National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Ashley Force Hood
January 16, 2007
THE MODERATOR: It was announced earlier today during a press conference that John Force racing headquarters in Yorba Linda that Ashley Force will turn pro this season and drive a Ford Mustang Funny Car for John Force Racing with sponsorship from Castrol Auto Club of Southern California. Brand Source, Mack Tools and Mach 1 Air Services.
The crew chief of the new team will be Dean Antonelli, long-time crew chief for her father's team. A little background on Ashley. She's been racing in the sportsman ranks. Last April she earned her Funny Car license. Since then in testing she's posted performances of 4.809 seconds, 4.826 seconds at speeds over 320 miles an hour. Her first NHRA event victory came in top alcohol dragster at the 2004 U.S. Nationals.
She also won that year at Dallas, and also at the Auto Club finals at Pomona where she shared the winner's circle with her father. It's the only father-daughter event winners n NHRA history. In three season in top alcohol dragsters she won five times in nine final-round appearances finishing fourth, seventh and fifth in national points during that time.
She'll be the 10th female to compete in a Funny Car in NHRA history. The last female to drive a funny car was Kristen Powell during the 2000 season. No female has ever won or qualified No. 1 in Funny Car.
The best race day effort for a female in Funny Car was accomplished by Della Woods in 1985 at Redding, Pennsylvania. She advanced to the semifinals of that race where she lost to Kay Bernstein.
Ashley will join her father, John, Eric Medlen, Robert Hight on the team that has claimed 15 World Championship titles NHRA titles and 168 national event victories in NHRA competition since 1987. Ashley plans to test at Las Vegas this weekend, and Phoenix the following weekend before her official pro debut February 8th. The CarQuest Auto Parts Winter Nationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona where she will join her fellow Funny Car competitors as the 2007 NHRA POWERade countdown to the championship begins.
We'd like to welcome Ashley to the teleconference. A little later we'll have John Force on the call to answer some questions, as well.
Q. Ashley, your thoughts about making the transition into a Funny Car and your goals for the season.
ASHLEY FORCE: I'm very excited. Today's a big day for John Force Racing. We've been training. I've been racing. I'm starting my sixth year competing in NHRA drag racing. I did two years in Super Comp, three years in eight field dragsters with Darien & Meadows, and finally getting to jump up with my dad and our other two drivers in the Funny Cars. I'm very excited.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Ashley. We'll go ahead and take questions.
Q. When did you first want to drive a Funny Car?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, I grew up watching the Funny Cars. That was my favorite category, I'm sure because my dad competed in it. But they've always been my favorite car to watch and root for. It probably didn't occur to me I could actually have a career in it until I was actually able to drive a normal car at 16. I don't think most kids can think past the next week playing at school.
But when I turned 16 and I got licensed to drive a normal car, that's when I got to go to the racing school. That was the first time that I actually thought, you know, I could do this, I could compete, and that could be my career. I could actually have a job in something I love doing on the side. And then obviously I naturally thought, Well, the category I would want to end up in would be Funny Car.
So around 16 was when I was first thinking of it.
Q. Are you looking forward to the first time you pair up with your dad in eliminations?
ASHLEY FORCE: I can't wait to run next to dad and his team. I'm very excited. They taught me, he did, his crew chief, Austin and Bernie, and their team is who I mainly tested with. All of our teams, but they were the head team I ran with. They taught me everything in this Funny Car. Now to be in the lane next to them with Guido as my crew chief, it'll be exciting. And the fans, they'll love it, because there's never been any father-daughter teams competing against each other.
The big question we're all asking is which side my mom is going to stand on in the track.
Q. Do you think it's a safe bet it will be on your side of the track?
ASHLEY FORCE: I don't know. It better be (laughter). Either way, she can stand in the middle.
Q. With all the interest with Driving Force last year, with your dad being your dad, does that put any extra pressure on you to step up now? Did you think at all maybe you should put it off a year? Is the timing right?
ASHLEY FORCE: No, we talked a lot about it. We decided that the timing was right. The time in our company. With the show, I'm bringing so much attention to it all that I was ready. I've tested for two years. I've competed already for five years. This is the time in my life to make the move.
Doing the show last year really prepared me, if anything, for this year because it brought a lot of media attention. I did more interviews and more photo shoots, got more attention with fans at the ropes last year than any other year of racing, which was hectic and crazy at times, but it's really prepared me for moving into the pro categories this year.
Q. Are you going to be doing the show again this next season?
ASHLEY FORCE: Yes, we will.
Q. The decision was almost a foregone conclusion. Most people had suspected this was going to happen. How difficult was it for you to make the decision, because it is a big leap from where you were to the Funny Car?
