National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Ashley Force Hood
April 22, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us on today's NHRA Powerade Series teleconference with John and Ashley Force.
Couple of quick housekeeping notes before we begin.
The NHRA Powerade Series will be in Atlanta this weekend for the Summit Racing NHRA Southern Nationals. This is the sixth race in the 18-race regular season that will set the 10-driver fields for the six-race playoff, the Countdown to 1.
The race will be televised by ESPN2 in hi-def. Qualifying highlights will be shown from 6:00 to 8:00 PM Eastern time on Saturday, and the race will begin at 7:00 PM Eastern time on Sunday.
After a short introduction, I'll ask John and Ashley to make an opening statement, and then we'll open it up to questions. To get in line to ask a question, hit star-1 on your keypad.
I'll start with John. John, less than six months after the crash in Dallas, and after enduring a punishing physical therapy regime, you were back in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang for the opening race of the 2008 season and you're now on the verge of two historic milestones, 500 races and 1,000 round wins.
John will compete in his 500th race this weekend at the Summit Racing NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, and should he win the race, he would reach the never-before-reached 1,000-round-win milestone. He's currently at 996 round-wins and counting.
John, given the suffering you put yourself through to get to this point during the physical therapy over the winter, tell us how satisfying it is to be back racing and approaching these historic milestones.
JOHN FORCE: Well, it is satisfying. I just came from the Jim about an hour ago and I decided that my therapy and now working in the gym continues on a regular, daily basis. I'm still not back -- what's a percentage -- I gave a quote the other day, 75 percent, 80, but I'm able to drive my race car A to B. I'm not the driver that I was because I don't have the strength, yet; but I will in time when I continue now to build muscle, because I've got most of my motion back and that's what's important.
But I'm excited that I've got a second chance and I'm allowed to race. And I'm out here with my children, with Ashley and watching her evolve as a driver, very proud of her. Taking the points lead with the NHRA Powerade circuit because he's going to have to fight to keep that lead because her dad, starting in Atlanta, I hope I can get back in the game. Y'all know I didn't qualify at Vegas. It moved me down to 8th in the points, or I was 8th in the points; I stayed 8th
The dream is to win. The dream is to win more championships. Safety has become a big, big thing in our life. It's what we do every day, as well, is try to win.
But to go after 500, hey, all I've got to show up, I guess I get it. 1,000, that's something. I was never really much about records. If you think about them, they don't seem to happen. But I'm excited that I'm just going to get a chance to continue to set those records. I'd like to do that in front of my children to show them the old man has still got it, at least for a while.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, John.
Next I'd like to introduce Ashley Force, who is the 25-year-old daughter of John and the 2007 Rookie of the Year. She's off to a blistering start to her sophomore campaign, reaching back-to-back final rounds in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to become the first woman in NHRA history to lead the point standings in the funny car class.
Understanding there is a long way to go, how gratifying is it after just 26 career Powerade Series races to be able to say you've reached the top of your class, ahead of your father and former Powerade champions Tony and Cruz Pedregon and Gary Scelzi and names like that?
ASHLEY FORCE: It's been a real exciting time for my team and I. They are the same exact group I started out with when I first moved into funny car.
For us, we've come a long way. We knew at the beginning we struggled and we had ups and downs and now we're through that and now we have a very consistent car and I'm working on becoming a more consistent driver and we've gotten more into the groove of things, and we've shown that in that we are able to go around these races
But we don't want to get too ahead of ourselves because we know what we're competing against, and you get thinking about these things and then you're not thinking about what you need to be thinking about, which is racing, doing everything right with the car and trying to win.
So we're really trying to stay focused on that. But it's tough because we are all new at this and it's an exciting time to be leading at the time, so we just want to keep that lead.
