National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
January 30, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Joining us on today's call will be 14-time POWERade Series World Champion John Force, and four-time World Champ Tony Schumacher. We'll begin with the man who will have a hard time coming up with an encore to the incredible finish in 2006 when he won his third straight and fourth overall POWERade World Series championship by winning and setting a national record on the final pass of the season.
Q. So Tony, what do you have in store for NHRA fans as an encore in 2007?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I would love to have an answer for you there. You know, I'm almost happy that we're switching over to a new format for a change, because I'm not really sure how you do it.
When we won a few years back, we had won 10 races and it had never been done before. Well, that was a real unique way to do it. Then nine races the year after that. And then to do it just to be a part of what we did last year was fantastic.
And you know I wish I could tell you how we're going to pull something off like that.
But in reality, you know, it was unheard of. And it was so exciting that I just can't come up with a solution. I don't think you can sit back and say here's an exact perfect script that would be better than last year.
So I guess we just show up in Pomona and try to win the race like we do every year. And we try to win the next race. We go to Phoenix, do the same thing. And just kind of see how it lays out and go for it.
Q. Tony, how do you avoid the kind of slump like you had in the middle of last year? And particularly as it relates to this season with the Countdown to the championship, you really can't afford to get yourself into too much trouble with one of those slumps. So how do you see one of those coming and how do you avoid having it happen to you again this year?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Our slump was created by changing over to a new tire and it just caught us off guard. It was very unfortunate. If something like that happens and you can't see into the future. If something like that happens, you can get yourself into a bit of trouble.
I'm not sure, because of the new format, it would have been any worse. To be honest with you, we'll probably spend more time now early trying things out to get ready for the last two races. I mean they're the ones that are going to make you the world champ.
We have to stay in the middle of the pack until then. Allen Johnson, we'll show up at Pomona, and try to win the race. Throughout all of it, we'll do a little bit of testing and make sure that when we get to the end we've got the car that's performing the best with a combination performing the best and we'll try to win the last two races, period.
Q. Tony, obviously you've had three straight championships here in a row. And wanted to ask you, obviously with the -- you alluded to it in the new format. With some of the schedule changes and in particular I know at Gateway at our track, running in obviously the heat and humidity of late June and you're coming here I think we're seventh on the calendar in May, early May, just talk about that. I think you were saying you kind of commented you joked you said you finally figured out the set up and how to win at Gateway heat and humidity you went around and changed the date to May. Can you talk about that if there's any obviously some changes there with the schedule and how that might affect it.
TONY SCHUMACHER: What we do when we go to a racetrack, you have to remember Allen Johnson has won that race in all different scenarios. I think some of the day races, some of the night races.
So in reality what we're going to do is look in the notes and figure out what conditions it now plays into. It does change. It's not a night race. It's not really going to lend into us being that hot but at night condition. We'll have to go back into the books and say what conditions do we have now and race it a little different way.
But all in all, I don't think it matters. Because what race do we really go to where they haven't scraped a track or grouted a track or the conditions are a little different. We just have to kind of adapt to it.
If you're going to adapt to any race in the world why would you want to do it with anyone but Allen Johnson. He's the best at looking at the situation, evaluating a racetrack, making changes to the area and the conditions and making the car run perfect.
Q. Obviously, the former teammate, former teammate obviously running in the funny car now on a different team running in Top Fuel, yet another competitor that you go up against of the many great drivers that are going to be in here this season, do you see him as potentially another rival in the fact that you guys used to be teammates or is it he's another opponent another driver I have to go out and compete against that's going to try to prevent me from winning another championship?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I couldn't care less who runs. Whoever is in the other lane I've proven you can have anybody in the other lane whoop you and you can go off and beat anyone in the other lane, too. So you just have to stay in the car and here's a great example: Jarrett running last year. I probably didn't give him all the credit at that time. He had a .10 light or something. I got beat on a hole shot.
It was an unfortunate situation because with a little bit of hind sight anybody could have had a better light. You do what you think you need to do at the time. And you can't let your guard down. These guys are all too guide. The cars are running all too close. He has a nice tune-up, knows how to drive a race car. The fact is we'll have a lot of battles. The fact him being a teammate. He drove a funny car, we may have been on the team, but we never had a chance to help each other. So we'll put up our dukes and battle it out.
Q. How important is continuity in your crew, particularly in a sport like NHRA whereas he said there's a lot of movement within the crews throughout the year?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Our guys have been with me for a long time. Joe is what used to be a flying guy, he's getting himself married right now, and he's going to take some time off.
We had one other guy that decided to stay home and work more in the shop. But we've had the same group, same group of people. It is a tight knit group. These guys can test, learn things and keep it quiet.
The hardest part we have is we have so many teams, I think we have nine teams or seven teams now it changes.
Too many people on other teams going and leaving and going to another team. Fortunately for us Allen Johnson can hand you his tune-up. You've got to be good enough to use it and adapt to it again when the weather changes and that's awful tough to do.
So just getting a little information doesn't do it. You have to understand it and make it work.
Q. You were really quick this last weekend at Firebird in preseason testing, what changes have you and Allen made to the car over the season to get it so quick right out of the box?
TONY SCHUMACHER: First of all we were really quick at the end of the year. It was easy to pull the car out and go fast. No tire changes, no motor changes, it was all the same. We got some new pipe underneath me and that was about it.
