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Exclusive interview with John Force
Multiple NHRA Funny Car Champion and record holder John Force flew to London for the weekend of 3rd-4th December 2005 to be presented with the John Bolster Award at the 2005 Autosport Awards night. The NHRA organised a brunch, presented by NHRA President Tom Compton and attended by John, daughter and Top Alcohol Dragster racer Ashley and FC driver Eric Medlen, and kindly invited Eurodragster.com to attend. Together with photo-journalist Roger Gorringe, Eurodragster.com interviewed John in some detail about his career, Ashley's career, his future plans and more.
Roger Gorringe: Welcome to Europe, England and London. It's a shame it's winter and you haven't brought your race car.
John Force: Yes!
Eurodragster.com: Congratulations on the Award, it's good to see you getting the recognition you deserve over here. You've won a lot of races, a lot of Championships, and a lot of achievement awards. Is there any one particular race, any one Championship, or any one award which means the most to you?
John Force: I think the first in 1990. In fact my first race I ever won was in Canada. I raced in Australia in the early days in 1975, but otherwise I've been in the States into Canada where we won in Montreal, in 1986, my first NHRA win. I remember I was there with Wally Parks and Dallas Gardner and it was really an exciting time to be a part of that. I joked earlier that it was the first time my wife has liked me since she married me twenty two years ago. You dedicate so much of your life to a sport and then all you do is work. But then to come to London and to see a part of the world that I may never get a chance to see, and especially with my kids, it's really a great honour.
Eurodragster.com: Is there an off-season for John Force? Does John Force get time to have hobbies?
John Force: No, we don't. Racing's what I do, it is my hobby. I have a car collection, and a car museum, and motorcycles, and my apparel stores that I have and we've evolved. But racing's what you do every day of your life. It's so interesting that here on the streets of London to run into people who are NHRA cardholders. It shocked me. Then walking down a little brick street somebody would come up and say "Hey, John Force". And of course I wear that Powerade jacket with pride everywhere, and people notice that. Then Coca Cola trucks go by and they blow their horns at me walking down the street. It's just... to be a part of this, it's just really an experience, to leave the States and come here and people are good to you, the service is good, the hotels are great, and we're really having a great time.
Eurodragster.com: You are seen as the face of American drag racing. Do you ever feel constrained to speak or behave in a certain way because of your image?
John Force: I have to be very careful, because I'm misunderstood by a lot of people, and because you can insult somebody without realising it. So I'm going to be very careful tonight. When I watched the funeral for George Best yesterday, I listened to them talk, and I was interested in how they honoured this individual, and yet even in their humour - they were very careful about their humour. I've come here to represent our sport and NHRA, and I don't want to be taken. I can make a mistake in the States and say something, everybody will get over it, but I only get one shot here so I'm going to be very careful.
I was on stage with Nigel Mansell when he came over and won the AARWBA Titus Award, and I actually lost to him. I went on stage and did my humour - I tend to swear and cuss sometimes. He came on stage and his second speech was completely different and he threw in all the cuss words, but his delivery was terrible. When he started talking about big-breasted women everybody was in shock! I delivered it in a different manner because you know what you can get away with. But we loved it, and the media loved it, but maybe some people got confused. I think he was saying "Well, that's how they want to talk" because a lot of people said "He's talking like you!", you know what I mean? And I said "Why would he possibly want to do that?", but they totally loved him, and it was a different deal, in his accent, trying to use those swear words... I'll get in trouble with this, don't get me in trouble! But it was an honour for me just to be there and lose to him for the accomplishments that he had, and they totally loved him in the room. And it was hilarious! I was laughing so hard. It was one of the top nights to hear this individual. 'Cos when he first went on stage he was very low-key, very quiet, and I went up and did my song and dance, and then he won the Titus and he went back and boy, he hit 'em, he hit 'em hard! And I'm gonna bring that up to him tonight!
Eurodragster.com: Over in Europe the sport is starting to become more professional, there's more corporate involvement. Do you think it's possible to go too far towards corporate involvement, does it shackle and tie you any?
John Force: It's corporate, but I don't let the corporates do that to me. I have to be careful at BP with what I say. No humour with Lord Brown, watch what I say. It's business, but you do what you do. You in London, you pick 'em. I mean look at this lady right over here (Susanne Callin - Ed), I thought it was Charlize Theron, the movie actress, when she walked out. Women are a big sell in the States as well as here and my daughter, it's amazing, I struggled for thirty years to find a sponsor and my daughter - the doors are open. Everything from the Maybellines to the Nordstroms. That's why Castrol, they locked her up. They locked her up from now on, bang! They're not gonna let happen what happened when Earnhardt passed away, Budweiser got the kid and Goodwrench were left standing. Castrol was way ahead of the game. The market for the women is unbelievable. I don't mean to drag out each question, but this girl here, this lady (Susanne) would be a big hit in the States as well as here. I'm hoping to get my daughter back here some day. And myself!
Eurodragster.com: That's probably one of the questions you're sick of being asked, when people come to the rope at Pomona and say "Are you ever going to come to race in Europe?"