ASHLEY FORCE: As far as from a driving standpoint, I so gradually moved up through the ranks. There was no other category I could have prepared in. The next step up was either pro dragster or pro Funny Car. I went slowly through the process. I experienced many different sensations in the car last year, tire shake, pedaling it, getting sideways, dropping cylinders, catching fire, setting fire bottles off on accident.
I went through a lot of that in testing, getting all the kinks out because your car will not always go A-to-B. That's the easy part of it.
This is kind of the next step. My crew chief, Dean Antonelli, he came from dad's team. Watching dad run all these years, watching me now get into it, he felt that he was comfortable having me move up. My dad felt I was ready. I was ready to make the move. All the puzzle pieces fit together and we decided to make the jump.
Q. Now that the die is cast, what are your expectations for your first year?
ASHLEY FORCE: I know it will be a learning curve, but thankfully I did all those other years in racing. I don't need to learn how to do a burnout or how to stage, how to do any of the basics. I did that in A/Fuel and Super Comp. I can really focus on the differences moving from the A/Fuel dragster to the Funny Car as far as how it steers and feels.
I totally forgot what the question was (laughter).
Q. What are your goals for 2007?
ASHLEY FORCE: I have a great team. We have great sponsors that are very supportive of us. We have all the right parts, everything here. We're getting our trailers loaded now to head onto Vegas tomorrow to test. I just hope that I can learn from the mistakes I make and go out there and be a good driver for my team because they work so hard. We have a new group of young guys this year coming on the road with me. I think it will be a good year for us. If we can go around, get qualified, maybe beat up on dad one or two times, but really go out there and have fun.
I think you do better if you don't get too caught up in the nervousness and expectations, really just try to go out there and have fun because we do have one of the funnest jobs I think in the world.
Q. With the team you have behind you, you're poised to make new ground for women in Funny Car.
ASHLEY FORCE: It will be exciting. We're excited for it.
Q. You talked a little bit about why you chose the Funny Car. A lot of fans are going to be interested in why you did choose Funny Car over Top Fuel dragster. And how much testing have you done in a Funny Car? Do you feel pretty comfortable in one?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, answering your question about choosing the Funny Car, I grew up rooting for the Funny Cars. Since I was born, I was raised around them. Actually, I'd looked -- we have junior drag racing, NHRA offers that for kids seven to 16 or 17. I waited and waited for a junior Funny Car. They weren't safe enough so they struck with the junior dragsters. I never jumped into that.
Then it came to the point where I wanted to start competing. I hoped in Super Comp. I always felt kind of like a traitor. I was over in the dragsters with my dad and our teams were in the Funny Car pits. It's exciting to come full circle and be back with the Funny Car guys. That's where I was raised. That's what I know.
I think it's a real exciting category. The cars have such personality, to watch them go down the track, not always perfectly straight either, but that's the exciting part about it. The header plane, the bodies, how the cars look, and how they are struggling sometimes to get down there straight. That's what makes it so exciting to watch.
As far as testing with the car, we've run a little over a year and a half testing in the Funny Car. I didn't get licensed until last April. That's when I started making full passes. I've had a good eight, nine months -- seven or eight months of making full runs in the Funny Car.
Q. We talked about some of the things you wanted to do before you got into a real race at a national event. The two things were run with somebody in the other lane and run at night. Have you managed to do that yet?
ASHLEY FORCE: That is on the agenda for this weekend actually. No, I made a pass against Eric. Other than that, that will be new in the Funny Car. The good thing is I did it in the dragster. I have run at night, have run against plenty of people. It's really the sensation of running under the body of a car that will be the bigger difference for me
Q. Who is more nervous, you or John?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, we kept dad away from the coffee. I think dad is more nervous. I'm kind of fine going into it. I'm new at this, I don't know what to expect, and he's been through everything. He knows a little more what I'm going to go through. I'm not quite sure of it yet. Maybe that's better.
Q. Your sisters are around. What do they say about your moving up? They're not following? Who will they cheer for?
ASHLEY FORCE: My sisters are very excited to have me jumping in the Funny Car because they grew up around the Funny Cars, too. They loved watching dad and rooting for Eric and Robert. They're excited because they understand. They're drivers, too. They race Super Comp. They see the hardships, struggles, ups and downs. They kind of understand that with me. They're starting that. I'm going through that at this time.
They're very excited. I think it will be a good year for our family to be dad and I in the same category, on the same schedule. It will be a little easier. Last year I was all over the country doing divisionals, at a lot of races when dad was at other states in Nationals. This year we're all together. We can compete with each other. I think it will be a good time for our family.