Couple changes that Allen has been working on, which obviously I'll never, never talk about. But the car's fast. It's quick. The 4.44 I shut off at 1280 feet, a little bit early, and probably would have run a 4.38, 4.39, a good run in Phoenix.
The air conditions were terrific. The track was prepared very well and we knew going in you kind of had to give it everything. It was very, very seldom that you saw a car smoke the tires. It was all a tire shake this weekend which meant the track was prepared well and we had something good to race on.
Hardest part about Phoenix in testing is you're running so fast and it's a very short shutdown. Getting used to that when you're going two football fields a second will catch your attention. Good way to break yourself in after two months off.
Q. Do you expect some more records in both elapsed time and top speed?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I would think we'll go out there and do it, a year with no changes, we can go update parts and make them quicker. We're not going to be knocking the numbers off a great deal, but they're going to come down.
We missed the world record last year in Redding, Pennsylvania by a few thousandth, even in Vegas by a few thousandths. And set it in Pomona, California, the place where only one world record in Top Fuel had ever been set. If we can do that, we'll chip away at it a little bit.
Q. Two questions. How much simpler is it with just one Top Fuel team now at DSR; and secondly, I mean how much urgency is there now when you just have 17 races to get it right as opposed to 23?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Two good questions. I'm happy we just have one car. We can stay focused. Mostly we're not letting all our hard test sessions that we're learning data from, we're not having to share it with another car that has potential to beat us. That's probably the hardest part about having a team. Unless you're sponsored by the same company and you're working towards the same goal it makes it difficult.
Last year I got beat up in the first race by Melanie with our own tune-up. I think our guys are much more comfortable testing putting in that effort without sharing that information. So that's on one side of it.
17 races I think we have to stay in the top eight. We got a car that's obviously in the last three years or four years capable of staying right at the front. So you know we're going to go out there, we're going to hit it hard. Not let our guard down. We've really got to change our format a little bit and make sure we don't make mistakes at that last two events, which is kind of cool, because our team is to me the best on the planet when it comes to only having a little time to get something done.
They're really good at pulling off those big races. And if you had to put a group of 10 people together to go into a, here you go you've got two races to win a world championship, which group would be better than Allen Johnson and his team. His guys can suck it up better than anyone I've seen.
Q. Tony, fans don't always understand what happens behind the ropes. You have had a ton of success. What's the best way, if there is a way, what's the best way to handle success?
TONY SCHUMACHER: As far as being a driver or how do you make it happen? Is the question how do you make success happen?
Q. And how do you handle it afterwards, you know the whole thing. Actually handling it afterwards, what's the best way to handle that success that you produced?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a good question. I think for me growing up the best way and everyone probably does it different is I'm very lucky that I can wake up in the morning and get to drive a race car. And every day you have to remember that.
And I think what helps me the most is our team, our team is great at watching kind of at the ropes. The kids come up, the smiles on their faces, knowing that you're doing something more positive and a little bigger than just you going out and getting a trophy and trying to earn a living. That's not what it's about.
The guys we've put together, the reason they have success is there's 10 people not doing it for a paycheck. They do it because they love racing.
I think that's what keeps a great group of people together. Nobody wants to be the weak link and it makes it where they understand that they're gifted. They're a lucky group, very lucky group to be able to do what they do.
And you know I think that makes it easier. The best thing in the world is when a dad comes up and says: "You know my kid gets up and jumps on the bed and says "I'm Tony Schumacher.""
I have the same question: "After he says that, what does he do?" Because unfortunately there's some people that jump on the bed and say I'm Dennis Rodman and kick their sister.
They need to have a positive attitude and they need to come across. You don't find too many positive role models anymore that smile and look like they enjoy what they do.
Any time I start to change I hope somebody kicks me in the butt and keeps me back there because I love racing. I think John Force is the same way. I've spent a lot of time watching how he does it and handles it. He gets up, wakes up and thinks anything this day has I don't know what I'm going to do with myself. I think it forces you to stay focused.
Q. Tony, just want to know, you're going to be solo on the Top Fuel side as Schumacher Racing. Is that a benefit for you or a hindrance not having that feedback?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'm as happy as I could be. I said it a few minutes ago. It's great to have a teammate; Melanie did a great job. The team did a great job. But Allen Johnson he's the best there is in the business. And to give that information away I'm just not that happy about it.
I like being by myself. We can win a championship by ourselves. We've done that before. And you know it's a great -- either way, you know, if we had to pull another team together, I would have been okay with it. But I'm sure if you asked each one of my guys off the record or individually they all would say they're much happier to spend the energy and effort and testing and not be giving that information to another team who, like in this case, has left. Melanie. And hoping they're gone.
Wait a minute, we put that tune-up in the car. Like I said, fortunately, you have to understand everything Allen Johnson is thinking about to make it work.
So it's not always so easy for a crew chief to get a little bit of information and take it off on his own.
Q. So it's less of a distraction, then?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think it's great. I don't want another car that can run 4.42, to be honest with you. The only person that can set the record is if it's Allen Johnson. I'd hate to have that other car out there. It's hard enough to beat three Kalitta cars right on my tail. And Dick and Bernstein. Great cars out there, Cory Mac's running fantastic.
I hate to add the other car that can beat me in the lane next to me and we're tuning it. Because I ran Melanie twice last year. Once she beat me. And once I beat her. It wasn't like anyone was laying down. That last run, they were blowing it up and still ran a mid-50 something.