John Force: They do all the time. And I would love that. The only problem is our schedule. Australia is trying to get me back to honour our thirtieth year. It's a matter when you prepare for the next Championship. We pushed our time off this year from two weeks to three weeks vacation, actually the last couple of years. Because these kids go on the road in January, they say goodbye to their moms and dads and to their wives. And they're in prison. They go on the road and they come back in late November. They come back from the Banquet, we give 'em four days to tear the cars apart, and they're off the road for three weeks and they hit it again and half of them don't even go home for Christmas - there's not time. Their wives will fly in to be with them, and that's why it's hard to make a trip to London, or to Australia, or wherever. Your season comes in the middle of our season.
In the early days we only had one or two cars - now I own thirty. We've got cars in the Museum that have run 4.66. You could pull them out the museum, put them on a race track, they'd run the National record. We ought to pull some of those cars back out, they run better! But the point is that now it makes sense because you can send a car without having to take - you know what I mean? The problem is that the Crew Chiefs don't know how to run that car because the technology has changed. So we'd have to prepare a car, and ship it. To put a car on a boat for six or seven weeks, to take the car we run at the National events and send it would be impossible because there's not enough break there. So what we're looking at doing is, if we're gonna do it, we have to prepare a complete other team so the team could stay yet Coil and Bernie could get on a plane with us and go.
Eurodragster.com: You mentioned Ashley, given everything you have been through in your time do you ever worry that Ashley is going to see Elvis somewhere down the track?
John Force: Yea. And it's like flying on an airplane when you don't like it. You don't think about it. But we didn't push her into racing. At sixteen she wanted to go to Frank Hawley's Driving School. And she don't want a Mustang, she wants an F150 Ford pick-up truck. And for a girl that's something. She very much has followed Shirley Muldowney and watched her and studied her, growing up, y'know? And there's a big chance for a woman in the sport to be a star. I'd like to see her become an international star, because the sport is bigger than the United States. I'd like to see her branch to take her to the next level beyond me, as well as Eric and Robert, it's all a matter of a timeframe. And if we're gonna accomplish that maybe the cars have to fly, maybe they're going to have to be put on a jet, and that cost can be big. We wouldn't do it for the income, to come over, the guy in Australia said "We'll pay you whatever it takes" and I said "It's not a matter of a paycheque, we make plenty of money". The sponsors would pay us to go there. Castrol BP decides us to come here, I ain't worried about what the race track can pay me. The race track can only pay what the crowd allows them to pay, what you can draw. If BP goes, they'll do it for world exposure. The same way in Australia. If Ford and BP decide to send us, that decision will be made. And that's why we're coming over to meet them. Because I want to go beyond the States. That's what I wanna do.
I'm not getting any younger, and in my retirement I will travel worldwide to many countries and race. I told Australia that in my retirement, that will be my season. I'm gonna hit all th etracks I hit in the early days, I'm gonna hit the Boises, the Spokanes, the old Kansas City track, Independence, it's still there. I'm gonna go back to my roots and then I'm gonna go to Australia, and I've never been to New Zealand, I've had relatives who've raced in New Zealand in the early days, and I'm gonna hit 'em all. I'm gonna do an international tour. That's my game plan and you can announce that because it's coming. I mean I wanna go to places like Africa and race, and my wife said "Wow! There's a life beyond drag racing?". I will still be a team owner, I will still race on the straight, but I will never get to Africa unless it's with a race car. And yet I run into people who say "You oughtta come and run in Africa" and I say "What, do you outrun a lion?". That's the key, where do they race? And I was amazed that there are tracks in parts of the world that we're not even aware of. So drag racing is huge. And that will be my final tour, but that won't be done in a year, that will be over a five-year programme.
Eurodragster.com: You're signed with Castrol until, 2010 is it?
John Force: 2012. We signed for five years with a one-year extension on it. We put in an extension when Ashley goes Pro, that we're pushed out. We've been with them twenty, twenty two years and we do our job, that's why I didn't like losing. I did not like losing. Is it good for the sport that we dominated for fourteen years? No. That's not good for any sport. We did it through hard work. But I congratulated Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps on a job well done, but we will turn this around in 06, we know how to do that. I made some mistakes, and the mistake that I made personally - not my team - I thought I was unbeatable. And that's why a lot of fans said "You show no pressure, you act like you don't even care if you're gonna win". I never had the pressure because I didn't believe I could lose.
Right there in the Finals when they went out, it was like the door is open. I was shocked that I was beat and it was all I could do to keep a straight face and smile, and yet the kid that took me out, I hired my own assassin: Tony Pedregon, I trained him. From a kid I trained him, I turned him into a Champion and then he left and then...
Roger Gorringe: Was that hard, when he went? To let him go?
John Force: Yea, because I knew that I could teach other kids, because we taught Tony. But Tony was like my son, and it was hard. He didn't walk away. Tony's a very emotional kid, there was a lot of crying when he left. He didn't wanna leave. But his brother... he was really between the guy that gave him a chance and was like a dad to him. Tony lost his dad at a very young age and I was like that father to him, that I gave him that chance. But trust me, he taught me a lot. I got caught up in Corporate America, and how to find money, and Tony was caught up in "I get to drive a race car". And there's a difference, and you forget that. And I'm learning that through my kids. They go to the races and I'm like "You gotta stand to attention - OK, here comes the President from Triple A, here comes the President from Castrol" and it's like "Dad, the fans are out there, they want our autographs".