Q. Are your sisters looking to move up in years to come with you?
ASHLEY FORCE: They are. They're just doing Super Comp part-time because they're both in college. That's a struggle. Qualification and elimination time on Thursdays. They have to be in school. They've grown up with it and they're addicted to it just like me. It took me a few in Super Comp before even I thought to running up to A/Fuel. It wasn't until I ran the A/Fuel cars that I got really hooked.
I told them, Super Comp is a tough category. You only go a few rounds. It's extremely hard to win because there's so many cars out there. In A/Fuel, it's a little different world. It's a lot more like what we're used to in watching dad.
I hope one or both of them will kind of follow up and maybe move into the Darien & Meadows dragster. It's too soon to tell right now. They need the time now to just learn the basics of driving, just like I did.
Q. What is it like driving for a team owner who is also your father? He is a guy that has brought the attention to drag racing. A couple years ago there was more Funny Cars because everybody wants to beat him. What is it like to live with him, know everybody is shooting at him, and now his daughter is also taking a shot?
ASHLEY FORCE: He trained me. It's his own fault now I'm coming after him. He knows every aspect of the business, where the rest of us are just drivers. He runs the business, makes all the decisions. He's got a lot more on his plate than any of us. We get to strap in the car and have fun. He's been my teacher the whole way. I think it will be exciting to have the two of us competing with each other. It's not about beating dad or beating Eric or Robert. It's about any of us beating everyone else, getting one of the John Force Racing cars into the winner's circle.
Q. When you're doing the television show, do you find yourself trying to dumb down or portray the sport in terms that people will understand or how you feel people will understand it better in the general public?
ASHLEY FORCE: The fans that understand racing, they watch ESPN-2, it has its best coverage of our races. Our Driving Force reality show, it was really to catch the main-stream audiences that don't know about drag racing. It can be a confusing, crazy sport to catch on to. We wanted to show not only the basics of racing, but really a family in racing, what we go through just on a day-to-day basis. We live normal lives half the time, and half the time we're going 300 miles an hour.
It wasn't trying to put a negative spin at all on drag racing, just to cut down to the basics so people will understand and want to get more involved in it and get hooked on it like we are.
Q. I was curious if that was something you discussed as a group, how we're going to portray this to somebody who doesn't know anything about the sport or has very minimal information regarding the sport.
ASHLEY FORCE: As they filmed, they really wanted to just capture a reality show, what we do day to day. It wasn't us trying to explain anything or change anything. They would take what they would film of us in our weekends on the road, our weekends at home, they would put it together in a way people would understand.
They're starting to film today. They were here filming the press conference. They really want to show what we do, our day-to-day lives that we travel on the road, that we compete, have ups and downs, hard times, fun times. But that's all a part of it. In the end, we're a family who is just hooked on drag racing.
Q. Regarding your dad tutoring you. Knowing you would progress more than likely to a Funny Car, why wasn't there that opportunity for you to drive in the alcohol Funny Car class? Since you've been in the Funny Car, and learning the process of driving one of those, what are the biggest tips your dad has given you as far as handling the car differently from the A/Fuel dragster?
ASHLEY FORCE: When I was moving up in the ranks, I made the move to A/Fuel dragster. We looked at alcohol Funny Car, what category I wanted to make the move into, and it was really more about in that category: There's alcohol Funny Car and then there's alcohol dragster and A/Fuel dragster. The perfect scenario would have been A/Fuel-Funny Car, but there's just not that category.
I can learn to drive a Funny Car under the body, but what I do as a driver will be completely different than when I move up to Funny Car. The alcohol Funny Car which I ran, they bring up the motor when they're staging. They shift going down the track. Completely different routine than dad's. Or I can learn in a dragster, which is going to be different than under a body, but my routine will be identical to when I move up to Funny Car.
On top of that, the Darien & Meadows seat opened. It was the perfect, Here we go. We have a perfect learning car I can jump into. I talked to other drivers that moved up. Dad is good friends with Scelzi. He ran the nut car. Morgan Lucas I'm good friends with. That seat opened. That was kind of like, Here's our chance. We made the jump.
It really was the best for me. My routine is almost identical now that I've jumped into the Funny Car. Really the only changes I'm learning is how I steer it, what I see out of the windshield of the car.
The second part of the question about, oh, learning with dad on the Funny Car. Probably the biggest question I had for him, and that's because a lot of people asked me, was, Well, there's no girls in Funny Car right now. Are you strong enough to handle a Funny Car? I had that concern, too. I talked to dad. He told me, It's not about strength. It's about how quick you can react to the car. If your car gets completely out of the groove, you could be a muscle man and you're going to have a hard time getting it back in. If you can catch it before then, you can steer it just as good as any guy.
