's book, you will be satisfied with it. Grandpa said you need to 'Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.' Bobby I'm going to turn it over to you to give that history on the NHRA."
BOB TASCA III CONTINUED -- "My grandfather had such a passion for NHRA drag racing. I remember him telling the story back in the 60s when he recognized this sport as a great opportunity. It's when he coined the phrase 'Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.' At the time he was very close to Henry Ford II and Ford wasn't that involved in drag racing at all. He passed out Henry's mailing address to a lot of people in drag racing and the letters started rolling into Henry about drag racing. Finally he called my Grandpa and said, stop the letters, let's go drag racing. I remember the early programs that they had with Ford and how they activated at the track. He always recognized that not only do the fans have unprecedented access to the teams, but to the sponsors and the relationships to the sponsors as fans. It's pretty unprecedented in any other form of motorsports. It's a 60-year tradition that lives on today. Certainly the business model and the dynamics are very different than they were in the 60s, but the whole slogan 'Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday' is alive and well in NHRA Drag Racing and obviously for Ford, Motorcraft and Quick Lane. They've been able to leverage this opportunity over the last couple of years."
JOHN FORCE CONTINUED -- "What's amazing to me, and I don't do politics, but I read in the USA Today, politicians talking about the Army trying to pull out of NASCAR and why they invest money with the world economy the way it is, but it's the perfect place to recruit, as is drag racing. You've got the young kids coming out of school going into college all loving cars, the majority drives an automobile. It's the perfect demographic in drag racing and NASCAR. What amazed me was to watch, I was in a show with BrandSource lst weekend and our sponsors down in Orlando with Courtney, and I couldn't get over to the NASCAR race but I got back in time to see it. I watched Edsel Ford, hug his driver, this young kid Trevor Bayne. How it all happens I don't know, but they got the job done, and a lot of it is luck. I'll take luck anytime. It was amazing, not because he won the race, but because all of the people at Ford, the family, the Tascas, John Force Racing, we love to race, but we know our job is to sell. Here we are preaching the gospel because Ford is making changes, like Bobby said before. They brought this company back and continue to survive and grow and help us keep our programs. We alone at Ford can deliver. Edsel Ford is still in the emotion of that this company is going to be okay. It made changes, they've done things. We've invested in NHRA and NASCAR. At the end of the day we're delivering for them. That's what it's all about, winning races and that goes to the fans that buy the program."
BOB TASCA III CONTINUED-- TONY STEWART AT NASCAR SAYS THAT IT TAKES ABOUT FOUR OR FIVE RACES INTO THE SEASON TO SEE WHAT TEAM OR TEAMS WILL PROSPER. DO YOU GUYS AGREE WITH THAT IN NHRA? "I've broken the season down into three parts. You've got the first four races or so where the conditions are pretty idea. You have to run the big number to have the chance to win those races. Then you have the summer time where you really just have to stay alive in these hot rods. They make so much power; you've really got to pull them back. Then good Lord willing you're in the Top 10, and in our sport it's pretty much proven that you can go in number one and end up number 10 and you can go in number 10 and end up number one. I think that's what makes it so exciting. The first couple of races are critical because those play into the conditions that you're going to be seeing at the end of the season to really run for that championship. One of the things that makes our sport so exciting is that if you make it into the Top 10, anything can happen."
JOHN FORCE CONTINUED -- "A lot of the teams, especially in this economy, they cannot afford to run the test sessions. NHRA has cut us back to four. You're open before Pomona to test all that you want. We went to Florida and our cars ran good, Bobby did too. You have to build your combination and you have to train your teams. You take these kids and prepare them. They're in cold weather right now and yet we put them into the heat of summer down in Florida. That was tough on them. It was like boot camp. They're going to hit Pomona running and you're going to be in different conditions. It's not just the way your race car runs, but also how your men run. Then it's the budget, you've got to watch your money. You have to budget your money for the whole season. You can have all of the points you want in the beginning of the season, but then you run out of money. I've actually beat teams because they've run out of budgets to buy the parts whether they were lower budgeted teams, or they broke all of their stuff early. You've got to win. You have to find a balance. That's what I like about the Countdown. Even if you struggle in the beginning, as long as you make the Countdown, as long as you're in that 10 spot, you can win the championship. It's just like running a foot race. If you want to get out ahead of everybody in the beginning and out-run them, they're just going to run past you later if you don't have the energy to stay out there. Financial is a big part of that."
BOB TASCA III CONTINUED -- WHAT WOULD BE A DREAM SEASON FOR YOU AND WHAT WOULD BE A NIGHTMARE SEASON FOR YOU? "A dream season for me would be to win the championship. That's the only reason why I'm out here. At the end of the day, I love to win as many races as I can, but if I get into the Top 10 without a win and won the championship, that's a dream season. A nightmare season we won't think about that, we'll just keep our sights on winning the championship."
