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Andy Bissett's Top Twenty questions about John Force Racing
The UK's Andy Bissett moved to the USA in 2004 to seek a career in US drag racing after spending seven years, ultimately as Crew Chief, on the Redstone and Gleadow, Team Nemesis and American Car Imports Racing Top Methanol Dragsters. After starting with Darryl Hitchman's team Andy was offered a job with John Force Racing, working as clutch technician on the Darien and Meadows A/Fuel Dragster which is driven by Ashley Force, daughter of the legendary John Force.
A few days after the 2005 NHRA season ended at Pomona, Andy had a couple of days off and kindly offered Eurodragster.com an insight into life in the John Force Racing pit by answering the twenty questions he is most asked by fans on the other side of the rope.
What's John Force really like?
Just like he is on TV: a million miles an hour, all the time. He's a blast to be around and treats his staff very well. You worry that once you get behind the scenes you might find out that some of your heroes aren't quite as great as you once thought but that's not the case with John. He's a genuinely good guy, very sincere and must be one of the few bosses in the world whose staff actually like him.
What's Ashley Force really like?
She's just like her mum out of the car: very down to earth, polite and kind of shy. At the national events we eat at the JFR catering truck - god bless Johnny the Chef. But at divisional events Johnny isn't there so Ashley often cooks for the crew or makes sandwiches which I think is pretty cool. In the car she drives just like her dad and has overcome any initial problems she had to become one of the best A/Fuel drivers in the country.
How many Force sisters are there?
Four in total. Adria is the eldest and she's married to Robert Hight, driver of the AAA Funny Car. She also runs the payroll department at John Force Racing so she's pretty important. Ashley is next in the A/Fuel car, then her two younger sisters, Brittany and Courtney have just started out racing in Super Comp and may eventually drive the A/Fueler if they pass at college.
Where's Ashley? / Can you get Ashley to sign this for me? / What time will Ashley be signing autographs? / Is Ashley in the trailer? / If I buy an Ashley Force Barbie doll, will she sign it for me?
This is one of the hardest parts of the job. I remember being a fan before I was a racer so I like to do as much as I can to make their experience more enjoyable. However Ashley is very much in demand, particularly at National events so a polite balancing act is required. Most people are happy to wait a few minutes if they know they'll get the magic squiggle in the end. The trend now is to get all four of the Force family racers (John, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney) to sign the same card so we get pretty swamped at times.
Will you sign this for me?
Are you crazy? Have you seen how dirty my hands are? It amazes me how many people want crew autographs, complete with fingerprints to make them more authentic. I get asked a lot because my job is at the back of the car, nearest the rope. Wearing your team uniform into a bar near the races always seems to be good for a free beer or two which is great!
Will Ashley be racing in a Funny Car soon?
She's made quite a few test laps in John's car. She barely brushed the wall in Indy, just folding up the headers but apart from that she's done very well. She's a lot lighter than John which upset the balance of the car so it would shake or smoke about four hundred feet out all the time. They've fixed that now and she's a lot more comfortable and has made some half passes. She should be making lots more runs in it next year to prepare for moving to Funny Car permanently in 2007. Next year Ashley will be driving the JFR A/Fuel car again. The current car is going into John's museum and we have a brand new McKinney chassis for 2006.
When will Ashley be making her next run?
At the Nitro Blast Off test session in Las Vegas on 20th January 2006.
What the hell is wrong with this car?
The rule change making the A/Fuel cars run 98% nitro instead of pure nitro hit Jerry Darien's tune up more than most. This car was running really well at the end of last year and won a lot of National events so he was understandably reluctant to make changes to the combination to adapt to the rule change. That hurt us pretty bad and we've struggled with dropped cylinders and a lack of power all year. For the NHRA Finals in Pomona we finally made the right combination changes and ran 5.302 and made five 5.3 second runs over the weekend on our way to a semi-final finish so hopefully we've turned the corner for next year.
How can I get a job on an NHRA team?
Try to get some experience by volunteering on a team. There are lots of possibilities to do this in the alcohol ranks. Then you can demonstrate to the Pro teams that you're committed and not just in it to be on TV. Also, a truck licence is a huge asset on your resumé and if you have one you can get a job on almost any team.
What do you do on the car?
I'm the clutch guy (normally I show people my dirty hands at this point). Every run I pull the clutch out and put a complete fresh pack in. Between meetings I grind all the used disks and floaters and prepare clutch packs for the next meeting. Each run requires about two hours' work between races, grinding the four disks and three floaters, measuring them and assembling a new pack. Then we share out the work setting up and packing away the awning and pit stuff and polishing the rig every weekend to make it look presentable for our sponsors. Also Chris, our bottom end guy, and I drive our tow vehicle from race to race which is about 35,000 miles per season.
How did you get a job on this team?
After crewing in Europe for seven years I moved over here and started out on Darryl Hitchman's A/Fuel team. Whilst there I got to know the guys on Ashley's crew and her clutch guy left about the same time I left Darryl's team. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and I live very close to the JFR shop in California which was a big plus. I got offered the job after an interview with Bernie Fedderly and gladly accepted.
Will you be on this team next year?
Yes, I'll be doing the clutch on Ashley's car again in 2006. In 2005 this team competed in fourteen national events, nine divisional events and one match race weekend. They also did nine weekends of testing for a total of twenty eight weekends of racing and it looks like next year's schedule will be very similar so I'll be pretty busy.
How do you get along with everyone else on the team??
Really well. It took me a while to adjust, especially starting mid season but everyone got me up to speed quickly and we were working together really well by season's end. Coming into an organization like JFR you have to accept that your previous experience just got you in the door, and now you have to raise your game to the level of the people around you who've been doing this forever. It was tough for a while but now the thirty minute turn rounds are a real buzz.
Why are most cars slower in Europe?
There are a lot less cars in competition and the teams make a lot less runs in a year which holds back the performance to a certain degree. I guess it all comes down to money which limits the amount of racers and the races they can go to, which slows down the learning process. The lack of cars reduces the total communal knowledge in the pits and the amount of rubber laid on the race track which is hard for a track crew to overcome. Also almost all the tracks in the US are concrete to half track which makes it easier to be consistent from track to track too.
What do you miss about racing in Europe?
The great people and racing in different countries. It was always fun having a beer or some other lethal, local concoction with people from all over Europe at the same table, bench or all on the same scooter. In some ways the NHRA racing community is closer simply because there are so many races in a year and you see these people week after week after week rather than a few times a year but the people are less diverse.
Are there any aspects of the NHRA scene that you wouldn't like to see in Europe?
Sometimes some of the marketing and sponsorship stuff can be kind of intrusive but it's what pays the bills. Seven dollars for a beer at the races is a crime, especially when it's Bud Light or some other tasteless crap. And I know this is gonna come back to haunt me but I'm not sure we need a European equivalent of Racers for Christ.
Would A/Fuel cars do well in Europe?
Krister Johansson has started to do really well this year with his and I think it's possible to run some very stout numbers at some of the races there. The A/Fuel cars are less dependent on traction and more dependent on good air than the blown cars so they could run really fast at some of the cooler races in Europe where it may be hard to avoid tyre shake with a blown car.
Are you from Australia?
Nope, but people here seem to find it hard to tell the accents apart so don't worry about it. I've been to Australia and it's a great place so being called an Australian isn't a big deal.
Are you from New Zealand?
Nope, but people here seem to find it hard to tell the accents apart so don't worry about it. I've been to New Zealand and it's a beautiful place so being called a New Zealander isn't a big deal.
Are you Canadian?
No, absolutely not.
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