My two littlest ones, they have their own eighteen-wheelers, their own teams, they've been put into this world of people wanting their autographs, and they don't understand why. One's in the first year of college, Brittany, Courtney's just come out of college actually, with her degree in theatre and communications. She was thinking about how to make movies. And she's in the perfect world now actually. She does all of our videos, she does all of our... if I do a show in Vegas she cuts my tapes, our promos, and she's making a Christmas movie every year. She makes our Christmas show and it's about the season and she says "I don't know how to end it dad, you lost, you've always won". And as long as she can remember we've won.
Roger Gorringe: That leads very nicely to a question I have, which is are there any plans for biographies or for a film?
John Force: We are right now, and this'll interest you... a movie was made a year ago by a young actor - in fact he's in London today and I tried to reach him - his name is Stephen Hopkins. He's not an actor, he's a producer, and we signed Ashley with the William Morris Agency, and we have our own TV reality show. You'll see it this year. We started filming over a year ago and I met Stephen Hopkins. I think he's from Australia but he lives here in London and he just did the life and times of Peter Sellers and he won the Emmys and all the stuff over in the States... what are they called, the Golden Globes... he won all of that, and the actress Charlize Theron, I think she's from Africa, she won a Golden Globe. Whatever, they won everything in 05 and his production company is called Schmaguuli. It's a group of three of them and I had his numbers, I called yesterday and his girlfriend is in America so he might be in the States. But I was supposed to meet him here. We have to go tomorrow and get together on money. But he is producing, it's his production company, everybody knows who Peter Sellers is and his movie was a big hit in the States and I'm sure over here.
But he is doing our reality show and it's called The Driving Forces. And the first race that he ever came to was a year ago in 04, when Ashley and I won Pomona. And he'd never seen a drag race, didn't have a clue. And he was in total shock! He was there in the final when I won and she won, and he was in the media room and he said "There is a movie in the making here". And that's when we signed the reality show. But we had to sell the show, and it took about a year. We went to New York, we went to LA, MTV, Disney Channel, ABC, NBC, we hit 'em all. And the channel that took it was the A + E Network. We had offers for one show, three shows, A + E said "We'll take six right now". And we signed for ten, with an option of fifteen and twenty. They say it's gonna be a two-year run. They put a huge budget, 2.7 million, advertising budget behind us. There are five of us. It's about this family of young girls, that wanna be like Dale Earnhardt, the dad, except they're girls...
Roger Gorringe: Is it going to be something like a racing version of The Osbournes...
John Force: Exactly. We really struggled because MTV, they wanted to dig for the dirt: "Have these girls ever done drugs?". My kids are good, they were raised by their mother. These girls are the closest to Princess Di you're gonna get, OK? I married the Princess Di from the States. I say that in all respect because Princess Di, in our country she's a hero. In our country, when she died the States hurt. You know what I mean? And you can understand these young girls that followed her. You know, everybody hates the paparazzi, we loved them because what they gave us. We can open our magazines - and sorry for what took place - but in the States if they're not following you then you ain't shit. And I'm sorry but that's the way it is.
And I've told Ashley about the media - the media can be very stressful. She don't have a problem. You interview her, she'll be politically correct what she says, but get her loose that kid can out-talk me. I said to her mother once "Why does she never talk?" and her mother goes "You never let her". Get a few minutes, get her off to the side and talk to her.
And Eric is another talker. Eric will... he out-talks me. But they're all so respectful to me, you know what I mean? And Robert my son-in-law, he's another believe it or not off-the-wall gabber, but they never speak around me. I never knew it about 'em. I knew it about Eric, I've seen Eric on stage with the guitar, playing and singing "Johnny B Goode"... he's sucked up from day one, he knew how to get a job!
But what I'm saying is, our reality... sorry, I got sidetracked... but our reality show, we have our press day January 12th in LA. They're gonna unveil it but it's gonna hit the market of TV in June - I think it's late May, early June - on A + E, ten shows. A + E's a good channel, a great channel, but it's got huge exposure. They're already bringing us to England and Japan, our show will come here.
We've had a number of book offers to do a book. I gave the rights to Densmore to produce the book. I didn't give him the money rights, I gave him the rights. But he knows me, for thirty years.
If you wanna see racing turn on ESPN. This is about what the girl does in the morning, and like in the opening show it's me screaming "Get out of bed!".
But let me say this. My wife and I are married happily. My attorney advised me "Never get a divorce, or you'll be one team and she'll own three", and we had our problems over the years because I went racing, and I lived in that world, and I sent all the money home. I never needed money, racing gave me everything. You know what I mean? I never had to buy a meal. In thirty years I could tell the story... probably within the first four years of my career I could eat anywhere free because they wanted to hear the bullshit. You know what I'm saying? I can go in any bar in the States and they'll buy me a drink just to hear the stories. Because I tell stories about Earnhardt, Don Garlits, stories about Shirley Muldowney and they love it, right? Never about myself, just about what I've seen.