JOHN FORCE CONTINUED -- "I've lived a nightmare season. We lost Eric [Medlen] in 2007. It used to be that when you set a car on fire and you showed how tough you were, Superman Drag Racer. You just go out there and you build another car. I had no money in the first 15 years of my career. I worked hard for companies like Castrol, Auto Club and Ford Motor Company, whatever it took to do the shows and to have the money to run the cars, in later years to have enough money to test them, and hire the good crew chiefs. When we lost Eric, when we woke up, nobody wanted to race. The trophies didn't have a meaning. It was really hard to say 'go back.' What do you do? Go back and work hard so you can have money so you can have a nice house? Go back to it so you can have money to send your kids off to college? Go back so you can win championships without Eric? It didn't make sense. It was the safety that came out of it that made sense.
We didn't know where to go. We had never tried to change the car that had evolved over 50 years. My car that I drove 30 years looked identical to the car that I crashed in and that Eric crashed in. The Ford engineers started looking at it, like building a bridge and like building a Ford car that they built today. They said here's what you need to do. We worked with Murf McKinney, who was one of the best chassis builders and it started evolving in the Eric Medlen project. I crashed four months later and I can tell you that I would not be standing here if it wasn't for Eric Medlen's crash. It was like the Lord took him to save me. I don't know why it makes no sense, but maybe it was to continue to work with Ford and their engineers who made it financially possible to put race cars out so I could look my wife in the eye and say, I believe in that car and your child who's in it will be safe. You can't get any more than that. It saved my life. It did break my arms and legs, but we continued with that car and out of it came the three-rail chassis that my daughters, Robert Hight and Bob Tasca all drive that they said would be too heavy, too expensive, but these hot rods will out-run anybody. They'll win championships and they'll save lives. They're like six to seven times stronger. NHRA has changed the rules on how we do stuff but now we have to stay in that game and continue to change. Dale Earnhardt was a perfect example. He died and all of a sudden everyone woke up and said we have to save these drivers. Maybe it's changed the face of racing and it's changed our numbers a bit, but you just can't go around knowing that you're going to lose somebody. We changed that at Ford and at John Force Racing."
BOB TASCA III CONTINUED -- "I remember building my program. We didn't even have a race car at the time that John crashed. My wife and father said what are you doing? Are you sure this is what you want to do? Look what happened to Eric Medlen and look at what happened to John. We flew down and John was in the hospital bed and you've seen the pictures. He called me to the side of the bed with as much energy and passion as I've ever seen, and he told me what they were going to build. He had the plans for the three-rail chassis, I'll never forget this. I remember telling my Dad that John wouldn't get back in the car he didn't think was safe. To sit in that three-rail car it's like a fortress around you. Your whole body is encapsulated in steel instead of a two-rail and I think that's a big reason why I continued to race, seeing John in the hospital and seeing how much energy that he had and Ford had in building this safer car."
JOHN FORCE CONTINUED -- RACING A FORD BODY CAR, WITH A FORD CHASSIS AND A FORD ENGINE, HOW MUCH DID IT MEAN TO FORD FOR YOU TO WIN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP? "We're all out there to sell our brands and our products, that's really what it's all about. The investments made by Ford Motor Company and I really mean that sincerely, they offered the engineers and testing in Detroit. We have a dragster up there right now because my daughter crashed in the dragster last year. The wheel came off the car and it was just a terrible deal. It was the weekend that we had another driver that we lost there. Once again, back to the drawing board. When we talked to NASCAR, I talked to some of those people and asked what do you do? The words were surround your driver with armor. I thought if you do that the car will be too heavy. Then they said, change the rules. The NHRA sometimes doesn't get credit. They're the ones that worked with us and gave us money to invest in tire testing, work with the chassis. It was a lot of people. Everyone got together to build a car that we can put our children in. That's really what it's all about."
BOB TASCA III CONTINUED -- "I was at the starting line and played as a small role. I give John and his team the credit on winning the championship. Henry Ford III was at Pomona and it shows the Ford family and their love and support for their racers. He was there at the starting line. To have our Ford beat a Dodge and open the door, and John come and run the table the way that he did, I've been in a lot of Ford boardrooms and I can tell you this, there wasn't a dry eye. Everyone had an ear-to-ear grin on their face."
JOHN FORCE CONTINUED -- "I don't know [Alan] Mulally, the gentleman that runs Ford. I've met him a few times and he's always taken the time and respect to talk to us and I really appreciate it. The guys that I dealt with everyday, the group of guys that changed our programs and worked with the guys along with Jamie Allison, said we got to make change. We've got to cut cost at Ford Motor Company and we have to build better cars. You might say well how do you build better cars and cut costs and win championships? I took their game plan, what they were doing at Ford and put it into my own program. I had a few people leave me, but things had to be done to make this thing function. It worked because we still won, we came back. The Wood Brothers, they came back and survived because of Ford, the Roush's, the Petty's, we all survived. I'm going in today to finally offer my employees increases because I found ways to cut costs. I've been going to rental cars for the past 30 years. I quit doing that and go to the dealers now and they give me a car because I work with them. There are so many ways, if I just open my eyes, on how to save money to make this thing cost effective, and yet we still deliver championships. It will be Tasca, Robert Hight, Mike Neff or myself. These Fords will deliver a championship. It's just going to keep on happening because we work as a team. "