Q. In the last two races when you had gone to the finals, it's been clear on some of the ESPN slow-motion replays that you've had runs where the car has gotten out of the groove and you've been able to steer it back in. Do you feel now as you continue to make more runs, that you're able to anticipate and react to those things faster than you were earlier, say, last season? And the second part of the question is, what, if anything, are you doing or can you do through simulations to improve your reaction time?
ASHLEY FORCE: For the driving side of it, it's definitely all about experience, and it really takes -- no one is going to climb into one of these cars and be perfect in it. It takes all of the mistakes and getting out of the groove and hitting walls and crossing lines to realize the boundaries and realize what these cars are capable of.
I know I've come a long way since last year, but I'm sure by next year, you know, the more runs that I make, the more I seem to kind of get the hang of it, and I still have a long way to go. But it seems that the length of time it takes for your mind to kind of process what's happening and then for your body to react to it is kind of -- that space is kind of becoming smaller. Where before when I first started, when the car got out of the groove, in my mind I'm thinking, the car is out of the groove, I'm thinking whatever the process is; and whereas now, your body is doing it before your mind even realizes what's happening.
It's that experience, I don't know much about all that stuff, but I know there's times that I have no memory at all of hitting my parachutes and shutting off my fuel; yet they are always done at the end of the track. That's just experience; where last year at this time, I was still really need to go remember, when I would come through the light at end of the track, remember your parachute, where your body just starts remembers those. I still have a long way to go but it's seeming to be a little easier that wherever I want to keep the car, I'm able to keep it at.
On reaction times, I've been working and talking a lot with my chew chief, Dean Antonelli and the other drivers, and with Dad and with Robert and Mike about reaction times. It seems the more experience I get driving the cars, I'm getting better at getting from A to B on the tracks. But now my reactions I'm struggling with, and I've kind of got the same torso with everyone -- when you climb out of the car, you could care less what your reaction was, you just want to get down the track and not hitting anything. Now you're getting the hang of that and starting to think more competitively of wanting to cut lights, and it just seems what everyone is telling me, adding more stuff to my mind.
The more I can practice on my practice street, and Robert has given me some tapes that he uses for focus, learning to train just like you train yourself to do any kind of athletic skill, you need to train your eyes and your body to react to things that you normally would not react to. Some drivers are, but I'm not the type at the street lights to be as soon as the light is green, tearing off through the intersection. I'm always the one worrying about the guy who is red-lighting or who is going through the red light who is going to hit me. The only way to practice that is on the track just testing, and also on reaction trees (ph); and just when you're going up to the line, just being the best that you can be; that you're awake; that you're alert; that you're focused that you're not tired because you didn't get enough sleep or because you ate a big lunch or anything like; that you're really feeling like an athlete and ready to compete the best you can. I'm working on those things and have a long way to go, and you see what works for and you what doesn't. Every driver is different. I just have to find my groove in it.
Q. Wondering if you can talk about your experience on the road course in Utah and how taking those laps might compare to your first couple laps in a Super Contraxtor (ph)?
ASHLEY FORCE: Yes, the road course we went this past week, Robert and Mike and I went to Salt Lake City, and at Miller Motorsports Park there's a Ford Racing Course we took part in. I've never done any kind of road course racing of any type. I've only done drag racing and have only ever done straight or wanted to go straight, and so this was a completely new experience for me and I was truthfully terrified.
Robert and Mike were jumping for joy and could not wait to get out on the track in Mustangs, and I was much more nervous. But the instructors were real patient with me and they knew a ton about these cars and really taught me a whole other world of racing I knew nothing about.
I came out of it, still not going to make any career changes in any way, I still like my funny car and drag racing but it was really interesting to see how different the two types of racing are.
There are a lot of similarities and I think the biggest one that I found that I can kind of relate and use in my world of racing is that you're always kind of looking ahead; that when you go into a corner, they taught us, don't be thinking of where you're at now. Be thinking of where you're going in the next two turns, and that's where you're going to kind of set up where you're going to be and that's the thing with drag racing. You can't just be thinking with where you're at then on the track because it's only a five-second run. You've really got to be ahead of it and ready for whatever happens, dropped cylinder, tire shape, be prepared to react with all of that without having to think about that.