So in the process of this, this show is about these girls... I get sidetracked, I'm trying to come back... about these girls wanting to drag race in a world of John Force and what it was like. My wife just got the Super Comp licence because the TV show thought it would be good if their mother was licenced and the girls could relate to the mother. She's a beautiful woman, you'll see her. Trains, runs every day, looks like a movie star. Don't look like me, trust me! And she's very catholic, very much into the Queen, When we stood at the gates I'm making jokes and my wife slapped me! "Could you be respectful for once?". I said "But look at them guys walking back and forth", you know I'm yelling "Hey, over here!" and my wife's saying "No! Be respectful". She loves the charm of London, totally. But where NHRA took me away from my family - this is the show - NHRA is putting them back together. 'Cos now with the girls racing, my wife's at every race, she has her own eighteen-wheeler, you know what I'm saying? And she won't hardly come in the bus. And she says "I love you, I just don't like you! I've always loved you, but you're just nuts!". And if you interview her, she'll say "It's just John". Santa's coming down the staircase, and he's talking about how he's gonna beat Bernstein and Prudhomme - on Christmas morning! Because that's the way I am. But she loves me, I love her, and we have our life but now it's getting us close.
When the girls were cheerleaders I was watching the football game not the cheerleaders. I wanted a son, I never got a son - I don't know how in the hell that happened! I may have a few pop up on the Tour, any day now! But the truth is, now her and I are closer than we've ever been. And she told me standing right out in front of the Palace "Would you show a little bit of respect to the Queen?". I said "They told me at ten after five she's leaving. I wanna see what kind of car she drives". A Ford Focus! My wife says "Everything's a joke to you isn't it?", I said "No, I don't know how to get through a day without... " - it's what I do. And same thing on the plane, you know what I mean? I've never been treated the way that Castrol and Ford Motor Company treat me. Let me tell you something: I own one suit, and one red tie. The same grey tie and red stripes I've worn since the first Banquet. And my Crew Chief will say "Every time we go out, you wear that same suit and tie". It's kinda like, it's what I wore from day one. And when I go to be afraid to go on stage, because I have a big fear of the stage, that's why I talk so much. I've studied the books on Jay Leno, I learned more from Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners. The first time he ever went on stage he went out and bombed, and he was backstage, and he went to the bar, and he said "That's the end of my career" if you read his book, and a guy came down in the bar to get a drink, the producer, and they were all stressed. And Jackie Gleason is entertaining them and the bar guy said "Go back out and do what you're doing now, they'll love you". He goes "They hated me!". And the bar guy said "Whatever you're doing, go do". And he went back on stage with a couple of drinks in him and they loved him, and that was the start of his career in New York, in the Bronx. Because he had to get loose, and I have to get loose. And that's why sometimes you'll hear me on the stage just scream - because I'm terrified. And then once I get going you can't shut me up. Like now! I'm putting him (points) to sleep already!
Eurodragster.com: You've hinted at it already but how do you see the future for the Force dynasty? It seems that Ashley has her career path pretty well mapped out, but how do you see that continuing?
John Force: It's only starting because big money's coming into the sport. I do sixteen, seventeen million a year, but that's three teams and now my Super Comp teams, two dragsters. That'd only buy you one real, slightly good car in NASCAR, but in our deal that's why as much as Schumacher aggravates the hell outta me I have total respect for his way of doing business. It's to beat and fight, my way is to love. There's two ways to get to the winners' circle: you can beat 'em to the winners' circle or you can love 'em to the winners' circle. But in that love it's tough love. It's kinda like, my dad told me once when my daughter ran out in the driveway and I said "Come here honey", my dad said "Did you ever consider spanking her or disciplining her?". I said "Why?". He said "Because you'll kill her with kindness. And if you don't teach her that she can't run out in the street, she's gonna be dead some day". So I run a team with that, that you punish but you love. Schumacher... maybe "punish" is the wrong word. He drives them in certain directions. He doesn't care if they like him, that's the impression I got. 'Cos it sounds like too many don't like him but he gets the job done. And I have respect for that. So I try to find the balance. I believe he likes them but I just think that's his personality. You know what I mean? So I have respect... I'm talking about the old man, Don. But there's two different ways and I do it my way but I think that doors can open.
NASCAR, about fifteen years ago... I remember the day when drag racing was bigger than NASCAR. We were everywhere in the early days. But boy, they leapfrogged ten years ago. It went crazy. And I think we're gonna get our share back, I really do, and I believe that NASCAR has grown to that point, that it's such a machine. Our door's open to corporate America, they can come down here and they can buy a team and they can be in the top of the game. Our market is huge - it's not a NASCAR market but let's look at it in fifteen years. And that's why I'm looking at international: there's a whole new world out there untapped.
I'm sitting one day trying to figure it out. Why can Formula One come over here and their drivers are... the media's hard to get to them, but I'd die for an interview. I'll go anywhere for an interview. And yet their world is so huge and the kind of money that they make because they're international. They go to each market in America, wherever they go around the world, that one market is as big... it's like our whole market in the USA today. But it's so big that you say "Don't they have a fear of insulting somebody?". I don't think they have a fear, because their demand is so huge. I mean I was with Montoya. Gotta be real careful what I say. But I was with him in Indy, and I was totally shocked by the way they work. And it's like, I don't mean rude, but "Here's the timeframe", and it's very short, "Get me now or I'm gone". And I'm like, "Are you shitting me? I'll stay here all day for this kind of attention". And yet I realise that his media people moved him fast. And Castrol said to me "Understand, that's how it works". And I start saying "What would make it any different from us?". And I realised, international market. And that's where I'm going.