And we set the world record. So it's kind of hard to say anyone was laying down for anyone. That was good racing.
Q. Tony, your answer can't be "everybody." Who are you most concerned about in Top Fuel this year? As you look at the landscape, who are the guys that you're eyeballing as the ones that are going to be your chief competition?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Just Kalitta, man. He's bad to the bone. He's the guy. And we're going to butt heads and race all year. He's such a fantastic driver. We'll have fun. They've got three fast cars. They know how to use each other. And this year and last year even, you'd watch one car go out and another car run real similar. That's often difficult for a team to do.
Usually you get three different cars. The drivers weigh a little different and the cars react different. But they've got a pretty good handle on it and they're tough. Plus, I'm going to say this to the end of time: Doug Kalitta is a phenomenal driver worthy of a championship.
Last year we pulled one out. We took it away from him, but he's still a great driver and he's going to earn his championships. And it's my sole purpose to keep him from that because I need to earn another championship for the Army. That's the one I fear the most. When he pulls up next to me, I will always drive the best because he's going to give me everything he's got, and he's as good as they come.
Q. Given your unique sponsor situation, I know last year in St. Louis it was one of the time you carried a Purple Heart from a fallen soldier that his family asked you to carry. How does that affect you emotionally, a lot of times when you know you're dealing with a family when it means so much to you and they pin such high hopes on you winning a race that weekend and having a success that weekend, how does that affect your emotional state as you go into a race weekend like that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That was fantastic. It was a Marine that had lost his life. And it was his brother that had given it to me. That one there was very special, because, you know, I drive for the Army and that's great. But soldiers, the Marines and all these guys that are out there fighting, when a brother comes up, how hard that's got to be. We all understand that, how hard it has to be to grow up with someone and lose them.
It was his birthday on Sunday. And you win round after round and you hadn't won a race all year and get in the final and be so close.
It was a tough one because, boy, you pulled it off and you're so close. And being able to give them that Purple Heart back, put on that mantle after winning a race, is so awesome. It was very intense. I said my prayers before that run and I was very fortunate to give that back.
As exciting as it was, it would have been just as rough to give it back to him if we didn't win that one. It plays a part. Once the car starts, you change your attitude and you kind of are more focused and forget about that stuff. But when you're sitting in the lounge, it's cool.
People have to understand that's just good to be a part of. As a human being, you know, your life is full of great moments and tough ones. And it's great to be a part of it.
It's kind of like that last run there. And whether we had pulled it off or not, being part of something so important and so big was fantastic. A lot of times people they don't know my background with the Army. But I get to get in much deeper and feel I'm not selling tools and I'm not selling beverages, I'm out there selling the United States Army and I get really tight with these families and people.
So it's pretty awesome. It's a big honor. I get to drive a car, and fortunately been able to give them three world championships, and there's just nothing -- there's something special about that. Like I said at the end of the year, when a Black Hawk circles in Baghdad wondering if we're winning a championship or not, makes it just a little bigger. Adds a little weight of the world on you but it makes it bigger.
Q. Tony, I've got a couple of questions. You've already mentioned Doug Kalitta and I presume you would include yourself but who are the other two guys you would expect to see in the final four?
A. I think you'll see Bernstein in there. And, man, the other ones are tough. Good question. You know? Problem is it's not that the one guy is, there's another guy out there that's so good. It's that there are seven or eight or five or so at least that are so good. It's going to be a battle for that position. I mean Dixon's always going to be right there. Good car. Good crew. Been doing it a long time.
Cory Mac's car is running extremely well. You know, Gerald Todd is running good if he's going to run all the races. But there's cars, Gerald Todd is not running in the mid-40s either. It depends. Depends on if some of the cars rise up or the majority of the cars go through a slower phase.
I'll put Kalitta in there. Kalittas in there and there's three cars right there. So it's going to make it tough for other people to squeeze in there.
Q. Do you see that this is the toughest field in history maybe?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I don't go back far enough to know history. I'm 10 years into this thing and it's been tough every year for me. But it's going to be tough. It's going to be hard because you took away being able to come back for 22 races and you're going to make it crunch time down to the 2. I don't know. I really am excited to see how this whole thing turns out.
It's really difficult to make the call whether people are going to like it or not. Going down to the final eight in the field for a championship, but two races with four, we'll have to watch how it pans out.
Q. The other question is just about a driver's mentality. I'm sure it doesn't matter who you line up against these days, that you're so focused on what you're doing. But a lot of guys, a lot of drivers are going to have to face Ashley Force in a funny car. What goes through your mind the first time you face a woman or a particular woman?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, I'm sure by the time she's running, she's made a lot of laps, spent a lot of years doing it. I think that's pretty cool. I think the concern for any driver is that they're just going to hop in without enough laps. And maybe hurt you -- or even make you look stupid. You hate to get beat by someone, they hop in and there they go.
She, in my opinion, probably paid more dues than most of the people out there that have had a chance to drive a fuel car. That's to me just the way it is.
Her father has put her in that car. She's been in the Super Comps and Alcohol for years and driven Funny Cars for a few years testing and testing. That's pretty cool. Who has really gone through that much?
So by the time it's time for her in Pomona to step off a clutch, whoever is on the other side better respect the fact she may give them a whoopin' just the way it is. She's going to have a fast car, driving a car straighter than a lot of people who have car been driving it for years. Had a great teacher.