It was similar to when I moved to Super Comp and it was all new to me and I only had the experience of others to learn from; I didn't have my other experience. So it was a long couple days. I was exhausted at the end of it. My body was sore and I was tired, and same as when I first went to Francolley's (ph), but it was a lot of fun.
Q. Racers in other sports all have stories when they reach historic milestones about how much they struggled early in their careers. Do you have stories you can share that illustrate how it was early for your in your pro career?
JOHN FORCE: It's funny, we're working on a book now. We signed with a book company in New York. And to go back, some of the stuff that we wrote over the years and kept, it almost makes you want to laugh how we got here; how we struggled through -- you know, we didn't really realize how pathetic we were as race car drivers till I hear Dopper Dom (ph) and McCune (ph) tell the stories of what I actually looked like when I raced, when I showed up at the racetrack.
But we had no money. We hustled everything that we could. It wasn't about trying to win a race. It was trying to do something that we loved, just to be a part of it. To say that I did a burnout next to Perdome (ph) or Kenny Bernstein and was able to stage and go down the racetrack, you know. How I survived Australia; when I looked back, I've seen some of the videos now that have come. I should have lost my life there. Our safety equipment wasn't good. Our cars were -- the parts were just junk that we put in them.
But we were chasing a dream, and I think that, you know, I just wrote an article for National Dragster that will come out in a week, and forget why we came to race because we really loved it. But I had all the struggles of no money: Being locked out of the house, Laurie and I came home, and they locked our cat inside the house. I kicked the door down to get our Persian cat, because we couldn't pay the rent and we went to Indy, and the cops arrested me. Don't care that your cat was in there, you can't kick down doors, and it was just a lifestyle that we lived.
It was funny that I never realized until I started reading this book, how much my wife, Laurie, was a part of my whole history of racing, because when I had met her, it's basically when I started. I mean, it goes back way before that, but nothing was even close to being professional; and what she brought to the plate, mixing the fuel, packing the parachutes; driving the truck through the night when we had a pickup truck and trailer; and then writing the contracts for the sponsors; and you get a real wake-up call on how you got here.
Maybe I didn't give you a real cute story but there's so much I experienced that's waking me up to the mistakes I've made in life with my own family and I'm getting a second chance here to really get it right the next 50 years.
And about the sport that I love; the fights that we have every day, it's like you go to the racetrack and it's like, I don't want to go; it's another meeting; it's another pro board; it's another NHRA, and it's like, the stuff goes on and on.
Nobody is right but nobody is wrong. They all have their reasons. But yet it's a battle that you say, God, it's not even fun but then you get those few moments to see Ashley try to get that final round and that look on her face; and my daughter, Brittany, that made a run; and like I said, she barely qualified for any fuel on Friday night.
It was a late Friday night under the lights, nitro methane coming out and she said, "Dad, I'm scared."
And I said, "Baby, you've got to be scared. If you're not scared you won't respect it." But to watch her go down there in the dark and when I got to her, she had that big smile on her face like her mom and she drove that hot rod and just yelling that she did it and she was still scared.
But I found that feeling that I felt 30 years ago, or maybe in the last 20 years, or maybe even in the last six months, my whole life kind of just took a mental thing for me, like, why am I doing this.
And the safety issues become the reasons why. And I want to win. And my sponsors get mad sometimes, all you talk about is safety. You forgot to think about winning
Oh, no, I'm going to get back to winning. When my body is right, I'm going to get back to where I can do the job. I put out enough bull-drive talk; I'm not going to say I'm to go after a championship today, because I'm not physically fit to do it. I don't have the strength to hold the clutch pedal down. All the things that I took for granted in my younger years, I'm fighting to get that back, that strength.