If I can move drag racing into a market like London, or I could go to Japan some day, or I can go to Africa, New Zealand or Australia. You know, what have I got to prove in the States? I'm gonna prove that I can build a team, a dynasty, that'll be bigger than mine, with young stars that have the financial backing, that don't have to wait 'til they're old like me to make it. It took me thirty years to make it. And as I build that programme in the States, I'm gonna build my dynasty worldwide. That's my thinking. And I'm starting right here in London. I'm gonna let 'em know my personality, and then I will go back to Australia, I will go to Japan, I will go to all these places. And I never thought that way five years ago. I will get my machine running again, and I started the next generation a year ago. I'm building me five... actually I'm building me five drivers: Eric, who's my lead driver, Robert - who's not too shabby, Rookie of the Year - Ashley, Brittany and Courtney. When I step out I'm building me five teams. And I think the girls will wanna do it because I told them "It's not just about drag racing, this can evolve you into so many places. You talk about Hollywood, well let's talk about London, let's talk about the places you can go where you'll be a star overnight". I never realised when I went to Australia in 1975 how big I was. And I was a total nobody! But they thought I was a megastar. I showed up wearing a cowboy hat and I said "What do I wear?". I wore cowboy boots and been wearing them ever since. I've never been on a horse. And you can become a star by just leaving the States. But you better bring that race car with you, and you better go three hundred miles an hour, 'cos then you're a star. And that's the key.
So I told my youngest girls "It ain't about being a drag racer, it's about the notoriety, the fame that you get because you do what nobody can do and you're a female". And that girl over there (Susanne), I can bring her to the States and I can put her in one of my cars, and I might pitch that pitch. A girl who looks like that would be a big star. Because she's international. Just the words "She's from London". John Force is from the United States and they love me in Australia. In 75 when I went back to the States that's what gave me the money to race: Australia, a foreign market, made me a star. That leapfrogged me right in. You know the Prudhommes and Bernsteins had been over there, Garlits, they'd been racing for fifteen years ahead of me. Garlits probably twenty five. But I came back from Australia and I was a star. And I never got it. I don't think I got it 'til I walked off the plane in London. I think I figured it out, that that's what does it. Because you people pick it up, and all of a sudden we're global. And I got the biggest company BP Castrol, they're global. And let's face it, we all get retired. That's why I'm bringing these kids behind me, so they can't retire me. In five or six years I ain't gonna be so cute!
Quick answers now, I'm sorry!
Eurodragster.com: It's not a problem at all...
John Force: But remember, I'm not going global, I'm taking NHRA with me. I built myself to a point, people know who I am in the NHRA market. And I'm seeing a whole new life ahead of me. See, my whole deal is... I'm turning into, at my age, if you took away my racing, I ain't got nowhere to go. It scares me to think about it. And this race car makes me young. I walk into any bar with that jacket on, and I'm a star right there buddy. And they don't care if I'm a hundred years old, and that race car can keep me young for ever. And that's the key: that I gotta stick around longer to give these kids a chance. 'Cos you can take the money away from them, they'll sink. And do they know how to find money? No. I do, I know where to look. 'Cos I spent thirty years looking in the wrong place.
I would become Marlon Brando. They would move me to an island, and I'd weigh four hundred pounds, if you took me out of my race car.
Eurodragster.com: Given your career and everything you've done is there anything that you see you've still got left to do, or to achieve?
John Force: Yea, get my Championship back. Because I have spoiled my sponsors. We haven't lost, only to my own driver Tony Pedregon, and it was his brother in 92 that got me. But it's not about proof. It's... God, it's the cheer of the crowds, I'm addicted. When you look back on my career... quick answers, right? I had polio as a kid, and in 1950 - I was born in 49 - the vaccine didn't come out 'til the fifties. They thought I had spinal meningitis and they took me to a Catholic convent in Portland and my mother said "My kid walked. Just after one year old he was starting to walk, and then he quit walking. What happened to him?". And I'd got polio. And there was no cure. Hot baths. And that's why the movie... the movie that I've already written, the opening of the book and the movie is about this little trailer park in the middle of nowhere, and the dad throws the mother out the front door of the trailer because she's the mother, she's the crier, she's the lovable affectionate individual, and the dad's a mean son of a bitch and he held me under the tub, 'cos the only cure they had was circulation. They soaked you in scalding hot water. Before the fifties, if you had polio or spinal meningitis, to get circulation heat was the only way to save you.
And that's how the movie opens so this young kid was like his dad: tough, mean, but he was like the mother, very loving. And that's how I build a race team. And that is where the opening of the show - it's already written. If you ask Densmore "Where does the show open?", if he gets a little bit lost, say "What about the trailer park?" and he'll go into that because he knows where it goes and my brother is writing the first part of the movie, but Densmore knows it 'cos he's heard me pitch it. And we told that to Stephen Hopkins. And he was like "Wow! That is great". Every movie has to have an opening: where did you come from, what made you the way that you are.
So in the process of that, boy I got totally lost! What was the question?