In the last year and a half, he's right. If I'm on my game and doing and reacting to the car like I should be, a woman can drive it just as well as a man can. That was probably the biggest issue that I had concerned of. I was thinking I need to go start weight lifting, go down that path. It wasn't about that, it was more about reacting to the car.
Q. With you being a rookie this year, you're going to be needing as much seat time a possible. I assume you're going to be testing a lot of Monday mornings after the national events.
ASHLEY FORCE: Yes.
Q. Have you given any thought to running match races or running competing sanctioning body or Spokane, any special meets?
ASHLEY FORCE: That's something that our team all gets together and they kind of meet and decide. I'm not sure. I think we're planning to run the main circuit, NHRA POWERade circuit, and then any Mondays that we can stay after and test. That's not just because I'm a rookie, that's just what our team likes to do: Test new things, get more practice for the crew guys and the drivers. I'm sure that we'll be staying all the Mondays that we're able to.
Q. No thought for match racing at all?
ASHLEY FORCE: Not that I know of. I haven't heard that, no.
Q. Not taking anything away from your father, because I'm sure he's the most awesome coach, leader, won the hearts of thousands if not millions, but is there a woman or woman racer that you look up to or consider a mentor?
ASHLEY FORCE: I always rooted for all the gals in every different category. Of course, Shirley Muldowney. She's a good friend of my dad's. I met her a handful of times. She let me sit in her car at one of the events when she was racing. She's talked to me a lot about it. I've seen movies on her, read books about the things she went through. It was a whole different world when she started. She paved the way. I couldn't imagine.
Right now I go to all the races, all my competitors and other racers are excited to have me out there, excited to have women in the other lane. I can't imagine it not being that way. I'm very lucky to come in at a time where it's not only accepted, but people are happy about it.
That wasn't the case back when she started. So definitely, of course, Shirley.
Other gals, just women I've met through racing. Hillary Will and I raced together in A/Fuel. I was excited to see her move up. Melanie Troxel. She actually went with me when I first went to the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School and got my Super Comp license. She came along with me, kind of helped me through it because she ran Super Comp when she was younger.
Those are all the gals. There's just gals I've met. There's not many of us up in the A/Fuel and alcohol ranks, in the pro ranks. You got to root for them because they're the gals and they're beating up on the boys.
Q. As the daughter of a famous racer, do you feel like you're going to have any influence over other daughters of famous racers? I'm not trying to compare NASCAR to NHRA, but looking at famous racers in other avenues, it doesn't appear their daughters are encouraged or even interested in following in their father's footsteps. Apparently from your point of view, it was expected. I think it's fantastic.
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, the fortunate thing about drag racing is NHRA provides a lot of different categories. You don't have -- if you want to race drag racing, you don't have to be in a pro category with a huge sponsorship to get to race. You can race Comp, you can race Super Comp, junior dragsters. There's all different categories you can get into.
That's where you see a lot of the people and girls first jump into the cars because you can start small and race on the weekends with your family and still go back to your normal job during the week. Those are the ones that move up the ranks that end up in the pro classes. I think that's why you see a lot of gals in our type racing than in other motorsports.
Q. Can you compare the challenge of learning to the challenge of moving up to this class?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, the good thing is I've already been through competition in the other categories. I've been up against people before. I've lost to people. I've gone through all that. Now I'll just be doing it in a Funny Car. In learning, you're expected to make mistakes. You're kind of taking it a little slower.
We gradually went through the process of getting me licensed. Now when I jump into competition, you can't make mistakes any more. You have a team that's working really hard in between rounds to get your car together. For you to go out and make a dumb mistake, it ruins the whole weekend. You'll have another weekend to race again. I think it just puts a little more that pressure and nervousness that any racer feels on race day will be true here, too, in Funny Car.
Q. I'm in Daytona for the NASCAR pre-season practice. I can assure you NASCAR has a diversity program. They would really like to have the situation of what you are bringing to NHRA. Could you make a comment on that, being a female driver, coming into the top ranks.
ASHLEY FORCE: I'm excited to join the Funny Car class because I was raised with this group of people, with my dad, rooting on all the drivers. To be a gal in it, there's not any women right now in Funny Car. There's women in every other different pro category. That's probably one of the most exciting things that I'm looking at coming in.
There's girls in Top Fuel dragster, in Pro Stock and in motorcycle. Now we finally kind of finished off the package. I'll be a girl in Funny Car. Maybe we can get out there and have a race that is all women winners in the pro category. That would be pretty awesome.