But I tell you, the love of my family around me, Ashley carrying the ball for me; Robert, to know that our family is in this game. And let me tell you, it's going to take four good race cars to win this championship, but I think I have three of the best on my side. They are young, they are inexperienced, but they have got a lot of heart. And I'm just watching Ashley evolve like Robert did, and Mike, he's going to step up to the plate here, any day, the car is going to break stride and win a race.
And I'm excited. New players coming in, Old Spice -- sorry I rambled on. I got sidetracked.
Q. You mentioned safety a couple times. Can you give me some specific things y'all have come up with on safety front?
JOHN FORCE: Well, from Eric's crash -- from Eric's crash, you know, the first thing we did is, why did this happen? Why did he have head injuries only seen at helicopters and high-speed vibrations? It was a whole new thing that was taking place in our sport that that we had seen over a period of time in the last four or five years. But we could not really pin it down until Eric's crash. So we went after the roll cage and we went after the neck restraints and our restraints were only made for impact, forward and backwards. There was no side-to-side. And it was like, my God, Eric's head had the damage from side-to-side.
Catastrophic, what took place, the doctor said, my God, what did this guy do? Like they had only seen this in stuff, you know, in military Air Force-type pilots that were injured through the vibration of the air. We talked about all that before.
But out that have came the roll cage, and it was just a simple thing. We can't put padding in there to protect the driver if we don't -- the roll cage; well, why did the roll cage get so narrow? If we look back, because we streamlined the cars. Over the years as we streamlined them, we made the bodies narrower. So we made the roll cages narrower and we forgot about the drivers' safety. And that's what we are trying to get back to; open our eyes
So out of that crash, and Ashley crashed at Seattle, hit the wall a number of times; Robert crashed at Topeka; none of them had head injuries or headaches. Big Jim, and I love him dearly, when his car crashed hit the wall three times at Gainesville, he come back yelling at me: "I don't have a spare car, this is your fault," because they are all trying to get new cars built and I thought to myself, yeah, but your driver is doing an interview. And that was a terrible crash, nothing like Eric or mine, because ours was more harmonics and oscillation but the impact of the car in half; the guy walked away without a headache, and that came out of that.
My crash, the car broke in half and hung the drivers' legs and arms out. And so we went back to that, worked with F1, NHRA, SFI, Murk McKinney (ph), all of the people we created the Eric metal project (ph) and we continue every day. We put tubs in these cars. We are out-of-pocket a lot, but it doesn't matter.
Every day I look at the safety in these cars that my children have in their a fuel cars, what we have in these funny cars, I feel that we've done everything we can for now, with you the process continues and Ford Motor Company, God bless them it was their technicians and their laboratories that they put our cars in. They shook them, broke them and sawed them up and they gave back to us how to build a stronger car, and the new six-rail car, is probably seven times stronger. We may never know how much better this car is, but we know it's cost efficient, wasn't that much more, cost a lot to build it. But not hardly any for the other teams to order them and they are all ordering these cars now and number two, it's a hundred pounds heavier with the new safety rules and guys are still out there running, and it's mixed the pot up a little bit, a lot of the guys like Wilkerson and Jim and Gary and Worsham (ph), they always had heavy cars, so it's put them right up in the ballgame of winning races.
So in the big picture, the safety is there. There's been change. But like the Car of Tomorrow with NASCAR, it's a shame that we have to give someone's life to give us a wake-up call.
So much change has come out of it. Little black boxes Ford has put on all the cars, dragsters and funny cars at their expense so we know the drivers -- what happens when they have just simple tires changed.
Q. The chance to win 1,000 rounds or seeing Ashley be the first woman to lead funny car points; which one gives you the most pride?
JOHN FORCE: Her leading the points but I told her, baby, don't get caught up in the points deal. They will take it away from you next week and you'll try to get it back or maybe you'll keep it a week or two. This is going to be a slugfest is what it's going to be. And you're a woman in the middle of this and that's why I'm excited.