Q. Is there any sort of, any type of --
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'm sure she's going to screw with a lot of the guys. I'm sure it's going to bother some of them. I'm not sure which ones.
But you know there will be a couple of guys up there thinking their manliness is getting jeopardized. It's pretty cool. And she's going to take 'em out, too. That's not one of them things they go, oh, there's a girl driving in the other lane. There's a girl in the other lane that can give you a whoopin'. Makes it tough. Hard to call home and say you got beat by a brand new girl.
Q. How good is she going to be for this sport?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Fantastic. Hopefully she goes out there and everything is very good and she drives a car like she does. She's a very attractive girl. Very well spoken. She's got a great leader in her father and teachers with Medlen and Robert Hight, you couldn't have been dropped in a better pile there. It's just fantastic.
She's good at what she does. The only thing that would concern me if anything happened if she got hurt it would be hard on the sport.
But I think the equipment we have at NHRA is the best. The Safety Safari, best in the world, maybe twice as good as anywhere else.
And you know our safety record's fantastic. So I don't think we have to worry about that. I know her mom and her dad are very concerned, like mine are, about every time you make a run.
But in reality I think she's going to make this sport much, much better. Way more positives coming out of that by far than any negative you can think of, and I can't think of one.
Q. It's hard enough to win back-to-back titles. And now essentially you're trying to do a double back-to-back going for your fourth consecutive title. Are you feeling -- do you feel different pressure going for four in a row, because that is so difficult than winning your first one?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I personally couldn't care less. If we pull it off, it's going to be fantastic. But really the reason our team's probably been so successful is we don't let that get to us. I mean when the -- and I joke about it all the time. When the light goes on, go.
Capps, remember a few years back, I'm throwing up before the round, how do you handle it. I said, man, you're such a good driver. And there's nothing you can think about in the next hour that's going to make you better.
It's a reaction sport. When the light comes on, you have to trust yourself, leave the start line, and you know you're going to keep the car straight.
If you can just remember that and remember how much fun it used to be and not let that weight of the world crunch you, which I've been put in more crunch spots than anyone ever. If you can get by that, it's fun. If you get to the end, you're one of the guys still standing, fantastic.
And we'll see which of the four drivers at the end can suck up the pressure and do it really with one shot, because whoever wins Vegas goes into Pomona with the weight of the world on them again.
If you've won that race and you can stay ahead of the rest of them, you're going to be the POWERade champ. And I think that's pretty intense. Most of those guys have probably never seen that pressure before. It's going to be fun.
Q. I have one more question. You always talk about the magic of Allen Johnson. If there was one piece of magic that he does best, what is it?
A. That's a good question. I think the one piece of magic that he does best is shut the other lane off, which is extremely hard to do. Most people always, and they can talk about it all they want. We're not going to race the other car. But Allen does it. I mean that car will go out there first round and run a 45 against when you're number one qualifier. He's the best at doing that.
And you know maybe you wouldn't win that race if you didn't have the data from that first round. I think that's extremely difficult to shut out who is in the other spot.
And man that's a piece of work. I've been with different crew chiefs and I've heard people say, well, we're just going to run -- we're going to run whoever is in the car. You want to go through tire shake. Why don't you qualify number one and try to run the number 16 Car The Way he's going to run it. You can't do it.
Allen is a magician at being able to stay focused on the racetrack. That's it. And he helps me that way too because he says if you try your best every time it's not going to make so much difference when you get to that big round. That carries a lot of weight there.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Tony, for the time.
Next up is a man who needs no introduction. He holds the NHRA records for wins, 122. And world championships with 14, including, of course, 2006. And just two weeks ago he announced that his daughter, Ashley, would be turning pro. John, why don't you begin by telling us how this preseason has been different from the last 20 and how your life as a driver and team owner will be changed this year with Ashley in the fold.
JOHN FORCE: It's a lot more of a business side instead of the fun of driving these cars, even though it's a job.
But we've trained Eric Medlen, turned him into a professional, as a driver, and Robert Hight, rookie of the year few years back.
Doing a great job out here. So they're prepared to run for the title because they already did last year, finishing -- I think Robert finished second and Hight -- or Eric was number four.
Now the focus is on Ashley. We ran good in Vegas. She ran 78 in Vegas. She came here. She's already run 77 or 78 here.
At Phoenix, it's raining right now, I was talking to Schumacher about; I thought he was still here but they left.
Ashley had a nasty fire and it put a lot of pressure, especially when it's your family, but also when it's a female. But she come out of it and the car was back out and running. We'll see what happens later in the day.
Q. John, when you look back over the years and going into this season where you're trying to get the future situated, do you feel more comfortable about that or were you more comfortable just in the early days trying to put championship on top of championship?
JOHN FORCE: Well, because when it was all about me and I was doing my own thing, I worked it seven days a week around the clock. That's what we did.
And you know now we have good financial backing from the sponsors. Castrol, Ford, AAA in Southern Cal, all these people that have funded these teams and new sponsors coming on. But now there's the business side of keeping the balance. I have to run from trailer to trailer to trailer talking to the new employees, new kids struggling doing the clutch. New kids mounting tires that have never done it before.