Q. When you get out of a car that ran a 4.80, are you physically more tired than you were in a longer dragster?
ASHLEY FORCE: Climbing out, I'm learning, is a little more difficult for me. I think it's just 'cause it's a different car. But you are out of breath. I always wondered that when I was younger and I watched on TV. The drivers would get out, and they'd be out of breath. I'm like, What are they so out of breath for? They weren't running a marathon.
Now being a driver, I don't know if you hold your breath or it's just the adrenaline of it. You are out of breath when you climb out of that car at the end of the track. I think it's more just how pumped up you get going down the track in a 330 miles an hour car.
Q. Any early memories, the first memory of your dad's Funny Car, which car, what the sponsor was back then?
ASHLEY FORCE: I think a lot of my memories are from pictures because I picture his Coca-Cola car a lot of the time. Probably my earliest memory that stands out a lot in my mind was at the Pomona -- one of the Pomona races. I was only six or seven. My dad had a big wreck where he hit the sand and it flipped over, end over end.
We got down to the end. I was crying. I remember seeing the car on fire. Nobody was really that panicked. I thought he was still in there. I was just hysterical. I didn't understand why everyone wasn't rushing to get him out. Then come to find out, my mom picked me up and brought me around the fire truck, and my dad was on the other side doing an interview. I'll always remember that. It was very traumatic for me.
He picked me up, put me on the flatbed with the ruined Funny Car. We towed back and waved to the fans on the way back to the pit. But that's probably one of my earliest ones that really stands out.
Q. Any special one-off bodies that you've heard about coming up for 2007 of the car, paint scheme-wise?
ASHLEY FORCE: You're asking?
Q. I saw the beautiful matching paint job with your dad. Do you think there will be any special paint jobs throughout the season?
ASHLEY FORCE: I don't know what the plans are. We just finally have got -- the paint is barely drying on these two cars. I went down to the paint shop. Eric was down there, dad was down there, putting it in the big -- they called it the oven where it bakes the paint on.
I don't know what the plans are for this year. They come up with cool schemes every year. Those are some of the funnest cars to see go down the track, the special car, like the Superman car, the Elvis car. I'm sure there will be different ones as the year goes by, but no plans that I know of yet.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Ashley, for joining us on the call today. We wish you the best of luck as you begin your Funny Car career.
ASHLEY FORCE: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Now we'll open it up for questions for Ashley's father, John, the 14-time NHRA POWERade world champ.
Q. Did you imagine 10 years ago one day you'd be racing against one of your daughters in a Funny Car?
JOHN FORCE: No, you know, it's a big day for me here and my wife Laurie. We're pretty excited. We had a great kickoff here with all the sponsors and media. She's really performing well. It's a lot of pressure. I never thought that this day would come. I'm really excited about the value in NHRA drag racing of a woman.
Selling the men, it's a tough sell. It was tough for me. For Eric and Robert it was tough. With Ashley,AAA Auto Club stepped right up and said, you know, We want No. 2 on her car. We want to be the No. 2 sponsor. Castrol, it was announced today they took the rights to her. They wanted to keep the heir to the throne, as they say, and to keep the name going, which I'm excited about.
But to dream her in competition -- and it's not just driving the car, but watching her evolve. We've signed the TV show another reason, Driving Force, on A&E. It's a lot of work. She's going to have overload. But she handled the media real great today. Working with the people and staff from NHRA and our people. I was very proud of her. Listening to her, she knows the drill. She's been listening a lot of years. I'm excited about her.
Q. See you next weekend.
JOHN FORCE: Heading to Vegas. She'll be driving the Castrol GTX with AAA. As secondary, naturally Ford Motor Company, they've been there from the beginning with her. We're pretty excited. But my car, it's reverse. She's all white with green. I'm in all green with white. At my age, I got the high-mileage car, Castrol high-mileage.
Q. Do you think you'll still be driving when Robert's daughter is driving a Funny Car?
JOHN FORCE: Autumn Danielle. Another girl in the family. I have five years with Castrol, Ford, Mack Tool, Brand Source. We got some new sponsors that come on board, Nordic Boats because they wanted the woman. They weren't interested in me. Mach 1, a huge air service group has joined us. We're really excited about that.
I want to say something. In this media room, there's a lot of media right now. We're with Motorsports Authentics out of NASCAR. They're the biggest. It was the action group initially. But we're looking at doing Wonder Woman with Ashley, so that's pretty exciting.
One of the fellas here said it, but actually it's something that we're talking about right now. That could happen because it would fit this girl in a 330-miles-an-hour Fuel Funny Car. It would make sense. I was Superman. She could be wonder woman. We'll see what happens.