I'd like to see Melanie out there in a funny car because it kind of gives Ashley somebody to know that she ain't on her own. It ain't a man's world and there's two of these young gals fighting it out. But it's going to be tough and I'm excited and I know I'm supposed to be hyping records. I come in my building, I see all these trophies. You know, and I want to win again.
But none of it's no good to me if I can't win again.
Right now I'm excited the way Ashley has been learning, and I don't mean just driving the race car. Because I stand behind it in the lights, her car and I watch it run after run, so many runs, hundreds of 'em, and I watch her go down in the last couple years and it's like, it's out of the groove and it doesn't come back, and now I'm starting to see it suck back into the groove.
I worry about her body strength because I'm in the gym every day doing weights. I build my right arm for my push brake; I build my left hand to steer it with one hand and I'm doing a lot of exercises just to drive my race car. In fact, I have people come in and say, God, I've never seen anybody do that kind of an exercise; why? Well, because my trainer has taught me what I need to do in the gym to get certain things to handle my race car
You know I've got a big 'ole ego and I love the pat on the back. What I've trying to do, is I just don't -- I want to go to Atlanta and I want to win me a drag race, even if it takes beating this girl you know what I'm saying, my own child. I want to get back in the game. I want to be part of it. I love it. I can't tell you how I love it. I was taken out for six months and it broke my heart when the doctor said you may never drive again. I'm like, what are you saying here. It guts a man.
And it's like, I want that feeling back. I want it to be fun, and I said, it's like you know how you write some stories that it's just another stories. But some days you write a story and you get all caught up in it, and well that's why I got caught up in the gym. The gym is my only chance of me getting back, to be with my kids, to grow the technology and to win again.
So I'm coming to Atlanta, I joked yesterday, Schumacher is going after number 500 races, coming after you, and I love old Shu. And I told him: Well, he ain't going to catch me till I drop dead because I'm going to drive this old thing until I drop. So that means I'm going to keep showing up at the races even if, as long as I can halfway do the job, because I've just fallen in love with it all over again.
And that's why the politics are political. Some days I want to just puke and I get so mad at people and you have to look at everybody. I saw a movie the other night called "The Boxer," and it was about Ireland and it was about the Catholics and the Protestants and they were all fighting each other and killing each other and burning their houses down, and yet they were all right, both sides, the wives and children, and they were all right.
I said, why can't they get it together, and they are still fighting. But it's almost when I look at our lifestyle, it's a continual battle, and maybe that's what it takes to grow this sport.
So I'm just going to stay in the fight and suck it up and have the good moments that I have when I see Ashley out there doing what her old man fell in love with his whole life, 30 years, and that she's getting that opportunity, and she's got a damned good team behind here, and she ain't too bad herself. She won't blow her own horn but two years, she ain't doing too bad.
Q. With the attention Danica has brought with her victory, have you considered the irony, when you're about to go into another race as the funny car points leader, and what kind of bump do you think that's going to give to women in racing?
ASHLEY FORCE: I think it's a really great time in all kinds of racing that women, we've been involved in it for many years, but now we are really starting to show and improve what we can do in it.
I think for any driver male or female, it takes years to kind of get into the groove of things to succeed, and so it's fun that I'm in a time where there is so many women that are successful, and I'm very proud to be a part of that, because you know, there are still people -- and I don't hear very often but you know there's people that wonder if, well, can girls do it, this is a male-dominated sport, and I'm fortunate that I'm in the drag racing side of things.
I think women are very much welcomed in drag racing. The fans are excited to have them. The other male competitors are excited to have them, and I'm really thankful that I don't know if I can take all the criticism and the things that Annie went through when she raced, I don't know if I could have handled that. But thankfully we have come in a time when the men are happy to have the women there, still going to take them out and beat them, but equally as much the women want to take everybody they compete against.
When I race, I don't care if it's a male or female in the lane next to me; I just want to win that round and go on to the next round, and I think every driver probably feels the same way.
