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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Interview with the Pros: John Force

By NHRA Communications

The following is an excerpt from today's NHRA teleconference with 11-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, where he addressed members of the media regarding his milestone 100th victory last weekend at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, Houston Raceway Park. With the victory, Force became only the third driver in major auto racing series to post 100 victories or more, joining NASCAR legends Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). To access a full audio replay of the teleconference, please call 888-566-0138.

Q: What does this accomplishment mean to you?

FORCE: It's good that we have accomplished this as a team. There are a lot of good people that were a part of this and made it happen. I am very proud to be a part of it. There's several people that have already done this, like Richard Petty with his 200 wins. It's a big honor to be put up there with names like that, it really means something. It has been really tough to keep the adrenaline going for the fight over the last few weeks. I'm ready to get over the weekend and move on to Bristol.

Q: Do you get any extra satisfaction out of knowing that you accomplished all 100 wins during the modern era?

FORCE: There is a lot of tough competition these days. There's more racers these days and a lot more races. It does give you a shot at winning a few more times by having more races. There's really no way to compare. It's like Babe Ruth up against one of today's (baseball) players. Are baseball bats the same today as they were back then, or does Tiger Woods have an advantage because he uses a different golf ball? I don't know how you sort all of that out. I never raced against Bob Glidden or Richard Petty. It seems like there's a lot of hype in numbers and the accomplishment. I am excited about it. When people say am I going to go after Petty's record, I gotta say, not really. I never raced against Petty. Maybe it's wrong for me to think that way because I don't want to be negative about what we've accomplished. If I was going to give credit it would be to Castrol, a sponsor that has stuck with me for many years. Austin Coil (crew chief) because it takes a combination of money, talent and luck to win a lot of races. We've had the talent, luck and the money. Nobody made a big fuss when Austin won his 100th race. Austin actually beat me to 100 wins as a crew chief. It is hard for me to say if this era is better than another one. You might offend somebody that might look at it another way. I don't get into that. I am ready to take the pat on the back for the team and move on down the road. A lot of people have said to me that I don't seem excited. I am very excited. I was excited that my kids and family were there to see me win it and become a part of history, before I start losing. My kids are old enough now to realize what it is that I do. About 10 years ago they didn't know what I did. They would say, 'Hey Dad, some kid said you won a race at Ennis, Texas, what does that mean?' Well, now they know what it means. That's what's important.

Q: How important is getting 100 wins in what seems to be a very exciting time for NHRA?

FORCE: To hit this 100th mark, it is a big deal. The biggest reason for me is that in Corporate America they want to give their money to someone who they think can win. We have a whole new door open with our new series sponsor POWERade and TV partner ESPN and we want to move to where NASCAR is. I want to be a part of that movement over the next 50 years. I believe NHRA is going to snowball. I can say that I have the records, that I have won 100. As a team owner, I can say that I know how to win races. Who do they go to? They either go to the young guy that's up and coming or to the guy that has experience and knows how to win. Now I am after my 10th straight NHRA championship. I am proud of my Winston jackets that I have held for 11 years. Now I want to get my first POWERade jacket so I can be a part of the next 50 years of the NHRA.

Q: How much difference is there for you between win No. 1 and win No. 100?

FORCE: Ninety-nine (laughs). I sat in the car before the race with Coil and they joked that I was sick. We are motivated to fight the fight. You have to go in with butterflies. You always feel sick going to a final. It's kind of the way we have learned to race. My daughter told me she was so nervous for her first big race in Las Vegas that she couldn't hold on to the brake handle. I told her it was normal, that if you have that fear, then you have the respect and that means you want it so bad that it frightens you. If you can learn to control that fear then you will be good. Always carry that fear with you. I believe every fighter that goes into the ring has those butterflies. If you don't go into a fight confident but with the fear of losing, that is the adrenaline that God gives us to fight the fight. If a saber-tooth tiger is chasing me the body can run a lot faster than if it wasn't chasing me. You have to learn to control that and that will give you the energy to win. That's how we fought it for years. Coil always says, control the fear, blank it out of your mind and go in there and beat your opponent.

Q: The way I figure it, you have 400 wins since you have to win four times on Sunday to get one win. Do you think that's enough to get you included in IROC?

FORCE: They talked to me about IROC. I had a chance a few years ago. I would like to have that chance. I've been to the driving school. I could do the job. I was talking with Tony Schumacher the other day. He wants to do that. Not just because we can prove that we can win. We want to make NHRA a part of something that we've never been a part of. That's why (winning) the Driver of the Year was so important (1996). If I can take my fan base and go to IROC and take the potential that a race car driver can drive a car over 300 mph. Sure, I don't go around curves, but I've been on fire sideways. We've had to do a lot of thinking behind the wheel. I want to move up to the next level. Every other series participates in that, so why not NHRA? It's like when I was Driver of the Year. It wasn't for me, it was to move the racers of NHRA to say we were a part of Driver of the Year that NASCAR and every other form of racing has dominated for many years. That was important to me to build the sport for my children and for the guys that have worked so hard out here. That's the same reason I'd like to see an NHRA driver in IROC.

Q: Talk about your first victory... what was that like for you?

FORCE: It's funny because Ed McCulloch was there for my first win and also for my 100th win. I was racing against him in Montreal and he was on the crew for Tommy Johnson Jr. in Houston. I was always sick over being in the final round and I just decided to have fun and be proud that I was in a final round against a great driver like McCulloch. I left on the light and pedaled the car and we won. All I had to ever do was get over the sickness. That's what I told Gary Densham before his first win. I told him just to drive the car and have fun that he'd been in many races before and this was just another one. He didn't need me to tell him that, but I did. Then once you start winning, he won again a few weeks later and he won again two weeks ago at Vegas. It's a matter of getting the monkey off your back. Once you do that then the roll will start. After my first win, a few weeks later we won again in Columbus. It's all a matter of getting your head straight and believing in yourself. That's all. I didn't believe in myself at first and then I learned how.

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.

NHRA Communications

 

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