Q. John, you have one-fourth of the field in Funny Car.
JOHN FORCE: They asked me what it was like being in the championship. I want to be in the game with my kids. In the TV show, you see Brittany and Courtney, and naturally with Ashley racing. My oldest daughter Aidra that didn't want to drive. She has her own band. She's run the business since she come out of school, working alongside my wife and myself.
She wanted her husband, if she got married -- and she did. We have a grand baby Autumn -- but Robert Hight was the choice to go in the seat. Naturally Eric driving the other Funny Car. We're really excited we have a four-car team.
People ask me why I didn't build a dragster. I don't know how to build a dragster. I've been a Funny Car car guy since the early days. I'm glad I stuck around because Kenny Bernstein is coming back. A friend of mine from the early days. I'm excited. It's going to be the toughest Funny Car field, I believe, in the history of Funny Car because the competition is so tough.
Ashley has so much to learn. She's going to be thrown right into the fire. She hasn't had much side-by-side, not hardly at all, only with Eric Medlen. No night driving in the Fuel Funny Car. We set her on fire already. She got that big old smile.
But today was the real pressure with the media. The rest is going to be competition. I'm excited. It was kind of surprising, sometimes she gets lost in an interview just like her dad. I love her. I think she's trying to make so many people happy today. It's overload.
Q. Kenny is coming back. It's going to be an interesting 2007 season. I asked Ashley what her goals were, if the did team had set any goals. What are your expectations? What do you think she can deliver in her first full year of competition?
JOHN FORCE: When Ashley and I talked, she said, What should I tell them, dad, because there's expectations because of you? I said, This isn't about me, baby. My days are numbered. I'm fighting the fight for Ford Motor Company and Castrol.
I said, Ashley, it's going to be a journey, kid. Where you think you've been in the past racing since you were 16, it's all going to change 'cause you're playing hardball. You're in the pros.
The women in Funny Cars, Shirley Muldowney and the other ones that went down this road, that was years back. You're in there in the game now. But if you give any expectation, you'll only muddy the waters because people will grab on to that. You've got a lot to learn, kid.
Let me tell you, your best teachers are your competition. Those people will become your best friends. You've got a great team around you with Austin, Bernie, Jimmy, John Medlen, Robert Hight, Eric Medlen, and naturally Dean Antonelli, the lead crew chief. He's been taught by the best.
I said, girl, there's no more I can tell you, but to be there with you under the pressure. You got to learn. The way you learn it is getting beat up every week 'cause the media, they're going to love you when you're good, they're going to beat you up when you're bad. But that's what it's about.
They're the ones that are going to teach you the game, the media. Three people: The media will teach you, the fans will teach you because they're the ones that you have to be loyal to, and the sponsors. But at the end of the day, it will be Gary Scelzi. It will be guys that were there for me: Al Hoffman, Bernstein, Prudhomme that taught me the ropes.
Now it's going to be Ron Capps and Worsham, your own teammates, Robert and Eric. The more they beat you up, the better you will be. Don't come out thinking you're going to win Pomona. And if you do, God bless you. But get ready to go into hell because you will wake up every day with a gut ache and you will go to sleep with that gut ache, because now people are paying you big money to perform. They're going to expect a lot of you because of me.
I wanted to clarify this. That's why I'm really getting on this. But it's a journey that you're on with the greatest teachers in the world. Those guys are the drivers of Funny Cars. And I hated losing Bazemore because that sun of a gun beat on me every week, jumped on me, but he made me tougher. I thank him for that. He's going to be missed. He'll be back someday in Funny Car because it's his roots.
Sponsorship made him have to move. He didn't move because he wanted to.
It's a long road. I'm not going to give you where she's going to go. I can only tell you she's got the best money, the best sponsors, the best team behind her. But only God knows what's going to happen because I don't. We'll just see.
Q. Can you put into words exactly what this day means to you with Ashley joining you on the line in a Funny Car?
JOHN FORCE: Well, it's a day for me, because you dream of having sons to go racing. Then you have these four girls. I never imagined -- maybe I didn't answer this earlier -- that one of them would step into a Fuel Funny Car to take me to the next level, to carry my name.
Ashley has a chance, and do does her two sisters. I don't want to forget my other partners, my brothers. I call them my kids, Robert Hight, Eric Medlen. They're the next generation with Ashley.
Yeah, I'm 57 years old. But I got to tell you, I'm excited because I've been more with my family, with my wife, Laurie, my daughters, because of racing, and especially because of the TV show Driving Force. That will start again in the spring of '07. We've already filmed four shows. They're filming here today.
But it's kept me together. It's given me the energy to be with my family. Now I can be with them. So racing has really took me away from my family, but it's brought me back. I'm excited.
No, I'm going to fight every day.
I didn't answer your question at all, did I? I'm sorry.