Q. And for John, when you see the kind of crash that Michael McDowell had at Texas and how he basically watched away without a scratch, do you just think about just how far racing safety has come, and how fortunate do you feel as a driver to be a part of that in terms of trying to make it safer?
JOHN FORCE: A lot of people, and a want to say this: That it looked like I was on a campaign that cars were not safe. I've been safe for 30 years and that wasn't what I was saying with my problems in the beginning.
It was time for change. The horsepower, the speeds that were running, NASCAR and IndyCar, F1 everywhere, you have to have change, and it's sad that we're so quick to get an ET slip that we just crash a car and drag another one out and stump our driver back in it.
When I lost Eric, it was a heartbreaker and it made me realize, something's got to change here. We've got to open our eyes and get our heads out of just trying to win. Yeah, but winning is what you sell a sponsor. Ford don't want to hear that, I want to build a better car and then I'm going to try to win. They want it all at one time. It's what the project -- and they understand the business
But when you look around, look back when the kid was killed in F1, the champion over there, when he was killed, it took that to make a statement to make people go to work. It took Dale Earnhardt, you know, he was old school like me, and I've got to be honest; that it was one of you media people, I'm not going to embarrass you, but it was one of you media people that came to me and said, "You're as stubborn as Earnhardt."
"Well, what are you talking about?"
" You don't wear a neck brace."
"No, I don't like a neck brace. I can't turn my head. I can't see the Christmas tree."
"Yeah, isn't it enough that we lost Earnhardt, but what's making me mad at you is that you are showing your drivers that they don't have to wear a head restraint, and somebody is going to get hurt."
And I said, "Well, that's the way I am."
So he said, "Well, this is the way I am, I'm going to write a story about you that you ain't going to like if you don't get the neck restraint."
About a week later I said, you know, he's right, because there is safety in it. That's why they make it and I put the head restraint on and I made my other drivers and we all got used to it and we have all grown from there.
So I thank that guy, I don't want to embarrass you, Jeff, but it was you that did that to me that made me so mad, like what does a media guy have the nerve to tell me to wear a neck brace, but he did and he was totally right.
We've evolved from there with multiple restraints to protect us because we have not even touched the iceberg and we have not even started to where we're going in the future. Hope I didn't make you mad, Jeff.
Q. Danica is getting a lot of attention this week for being the first woman, but women in NHRA have had a fair amount of success over the years of you and Melanie and Del Rae (ph) and the bikes, do you have any thoughts on why women maybe have had better success in NHRA than IRL or NASCAR?
ASHLEY FORCE: I believe there's just more opportunity in NHRA drag racing, so many different categories or levels of categories that you don't have to jump to a professional team with big-time sponsorship.
You can start with street cars, you can race sports men, super comps, you can do that with your family on the weekends, and I think that's where a lot of the female and male drivers came from is that they started in those lower ranks junior drag racing and they offered that for kids 7 to 16 I think. And that's where that love of the sport starts. And then as you grow and you learn about racing, the more you're growing up in racing as I did and a lot of the other females in drag racing did, you move through the ranks and then you end up in the professional categories.
So I think you'll just see more and more women as the years go by. It's just taken this amount of time to get all of us up into the professional ranks. But I know there's a lot of girls that will come up who are in the junior dragsters who will show pictures of their car who won races and who have just done amazing things, and they are eight, nine years old. It's awesome and they will be the ones that down the road will be competing against us in the pro ranks.
So I really think that's why. It's just opportunity, and that the people involved in racing, the sponsors, NHRA, the other competitors, they welcome the women and want us there and it makes us want to be a part of it.
JOHN FORCE: There's been a lot of women over the years that have been in this sport but as I was coming up through the ranks and I'm going up 25 years ago, Shirley Muldowney (ph), you all know, she tried to shove her out. I watched it and I watched her stand her ground and fight like nothing I've ever seen in my life. She would fistfight with anybody that tried to get in her way, and you know that movie, "Heart Like a Wheel," and I'm not trying to refer to the movie but this woman was not taking no for an answer.