So much more of a job. Dean Antonelli starting out as crew chief with Ashley. He came to me and said, "John, I've worked with you for 12 years, been in the heat of battle. I never was ever this exhausted at the end of the day." I tell him it's just like the drivers said. It's called stress. A little different kind of pressure than just working the car.
Crew chiefs face it and so do the drivers because at the end of the day they have to deliver.
But I'm having fun. I'm out here with my teams. My daughter's with me. It's great to get up in the morning and see her. Because so many years on the road I never saw her. So I'm a happy camper right now.
It's sorting all this mess out. Trust me, it's a handful. Bernstein is down the aisle, got a handful of his own. Everybody is going through the same thing.
Obviously Schumacher got his deal together, so he went home. But we'll see what happens at Pomona.
Q. Talking about Bernstein, give us your thoughts on having to race against him this season.
JOHN FORCE: Having to race Kenny? Kenny knows the game. He's in a learning process right now with Ray Alley and Johnny West. But these are kids that have done this for years. They'll have the car shaped up in no time. And I'm excited because I think Kenny brings, even with his son in Top Fuel, Funny Cars are what my life's about. And to bring that name back into Funny Cars is is only going to build our brand stronger on the NHRA POWERade Tour. So I welcome Kenny Bernstein back with open arms.
And Kenny, trust me, take him a while to get it sorted out, but when he does it will be back in the game just like it used to be when he drove.
Q. John, who are you most concerned about in the Funny Car class this year trying to defend your championship, and you can't say "everybody"?
JOHN FORCE: I'm not being cute but I'm concerned with the guy in the other lane. Whoever you're racing you've got to beat because the field is the toughest I've ever seen it.
I guarantee you, Ron Capps, he's had three years of getting smacked around and he's going to have focus. He's got a good race team. He almost got it last year.
I look at my own drivers, Robert and Eric. Ashley, you know, she could be a contender. She's got a lot to learn. Got her first shot at nighttime racing last night. There was fire outside the windows. It was unbelievable.
I believe Kenny Bernstein, he'll be a force to be reckoned with. I think that's cute.
It can be anybody. You know what's funny, you don't really know coming out of Pomona. A lot of the guys really do well at Pomona the opening race because they're running last year's combination. So they're consistent. The new guys like us with brand new stuff, we're lost for a while. We didn't start to run until later in the year consistent. And luckily we caught up with Capps.
But right now the multi-tiered teams like Worsham because they have the ability to learn from each other. But I'm telling you right now Tommy Johnson, Jr., I've watched him run in Vegas and they've given them the budget to hit it hard and I've watched him here in Phoenix. He run the numbers just like us.
Tommy Johnson is going to be a contender for the title this year.
Q. After winning 14 championships what's left for you to accomplish? What are some of your goals?
JOHN FORCE: You know, when my daughter was in that fire the other day and it was pretty nasty, and I didn't even know until I saw the footage and of course I've been through and so has Eric, so has all the drivers. And maybe because it was her, I sat with her and told her how much I loved this sport how much I love to be out with these people.
I said this is your life now and this is where you'll be and you're a pro now. There's no turning back. And it was just the -- you're going to be mad at me I forgot what you asked.
Q. What's left for you to accomplish after doing so well as long as you've been in the sport with 14 championships, what are some of your goals what's left to accomplish?
JOHN FORCE: Can I just say this? I want to be good. I want to race with my kid and the team. I'm building the next generation, because I don't lie to myself. I'm 57. I'm running out of time. I want to be good at what I do.
I don't want to ever be an embarrassment to my sponsors or my family or the kids that work around the clock out here.
My deal is, you know, my guys joke you don't drink anymore. I said I don't have time. I don't need it. It really isn't about time. It's about that I need to sleep every night. If I'm going to stay up with the young kids. I see my daughter with so much energy. She's never tired.
Eric, Robert, never tired. I'm tired at the end of the day. I don't party like I used to. I go to bed so I can be in the game.
What I want to accomplish, is yes, do I want to win? Do I want to win more races? Yes. Do I want to set records? Yes, I want to do all the above. I want to be good. That's all that's left for me to stay in the game because people, we have new sponsors like Mach 1 Air coming in and just new people signing up, and I want to be good for them.
I want to be good around my kids. I'm their dad. I want to show that I'm -- they knew me in my younger days when they were little but they didn't care that I won everything. And I want to stick around a while so I guess I just want to be good.
Q. Do you foresee any animosity within the team in the garage with Ashley running Funny Cars with regards to sharing information?
JOHN FORCE: I gotta tell you, I gotta tell you honestly, everybody has helped my kid. I mean I'm talking everybody. Jack Beckman, Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps, Worsham, when she had the fire Bazemore came running over there. Of course you know Bazemore, my buddy, I said, "Baze, I appreciate you coming to me." He said, "This wasn't about you, Force, it was about that kid."
Because Bazemore lived a fire deal. He knows what it's about.
So we fight with these guys, but they're good people. And I'm sticking to that story. I believe that everybody out here, we're one big family and I believe we've got some great talent but some great personalities out here. And it takes all kinds to make this sport.
That's what I like about this sport. We are a family, even though on the playing field we fight. You know, at the end of the day we care about each other, and, no, I have never heard a negative about Ashley.
And I listen everywhere, because if there's an issue I want to try to fix it. If she's been slow staging, I want to speed her up. I want to talk to the guy. I want to give her all the help I can.
Because these are going to be her friends in the next 30 years, the people that I've come to love.