Q. No problem. I think you're a great spokesman for women in motorsports. I, for one, appreciate that, John.
JOHN FORCE: I'm so excited, because the women that opened the door that Ashley talked about, Shirley Muldowney, the greatest of all time. Now in our sport today, Melanie Troxel, the kids that are out there, Erica, Hillary Will, that are just doing this because they love it. Ashley is going to get to be part of it. They're all friends.
The door is open for women. It's been open thanks to Shirley Muldowney. Like Ashley said, Shirley took the lumps for all the girls, putting up with the bullshit that the men gave 'em, that they didn't belong here. They shouldn't have messed with Shirley because to me she's the king, and always will be. She's Babe Ruth to me. Ashley feels the same.
Ashley has learned, she's seen the past, and she wants to be part of that future. I'm excited the road she's going to go down with so much to learn. But the road is the fun part. Being out there, being part of it. NASCAR, God bless 'em, there's women coming up through the ranks.
I know Ford Motor Company has women they're grooming. It's going to happen in NASCAR. Its already had a taste of it, I know, but it's coming. The other kid in IndyCar racing.
JOHN FORCE: Danica Patrick. Unbelievable how she zoomed up that ladder. What I saw was corporate America. I said, Wow, I'm standing around here wanting the boys to race, and the women, they love 'em. That's why I got her in the TV show with A&E. AAA of Southern California, Auto Club stood up. No, we will be No. 2 on her car. We will be there, because this woman can take us down a -- she's already made commercials for AAA.
Mach 1 come on board. We even signed a boat company, Nordic Boats, because they want the woman because she's beautiful. I don't just say that because I'm her dad. She's got my smile, she's got the brains of her mother and her mother's looks. This kid has so much potential.
I saw it in the boardroom today that I loved it watching her dazzle the people in the opening deal when dad was totally falling apart and choking it, forgetting my lines because I got emotional. She went right town the deal, showed the respect to NHRA and POWERade, ESPN. Man, she was hit with the load this morning. I really want to thank all the media that they come to bat.
NHRA was there. We had up links, brought their people. A&E, ESPN, FOX, everybody, L.A. Times, they wanted to see the girl. It wasn't about dad. They're over me. I'm still going to fight because she going to have to whip me and a whole bunch of others and Kenny Bernstein to get that throne.
I know I'm full of it. But I mean it here today. I'm a proud father. I'm proud.
Q. Kenny is coming back, but he doesn't want to run against Brandon so he's going to run against you. Did it ever cross your mind you didn't want to race your daughter, she might go in another pro category?
JOHN FORCE: I left it to her choice. We're building a Ford Motor program. Right now it's an NHRA Ford spec motor that would make it make sense for us to go into Top Fuel. A Funny Car has a Ford body, so that makes sense. We're in a tough market right now. Toyota is popping up everywhere. We got to fight the fight.
With the motor program we'll have in running by June of this year, a dragster could make sense. Ashley wanted the Funny Car. She lived it. She'd been there with me. She saw the ups and downs. That's what she wanted. Dad, that's where I want to be. It made sense for her.
Maybe the door will open for my other two girls to go into Funny Car. Four Funny Cars is all I'm going to have. It's an NHRA rule. When I retire, I will go back to three unless one of my girls chooses to take it. Otherwise it could be Top Fuel, it could be somewhere else. We're excited about that.
Q. You have been the key that's put NHRA on the map. Everybody wants a piece of you. How much does experience count? Ron Capps, Scelzi, great drivers, but you beat them. How much does experience count?
JOHN FORCE: Well, different from NASCAR, we don't have to drive around for three hours where you can't see, can't think. We got to get this done in four to five seconds. God bless NASCAR, because they're our motivation here at NHRA drag racing, to go after them guys.
Those are my buddies down there. We just did the Aruba Banquet. We were honored. I told the people at Aruba, the sports writers, the media, TV people, that I honored them for bringing to the sport so much exposure so we can find the sponsors in corporate America because of what they write and what they film.
Yet my daughter Ashley, it's tough out there. I don't have to retire at this age. All I got to do is stay sharp. Yeah, the partying, the beer drinking, all that, it's pretty much gone away. You know what I mean? I've gone back to what it takes to win. Ron Capps fought a battle this year, and I was lucky. I barely got him. Robert Hight, if he hadn't lost at Vegas in that first-round run because of a motor break annual, he might have won the championship because his Hot Rod was the fastest out there. It is about reflexes, keeping the mind right. That's what I've got to do to stay in the game.