Eurodragster.com: The question was do you feel you've got anything left to achieve?
John Force: Boy, I got way off-track didn't I? But when I was a kid, when I went to play football in school, in fifth grade I wasn't any good. 'Cos I couldn't run. So I went and played tackle football, where my aggressiveness would make me good. You wore a football helmet and pads. And I'd play that and I was very good. I wasn't slow but if I couldn't tackle 'em I'd bite 'em in the leg. And that's why when I went on to high school, and went on to college, and when I got to college, well, I wasn't so good because I couldn't keep up. So my uncle said to me one day, I said "What am I gonna do now?". "What do you love?". I said "I love the cheer of the crowd, I love wearing a helmet", because the helmet made me a tiger, where my aggressiveness could hurt 'em, and a drag race car did the running for me. So I put on the helmet, I had the crowds, and that's how I started.
And I didn't start racing, trust me, my future started at twenty four years old. You know, did I go out to the local drag strip? Yea, a few times, Lions and a few of the places, never raced 'til I went to Australia. Never even had a licence. My first wife went on Let's Make A Deal, she won the big door, she won an organ, she said "I'll take the money, you get the organ" - we were getting a divorce then. And my uncle that raced Funny Cars, his car was called the LA Hooker, he was on the Show Car circuit with Coca Cola back in the early days. And my uncle wanted his kid to learn how to play the piano, so the joke was I traded my organ for a race car. That's funny shit in the States!
So in the middle of that I went to Australia, but I'd never raced. So my uncle's car was in Australia and he had crashed. And we took it home and repaired it and we took it out to Orange County and I didn't have a licence so we parked it next to Mickey Thompson's US Marine car, sent the photograph to Australia, and they just thought I was a racer. The header fire that you see on one side of the car was not header fire. It was a fifty five gallon drum of water that they poured in the glue box and it was steaming 'cos it was so cold that night, it appeared it was header fire over my car. It wasn't fire, it wasn't smoke. When I got to Australia on the second day, when the guy realised I couldn't drive, he said "You're terrible". I didn't know how to do a burnout, and that's how I met Gary Densham. And in the process, by pure accident, I set the National speed record, first guy to ever run over two hundred miles an hour, by pure accident! And they couldn't send me home! The promoter said "I'm obviously stuck with ya, you're the biggest lying bullshitter I ever met, the fans totally adore ya, 'cos you stay all night with them drinking 'til three in the morning". I never had a beer 'til I was twenty five. And I started drinking in Australia, they drank beer in the morning, lunch and dinner. And all night. I've been drinking ever since! And that's how it all started, Australia was the kick-off.
So I owe the international market. And tell 'em one day I'm coming home. Maybe sooner than they think! 'Cos I'm starting to realise. The promoters can't afford to pay us to come, it's the Castrols, BPs and Fords that can. So, I build my teams here, and when I get a break... my machine runs itself. Problem is I've got five corporations now, and I gotta run them all. And if you read the last article in the States that I just wrote a week ago, it said that I micro-manage. I try to run everything. From the race car tune-up all the way to... and Austin Coil. Next to Castrol it was Austin Coil that changed my life, twenty two years ago. The Chi Town Hustler. And I will give credit to him tonight. I've been with him for every win, but it was Ford, Coil and Castrol that gave us the money... Coil gave us the technology, the brain trust, and Ford tons of technology. 'Cos Ford's all about technology. It's amazing. They don't want an interview at the races, they want to win, it's two different worlds... anyway I got sidetracked. Short interviews now I'm sorry. I promise!
Eurodragster.com: Nostalgia Funny Car seems to be getting very popular in the States, have you ever thought to yourself you'd like to do a replica of the LA Hooker or something like that? Or one of your cars?
John Force: The LA Hooker... when my uncles were on the tour, I said to my uncles "Why did you sell the LA Hooker?" and they said "Actually we picked her up on the way from Fresno" and that's how they gave the name to their car. And she went on tour and that's why it said "LA or bust" with the girl with the big chest. And they sold a million T-Shirts. Beaver said "We couldn't make no money racing, we made it out of T-Shirts". And it was a big sell. But they got back in the Bible Belt and got in a lot of trouble. So I don't know if we could bring that car back. But Nostalgia is huge and I will go that way. But if you see my Museum, we've kept the collector cars from the early days. But not from my early days, not the original Brute Force, Australian, Wally Thor's School of Truck Masters. I don't have the cars, the Leo Stereos. I don't have the Wendy's car. I couldn't afford to keep 'em. It wasn't 'til I started making money, twelve or thirteen years ago, that I started keeping the cars. Now I have them all. Everything that goes back twelve to thirteen years I have. I have all the Castrol cars, the original Oldsmobile in 1990, they're all in my museum. So - I don't know if you've ever been out there, it's pretty nice - and we're building a restaurant and stuff, and more museum across the street. I'm gonna build a seventy five thousand square feet building with a restaurant. 'Cos our building now in LA is probably about fifty five thousand and we've outgrown that. We put a third storey on it, and then we built the shop in Indy. We've got cars loaded ready to go to Indy, it's just a matter of the time.
And we're building the motor programme will come out of Indy. We're building an all-Ford NHRA spec motor... I'd better be careful... but next question - did I ever answer that one?