So sounds like I'm getting all mushy here, maybe at my age I don't know. But I'm having a ball out here. Kenny Bernstein is down the alley and tows his old monster hot rod behind him. It's fun for me and Prudhomme is here with his car.
So, no, I'm amazed. I thought it was going to be a lot of issues about her. I get calls from Shirley Muldowney, "How is the kid doing?" That's good. We've got good people. No, everything is fine. I could have just said fine, sorry.
Q. John, how important is continuity in crew? You've been very fortunate with your crew, in a sport like NHRA, where there's a lot of changeover year over year with the crews, how valuable is it for you to have a crew that's stayed constant over the years?
JOHN FORCE: We've never gone to another team and tried to hire anybody away. We don't play that kind of game. It's respect. The other teams and team owners that worked. But when somebody comes to our door and says, "I'm a free agent and I'm looking for a job," the first thing we do is: You know, we bring some from the outside, you know what I mean, we bring kids from the technical schools that have been taught how to build motors. We get a lot of talent there.
But we picked up a number of people this year that have come from other teams that were -- it was time for a change. And we've gotten some good people and we walk the roads continually. You know what I mean?
I talk to the kids continually knowing the part that they're doing is so important, because if everything isn't perfect, the machine fails.
And that ain't just one call. That's all the way down the line. You've got to have camaraderie. So far with the pick, I mean we're talking 10 people on Ashley's team and we're talking about probably another seven, I think we picked up 17 or 19 new people. But maybe Bernie Featherly who does the hiring, is really good at it.
But he's got us some good people. Nobody is left here. Everybody is on board. You weed them out thorough Vegas because they live it from 6:00 to midnight. They don't get a break. From Phoenix and hell they got a little break because it's raining. But they're standing at the ropes ready to run.
New kids, excited. The old school boys. They know the fight. They keep their wind. They keep the pace so they can run in the game when it starts.
Q. John, how important is it for you and Ford Motor Company to develop a Ford nitro motor for Top Fuel and Funny Car?
JOHN FORCE: It's important not just for Ford. They have their reasons, because they take the technology, everything is in the aerodynamics, to the motors and the stuff we use. They put them in the ads and advertise.
Right now the market is a struggle right now. You've got the foreign markets all pulling in over here. You know Toyota trying to get into Nascar and trying to get into drag racing and Ford's got a fight on their hands. They know it's a huge machine. And I'm lucky and proud to be part of it. And right now everything that we can create, every way that our team, with drivers that have left Ford Motor Company where John Force Racing won't.
Our group they've been nothing but good to us. I don't mean just in the finance they give us but in the way they let us run our teams. And they work with us day-to-day. They keep us focused on winning, but they let you have that freedom to test and the wind panels and the technology they give us.
But it's very important in this market that we make every dollar not just fit for us but to fit for them. And this motor program is going to be huge. We hope to deliver it by early June, because I'm excited about the car being an all Ford.
And that is exciting that we can say every piece there is a Ford.
You know, we don't buy anything from any other car manufacturer. We make everything in-house for our block. And we're going to have that done pretty soon. And we're excited about that.
But we buy them from Keith Black, Brad Anderson, Paisano, that's where our blocks come from. And we decided with Ford we'll have our own design. But it is an NHRA spec.
But, once again, it can be a true Ford. That's what he want instead of the next.
Because I'm looking to grow like Roush and you look at the guys like Roush and Penske that grew. Penske got into racing, ends up with Hertz. There's a lot of tie-ins. You'll have a brand Mustang with John Force Racing. That's already in the talks now. And this motor is going to help that.
That's where I'm trying to evolve to the status of Roush. That when you're in trouble and you can't find a sponsor, you know what I mean, that the monies from the other programs can finance it. That's why I'm doing the TV show with A&E this year. It will put over another million bucks in our pocket. That's going to help me run one of my teams.
Because right now in fact pretty much I might as well give you this, this is what's going to happen right now.
Eric Medlen -- Ashley is driving the match car to me. The Castrol GTX car and I'm driving the Castrol GTX high mileage. Eric Medlen will start off the season in the Syntec. But he's also driving for BT Castrol. He'll drive for the other brand Tection Extra, and then he'll drive for AAA with their cruise lines. Then he'll drive for Mach 1 Air Services and drive for Brand Source and I think it was Pioneer and DirecTV that he will be driving for there. Eric's going to be jumping around. He's going to be having about six different cars this year.
It's going to be really exciting. But it takes money to tie all of this together. And we couldn't find the right partner we wanted so all the sponsors chipped in.
And I know you didn't ask this, but I was going to announce it anyway, that they've all chipped in to help fund this car because the TV show is also chipping in to help. Ashley wanted her money put into this program from the TV show to make sure that Eric's car had full funding.
Q. John, with the NHRA specs for a fuel motor, how different can you make it and how can you possibly brand it other than valve covers for this new engine and call it a Ford?
JOHN FORCE: Yeah, but it won't just be valve covers. That would have been an easy fix. We could have put valve covers. We make our own manifolds. We make our own blowers. We even make our own injectors. We make our own heads.
The only thing left is a block and a crank. We can even make rods but we haven't done it.
What I'm saying, they do call it a spec motor. But it will be a created motor because we'll be looking at selling this stuff through the dealerships across the nation. This won't just be a blown fuel 330 mile-an-hour motor. This can be a motor developed that can go into a Ford pickup truck.