I know my time is numbered. But I'm going to stay here for NHRA and my family and my sponsors until I build a group. I've got Eric. He's done a great job, won national events. Robert Hight, rookie of the year. Now my daughter Ashley. That's where I'm going in Funny Car. When they've accomplished this, because they're not going to be great overnight. If they do, God bless 'em. Luck was a big part of it. To become a championship, to win 14 or 15 times.
You know, to become a Kenny Bernstein, a Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, to be those people, you have to have the experience. That's what'll make you win. Ron Capps is there, Gary Scelzi is there. So many more, okay? The kid Schumacher is there. They've all learned.
It's going to take my guys years, and my gal. But that's what I'm here for, to protect 'em. I got to tell you, they bring a lot to the plate, the young kids, because you get so caught up in corporate America. A guy like me trying to get the buck, you forgot why you came, you forgot the love. These kids show me the energy. I'm out of energy.
When I watch Ashley drive the car, you look in there, this monster on the starting line, pounding the ground, this huge motor on nitro methane, pounding the ground. I look in there, I want to cry because you know what I see? I see that little girl with them little glasses, the same little girl with her little eyeballs through those goggles that she races with, the windshield, the same little girl that was on a tricycle when she fell over and cried, the same little girl that fell off the big pyramid at cheerleading and she cried and got right back up and did it again.
But now this is a 300-miles-an-hour monster. I don't know what to do to fix it if she falls off. I didn't want to say this in the room in front of her. I'm scared. But I believe she's made the decision.
One of my best friends in life, a kid named Bob Fisher, I asked him the other day, I want a slogan for her. He said, She's a kid. She's a child. But what she really is now, she's going to the world because she ain't your baby. They're going to take her now and run with her. He called her Nitro Child. She's Nitro's Child.
Look at the USA Today newspaper this week on Friday. You'll learn where we're going with NHRA. You'll learn about Ashley Force, Nitro's Child. I'm really excited. A 330-miles-an-hour Funny Car.
Q. Do you like the points system change?
JOHN FORCE: I don't get into the politics. It appears it worked for NASCAR. Tom Compton, president of NHRA, made a decision we're going to go with this. It's not because of NASCAR. It's because in every sport, football, basketball, baseball, they have a World Series, and drag racing did not have the World Series. Now we got it. It goes beyond the final eight. It goes down to the final four.
You know what, I'm not smart enough to get in the game of what's right or wrong. NHRA gives me a playing field that I can drag my Hot Rods to, send my kids to college with the money I earn there. I don't question what Tom Compton does. I might ask why, but at the end of the day he makes those decisions.
Tom Compton doesn't tell me how to run a Funny Car, and I don't tell him how to run NHRA. He's doing a damn good job. I think the pro organization is behind him. Kenny Bernstein leads the pro organization. Kenny Bernstein, one of the pioneers out there, I don't question Kenny. Might get mad at him sometimes.
At the end of the day we do what we do to be a team and to grow this sport. We want to grow it. We want to grow up there to NASCAR.
If you read the headlines the other day in USA Today, they called it NASCAR, then NHRA drag racing, then went on to the other sports, IndyCar, F1, CART, all of that down to the roots. Doggone it, they're starting to talk about us. I want to stay alive long enough to be part of that, and be with my children. That's what is most important to me. I want to be with my kids now. That's what I want, to be with my team.
Q. When was this decision made? Was it a close decision or kind of a foregone conclusion?
JOHN FORCE: It was never a secret. I joked today that we're going to make the announcement. Reinhart said, force, everybody knows you set her on fire in Vegas. All the way to New Jersey she's been on fire. You don't think everybody knew she was going pro? There were issues with money, who was going to finance this team, where it was going to come from.
My partners, Castrol and AAA of Southern California, Tom, the president, said, We want the woman. She jumped right into the fire. Now some new partners have come on board. We're really excited.
But the decision was when she got licensed. In my heart, when she ran 330, she got out smiling, 'cause when we set her on fire, she wasn't smiling so much. When she said, I'm ready, dad, let me go. I said, Well, baby, until I get the money, all my ducks in a row with all my cars, the sponsors have to fund you. This is big money out here.
I had to put money together. We basically knew weeks ago. We wanted to announce it before testing. My teams roll for Vegas tomorrow to test. It's time to make that announcement today.
We had a plan. But my friends in the media knew, you all knew, that the kid was going pro. I'm sure you knew it was next year. But that decision was really made here probably in the last let me say 60 days to be safe.
THE MODERATOR: That wraps up our teleconference today. We'd like to thank John for joining us as well as Ashley. Congratulations on adding another car to your team, getting Ashley into Funny Car. Wish you best of luck this season.
JOHN FORCE: Thank you very much. Thank you to the media for being here today, for Ashley and John Force Racing.
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