Did you see the popularity of the Blue Max car at Dallas? By the Worshams? It made me want to cry. It was unbelievable, you know?
Eurodragster.com: You've got to do something like that.
John Force: We will. It's just that we're seven days a week. Monday mornings, when I get back into town from the airplane I get up, I address my real estate part of the group, I have an entertainment company that we do shows around the country, I wanted to make some money just entertaining. I get twenty five thousand just to go tell stories! The same shit I'm giving you here for free! And they love to hear it, you know? I'm amazed they pay it to hear the bullshit...
Roger Gorringe: It's wonderful, we never tire of it John...
John Force: ... I was on Virgin Airlines and I was standing up talking to like five people entertaining them and a guy in the back was thinking "I wish that asshole would sit down!". But I was just talking up a storm. I was loving it.
Roger Gorringe: Do you think your current records will be surpassed?
John Force: I think that I started... I'm 56, I started my winning streak fourteen years ago so we're talking I was... forty, forty two. Scelzi's talking about retiring. He's got three Championships, how's he gonna catch me if he retires? People look at how long they wanna do it. I don't do it for the money, I don't do it for the records, I do it because I love it. I don't know anything else, you know what I'm saying?
Roger Gorringe: How about your physical records, your 4.66...
John Force: Well, the problem that happened was they took away the percentage of the nitromethane, and I don't think that hurt us 'cos we ran quicker. And I know we ran 67, 68 on the less percentage. I think the biggest issue is the tyre, they tried to put restrictions on us, to not run any faster until they can figure out a way Goodyear can build a better tyre, and I think that slowed 'em down. But when we went to Denver at Mile High, my Funny Car ran three hundred in Denver at Mile High, before the dragsters. And I credit that to Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, because of the technology. Drag racing is about speed and ET, they cannot take away what we do or you kill... it's like taking away the nitromethane, it's like taking the beer out of the stands or the hot dogs. Nobody'll go. It's what we do. And it's what the sport's all about - getting a beer, getting a hot dog, get in the stands with the kids, mom and dad watching drag racing, smelling the nitromethane. If you take it away, you kill us. They're putting restrictions in Formula One, they're putting restrictions in NASCAR. They gotta do something but that's what we're all about so we'll see.
Roger Gorringe: Your plans for 2006, I guess it's to recapture the title?
John Force: We're in the development to build an all-Ford motor, NHRA-spec motor. We've been given the equipment by a company called Fadal, Fadal Machinery Giddings and Lewis. It's a worldwide corporation that will take us into the market. We've got a big machine shop in LA. We build our own blowers, our own heads, clutches, but now we're gonna build the block. Because we want an all-Ford motor and yet we have to fit underneath the NHRA... this won't be a Chrysler design, everything evolved from the Chrysler. This will be a Ford-spec motor by our brain trust, it's an exciting new time to grow because the financing's there, because who can afford to go out and buy ten million dollars' worth of equipment to build machinery? I went after a sponsorship six years ago, I said I'll supply the money for the suppliers to buy the manpower, and they'll work with us with technology, and Fadal Giddings and Lewis will supplied the equipment, that's two huge companies worldwide. And Ford's really into it.
And wait 'til you see our new Mustang! It's an 05 and it's gonna hit in a few weeks and it's completely different. It's longer, we built a shorter Mustang believe it or not, our tail end is real short with a wing that overhangs a foot and a half, by the code. Well now we've gone back to the longer body and shorter wing. We went to the wider car in front for downforce, that's when we got into all the steering problems years ago, couldn't make the car steer it was too wide, too much downforce. And it was bending all the steering apparatus. We couldn't figure out what was wrong, the chassis builders didn't know what was wrong. The downforce was so great that it would bend the main steering rod to the front - when you steered it, you couldn't turn the tyres because the downforce was so great. We had to go to bigger steering rods made out of titanium, special stuff.
Eurodragster.com: Andy Bissett, the clutch guy on Ashley's team, is a friend of mine and he asked me to ask you about the chef you have on the road. Apparently this guy is legendary.
John Force: Johnny. Johnny the cook. We had stopped in the middle of the race, and I had got into eating hot dogs on race day, breaking them up in four. And when Johnny first went to work for us - and he's worked for the Las Vegas track, he's worked for everybody, right? This guy can cook like you can't imagine. And I came out of the bus and I said "Johnny, on raceday I always have a hot dog, 'cos I don't eat but I take a bite. And I am coffee'd up, Powerade, it's really what I drink, right? And Johnny ran to the snack bar to get me a hot dog and a photographer took a picture said "He had this hot dog and he ran into one of them little Portapotties with the hot dog". He came back and gave me the hot dog, I took a bite out of it, and I said "That was the best hot dog I ever ate!". And it was kind of a joke from Johnny. I didn't think it was funny, I was mad at him. And they had a photograph of him running in the outhouse - he had to run in there and pee. I said "You never switched hands, did ya?". And anyway it became a big joke but I got to know the kid and he's one of the finest chefs ever. I mean, he can make you like asparagus. That's something I would never eat. I'd say he's internationally-known. And you know what, I bought a house in Lake Tahoe, my wife and I built a house up there the last couple of years, and we went in to a pub and there was Johnny. I said "What are you doing here?", he said "I cook here". On your one vacation of the year for three weeks, he went home to Tahoe to cook! I didn't even know where he was from. But that's where he lives, in Tahoe City. And he's quite an individual.