There's a lot of directions we haven't gone down because we haven't finished. Actually the prototype's done. But we haven't -- because we gotta build all the parts that go around it. Yes, NHRA is trying to level the playing field. They won't let us change the push rod angle. They won't let us move the cam shaft, but it will be a little bit different.
But basically it will be all Ford. I mean technically I could say my car is all Ford now. But everybody knows originally 30 years ago they came from the old Chrysler design. And I didn't run a Chrysler block in 25 years.
You know what I'm saying? All the blocks out here are made by manufacturers but they're still off the old hemi design. That's why we want our design. And that's what we're going to have. But it's got to fall under the NHRA spec.
Q. When Robert presented the Brute Force Monza to you at Christmastime, did that give you any idea that you might want to hop in and make a pass with that car?
JOHN FORCE: We may. It's just my focus has to be on winning races. And I love those nostalgic cars. You know what I said to Robert when that was over, you know what I learned here today running, Robert, that if I was to die tomorrow, racing will continue because of people like you.
He knew how to build a race car. He knew how to find it, the body, the tint shop, how to get it painted and build a motor. He did it like how I did it in the old days.
He got everybody to chip in, made it a Christmas gift. Coil, everybody on all the teams, from marketing staff, and my wife pitched in.
I was blown out of the water because I guess what bothered me is that they could pull off a secret right in my own house that I didn't know about.
I said that was the only complaint I had. Always run everything through me. They said they wanted this one time for it to be a surprise. And it was just that he proved to me what he can do.
Yes, we totally will bring that car out. And it was the original -- the original Brute Force Funny Car, my first paint job, the fist, the lightning bolts. It was pretty exciting. So I had a car before that that I went in Australia with, but this was the original.
But he showed me he could get the job done. So I'm grooming -- Eric worked on it and everybody worked on it. They showed me the machine that I created will go on without me and that's what matters to me, that my legacy that I've created will go on through my family.
And all these kids are my family. So that's what's most important.
And the motor, by the way, is what I'm saying is it will be a Ford JFR Motor, John Force Racing. Ford emblems and it will have our X on it that says "John Force The Next Generation." It's the next generation of where we're going. But right now we're building the basics so we can go out there and run a car and be proud to say that now it's totally all Ford.
Q. Can you provide everyone with the details of Ashley's adventurous trip down the track I think it was yesterday.
JOHN FORCE: Been pretty excited. Groomed her about a year and a half but she's probably had more runs than the last two weekends than she got in a year because we're running four Funny Cars four times a day over a four-day period. In Vegas we were there Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, five days. Seven, $8,000 a run we spent a lot of money.
Do the math, four cars, four runs a day for at least -- we've been here at least four days already. We ran here Friday Saturday -- we got three runs a day. Yesterday we made four.
And we're still here. But Ashley, she can go A to B. She can run over 300. She ran 70 or 80, I think at Vegas clicking it off early. And she came here to Phoenix and ran 78. Those numbers are good enough to qualify at Pomona.
But she's okay. But then we had to put her in side by side. She got up against Cruz. Got up against Gary Scelzi and Gary Mitchell. And so many of them were like we thought we were holding her up. The kid has really evolved. I'm proud of her. I want her on the pressure side by side.
Of course the real pressure is going to be Pomona first round. But I was -- and we have to get qualified, naturally. But she really did well. But the biggest thing I fear is tire smoke, letting the motor get away from you.
A lot of guys can't get off the gas. And Coil said she's driving like she has experience like you. The car smokes the tires, she gets off the gas, saves the motor.
She really learns so much. And I say to anybody raising their kids in this sport, let them evolve through the categories. Don't jump them up. Let them come up through the ranks of the Super Comps or the Junior Leagues and then go into the Holley Driving School and evolve into A Fuel or Funny Car, teach them the basics. That's why she's doing so good.
Doesn't win her a race yet. But it's showing me. But the fire was pretty -- I was on the starting line with her mother. Of course I'm pacing back and forth, and I keep my scooter running, right and I also placed my guys all the way down the racetrack.
I've got three individuals at different points so somebody can be over the fence in case she got hooked in the car you get to that mode. She had a nasty fire. Dad it exploded I couldn't see anything and the fire went out.
She said I triggered my bottles but it blew her windshield open she got a little bit of smoke she was gasping to breathe and I felt so bad I said, Ashley, I let you down. Remember me telling you when your windshield fogs up you lift it up right before you stage and you hold your breath and close it so you don't steam it because it's your own body heat that causes your window to fog up when it's cold at night.
Because it's cold outside and you're hot inside. I forgot to tell when you catch on fire, when I was little threw you in the swimming pool told you to hold your breath what she did she hyperventilated because it scared her and she sucked all that smoke down her throat.
Luckily the fire was there and gone but then she rode out the smoke I was there and she was out of the car.
It was scary for me, but she was like how long do you think it will take to fix it. She was like an hour and a half later back in the stage the lanes running again it was a nasty fire. You'll see it on our TV show. Our TV people God bless them I want to kill them but they're all loving it. They're loving this shit because it's drama. But I don't want none of it. Sorry I cussed.
Q. John, you mentioned or someone mentioned time earlier with all of your businesses and the shops, the fabrication of running a four-car team, you're driving yourself, dealing with sponsors and the TV show. When do you reach the saturation point how do you find the time to do this? Do you have to ration yourself out or how do you handle it?
