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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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