What was the question again?
Eurodragster.com: That was it, you answered that one!
Roger Gorringe: I've asked Eric, and he's given me his answer. When you're driving at night, how aware are you of all the photographers' flashes going off?
John Force: At night - and that's why I don't let my daughter drive the Funny Car at night when she tests, she's probably only made ten runs - you can't see at night. When you get clutch dust and tyre shake, a lot of drivers come back and say "My God, the lighting's bad here at this track!" and I wanna laugh. The lighting's not that bad, you just can't see in the dark. There's an old joke: "Drive between the flames". Photographers - probably twice in my career at night I've got a flashbulb from a photographer make me leave. Right at the time you click on both bulbs, if a guy hits you... it's called "Seat of your pants driving" and you react to what you're trained. I've hit the throttle and I knew it was a screw-up before my Tree came down, probably twice in my career the photographers have set me off. But we race mostly in the daytime, and so what you do is you blank. You won't notice it in the daytime but I've had it happen at night. But you take a kid like Ashley who's never seen it, or Eric, it can be very like "My God! What's going on?". I don't know, it depends on your focus, on your tunnel vision, so I'd say maybe twice in my career in the early days.
Eurodragster.com: Ashley's doing Alcohol Dragster next year, then Funny Car?
John Force: She'll probably go Pro in 07. She's evolving. There's so much to learn, it's seat of the pants. You don't wanna put a kid in a car at three hundred, you don't want to put the pressure of the Christmas Tree and the competition, it can be really brutal. I want her to learn the car, I want her to fall in love with the car, let it become her best friend. I said "Sleep in the shop in the car". They used to say "Force is drunk again, he slept in the car and gets emotional", but I truly loved the car. And I'd go down at night, drink a beer and get in the car, drink beer and fall asleep, get up the next morning and go to work. But you've got to know every aspect. It's called "cockpit orientation". You need to know 'cos when that fire hits - you ask Eric! He said "You don't know where anything is, you better know where the parachute is 'cos you can't see it when you're on fire!". You see nothing but flames and smoke. And that's what I want her to learn. So, I don't want her to learn the way I learned. That's why I got a few burns in my time, by trying to get out of the car and not knowing where the roof hatch was. Because man, you are lost. They train a pilot in the military, they teach them on fire you better know when you're upside down in the dark you'd better feel that you're upside down. Because you can't tell. Pilots have been known to fly upside down right into a mountain. Better get a lot of training because you get one chance, and then you die. And that's why we're evolving her real slow.
Eurodragster.com: I recently drove a Super Gasser and when they'd strapped me in and I was sitting waiting to run I got very nervous thinking about all the stuff which could go wrong. Do you get over that? When you're in the car are you very calm or are you still thinking about what could happen?
John Force: I get high energy up. You need to learn to control your energy to a point. But driving the car you drove is no different than driving ours. The only problem is mental. If you try to think "OK now I gotta step on the gas, I gotta cut the Tree, I gotta hit the parachute, I gotta do this, that" you overload your brain. What you do is you evolve. Cut the Tree, step on the gas and you go. A lot of drivers... you saw Scelzi under the gun of the pressure, him and Capps. I do not allow myself. I was sitting in the car, and when Scelzi and Capps went out, my team knew better than to tell me. They didn't want to tell me. 'Cos mentally your energy's up for the race, and now you think your competition's gone out, it drains you. You're almost like, they lost, you think you won the race, but you haven't won the race. You've accomplished nothing. If you don't win it doesn't matter what they do. And the only reason that I even knew that Scelzi won is they were interviewing him and I could tell by the look on his face that he was beat. Because I'm in my cockpit, I'm on the radio, my guys do not wanna tell me. I do not need to know.
And I'll tell you why: years ago when I won the Championship in Dallas, Al Hofmann was right ahead of me, Al Hofmann had lost the round and they ran and told me "Hofmann's out! You won the Championship". And I redlighted. Everyone said "What happened?". I forgot how to race. I went up there and all of a sudden it's over and I've won the Championship and I forgot I was in a race. I redlighted and Coil said "What happened?". I said "I don't need to know no more. I only need to know what I know - that I need to win this round". Because you forget how to race.
Have you ever noticed the majority of the guys who win a Championship, that at that time they usually lose the next round? Or they go to the last race and they lose first round? Schumacher and I talked about it, he said the toughest thing to win a race is after you've won the Championship. Because you forget how to race. You're so caught up that you won, you need to win this race. And we talked about it at Pomona. I had to focus to win the Championship, he only had to win the race. But that kid's really good, the kid that drives the dragster. He's really focused and he stayed in it and he went on to win the race. And that's the key. So driving your car, if you want to think about hitting that parachute, you'd better train. You'll have to think about it on the run. I've had guys go out on the run and go to hit the parachute and step off the gas. What happened? You're thinking about hitting the parachute, you don't need to be on the gas. Oh no, you need to be on the gas, and you get ready to hit the chute, so when your foot comes off the gas you hit the chute. And that's what all takes place.
Interview ©Eurodragster.com and Roger Gorringe
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