JOHN FORCE: I've really maxed. I've had so many deals where I could, hell I could have made a quarter of a million on the show car circuit. Offers to go to London to kick off our TV show on A&E it's opening in markets over seas in Japan and I said there's no more time.
I need to focus on our four Funny Cars right now. I had a daughter crash at Vegas in super comp. We were in an ambulance with mom going to the hospital. Put her through a CAT scan. That was Brittany.
She walked out of there okay. I should have been with her on the starting line but I was in the bus with Gary grace from U.S.A. Today trying to get the story. I failed, Gary saw my panic I ran out of the bus like, she was already in the ambulance and I'm talking about a 19-year-old kid that's never been in a car wreck on the street let alone hitting the wall.
It was nothing major, but it scared her. And it was her first experience in the hospital.
I told the TV people, everybody needs to go home now. They came here. They filmed, and now we need some time to focus and stay on these cars until we get them sorted out to get ready for Pomona. We may have to pack up and go back to Vegas, because we're running quick. But we don't have the consistency.
So I make the time because I really love what I do. You know, just every day, just getting up in the morning, you know, and my wife was over here with us this weekend because now we have so much in common with Ashley racing right here with the pros.
So, trust me, just did a full physical, one of the physicals where they run you through the Star Wars machine that runs around your body. My doc called me yesterday and said everything was good; you're strong, you're good for another season, go hit it.
And I'm really lucky with my health. I think that's because I let my stress out. I don't hold it in. And I've started eating right. Exercising. I'm doing everything I should have done 20 years ago.
I'm finally doing it now. And it's going to allow me to be around a while and it's going to allow me to race at least for another five years.
Q. You say you're maxed out now. If you had to cut something out of what you're handling, what's on your plate, what would it be?
JOHN FORCE: It would have been the TV show. I'm going to be honest. I love A&E for what they give us, all the people, but it's a full-time job. When you leave the racetrack, when everybody goes to bed, we go off to film.
It was hard on me last year because I was so into it. It's my ego. I get so caught up. I want it perfect. I want everything like a race car, I want to do it 50 times.
And so much that you do is filmed and it's never used. And I had to learn -- they sent me to a speech therapist where I could learn to talk again, I'm not doing very good right now because I get wound up like I'm in a fistfight.
But my health is good. I've stopped the drinking. I'm down to one cup of coffee a day, because, man, I was hyper. At the end of the day I was just maxed. But now I'm really doing good.
I'm proud to say I'm healthy. And if Kenny Bernstein can jump back out here, he's a few years older than me, and he's ready and fit to do it, I gotta get back in shape.
Kenny Bernstein is in really good shape. I mean that kid, you know, he's older than me. But he's probably got the body of a 35-year-old. You know what I'm saying?
He's really going to do well even with our ups and downs, me and Kenny, I've been out here praying he'll do good. He will.
Q. John, probably nobody has had more success than you. I don't know if you've ever thought about this, asked Tony this earlier, is there a best way to handle success? And what way do you handle success?
JOHN FORCE: You don't start believing your own bull stuff. You don't start believing who you think you are.
I got here because I teamed up with a guy named Austin Coil or I still might be out there trying to win a race, let alone a championship. I teamed up with a guy, Austin Coil, and Bernie Fedderly, a Canadian, that's been in this business a long time. Bernie being the Canadian. And they teamed together.
They're like husband and wife. They're together all the time. They spend more time together on the road with us than they do their own families at home.
But I was always good at reading people's faces, reading the bull. You know what I mean? Because I'm probably the biggest guy full of it, right?
But I could tell when someone was conning me.
And I learned to pick the right people. When Coil came over here I picked the guy with magic. He already won two championships with Frank Holley and the Chi-Town Hustler out of Chicago, in Funny Car, but yet he had no money doing it.
I thought if I could find the money, and as much as I love this sport, and those were my early days, it was 22 years ago, we teamed up, that we could win. But on the road we kept picking the right people.
And that was what was important to me, the people. It wasn't John Force that won these championships. This is not going to be humble. This is about knowing your people.
When you start thinking you're so good and your car blows up and you want to run out and yell at somebody, no, you go out and give them a hug and you tell these guys you fix the car, I'll find the money to fix it.
And you create camaraderie. And you create the love. That's why the four teams are out here. When Ashley had the fire, AAA was over there working on the car, and Eric's team was over there. It makes you so proud because it's the one thing I really brought and that was being a leader.
I think that's my best asset is I know how to lead people and you do it treating everybody equal. As long as you show that respect to the guy that cooks your food, to the guy that does bottom end, to the guy that runs your trailer, when you're in the winner circle, they're all there.
You don't say, well, those guys are back in the machine shop. We invite everybody in. They all pick so many races they want to go to. And they're allowed to go to so many races out of the base in Indy and here.
We make everybody part of the team so when they're home they feel like they're winning when you win and they're motivated every week to do the work they do because they work so hard.
That is my best asset. So for me it's to continue running John Force Racing. The way I've run it, we've got a great product within NHRA Drag Racing, with Power ESPN, the TV show, it will give us another season at least.
We're having a ball. But it's full blown, full throttle for John Force. And my kid's the same way, and so is Robert and Eric.
I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want to give up the TV show either.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much for the half hour. We will see you next week in Pomona.
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