That's what I tell Ashley. When the guys get on you and try to make it like you don't belong, you have to stand up like Shirley. Shirley would punch it out with them. I was there. I saw it. That's why I love her to this day.
Q. Have you ever lost to a woman in a drag race, and does it feel any different for you?
JOHN FORCE: The only woman I ever raced was a daughter, I think. I don't think I raced Shirley, not even in a match race -- Christian Powell (ph) actually I thought I raced. I don't remember if I won or lost it's been so long ago. Of course I lost to Ashley, she was my child, so I was excited to see her evolve and go to the next round.
I tell you, I've seen a lot of drivers over the years -- I won't maim names, but they used to say, he's going to get beat, he's got to race a woman. A lot of men got mental over women, like they just didn't believe she can beat them.
I turn that switch off. I wouldn't want to know who is over there. If I've got a driver that's a killer on the light, I don't want to know it. I want to play my game, drive A to B and do what I do. So if I'm going to race against Melanie or Ashley or anybody, I'm just going to do what I always do, I'm like a trained monkey, I just keep doing the same thing.
THE MODERATOR: As a footnote to John's history of racing, he and Ashley have raced twice against one another. The first race was last year in Atlanta. Ashley won that round. The second time they met was in Sonoma last year and John won that round. They are 1-1 against each other in their career.
Q. Is it better that Ashley doesn't have to fight the colorful characters that you and Shirley had to fight against? Her experience is going to be so different; is that good or bad?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, I think just as far as being a gal racing and having to go through that, there is enough you're focusing on already as far as just getting the car down the tracks and the craziness of the schedule each time you get to a track. I can't imagine throwing in people not wanting me there and being vocal about it
On a personal level, I'm thankful I go out -- I raced against Tim last week in the final, and we had a blast going up against each other and I am glad that's the situation I'm at, just because that's the type of person I am. I like when people are happy with me and I don't like when people don't want me around. And I like the group I'm around, especially the funny car class, they have been racing for a lot of years, and I've known most of them since I was in diapers, a lot of them.
The stories I remember from being a kid and dad racing against Hoffman, I remember it completely different from Dad, but I have great stories. I loved it. I loved the excitement and the two of them against each other. It was just a real fun -- fun memories that I have from being young from when I first really got into racing and loved being there and I always remembered the two of them. That was the big story from weekend to weekend.
JOHN FORCE: We have lost so many people, Pat Foster, just a list lately, but Al Hoffman he was interesting. I remember when Ashley was like three, four years old and how Hoffman came by the trailer because he got mad at me -- and I want to say this to Ashley.
Right now they all love and you you're John Force's little girl and a woman out there in a race car. But when it gets down there to the crunch of this championship, a lot of the personalities are going to be good people but they are going to fight to fight and they are going to use the head games, everything they can to beat you; that's what it takes. And that's what you're going to see as you stay in this game.
But Al Hoffman I remember one day he was so mad he got out of his car and punched a hole in the side of my race car, and I said, "What are you, nuts?"
And he was nuts, but he had a drive to win. I remember him looking at Ashley sitting in the dirt playing with her toys and he said, "Hey, I heard that's your kid."
"Yeah, that's Ashley, Al."
And he goes, "She's too cute." He goes, "I'd bet anything, she's not your kid." And just always throwing the mud at me. That's what he was; it was a fight from beginning to the end.
You know, later in years when I was fighting after he quit, I would get calls and he would say, "Force, don't let that rock caster beat (ph) you, stand up for us guys." It was like he was part of that era with me and he didn't want to see me give it up.
But yet last week at Vegas, when me and Katz (ph) were both struggling. We made jokes; here we have been these guys that have fought for the championship the last five years and here we are not even qualified and we joked that we've got to get our stuff together and if you're cars ain't going to run, you and I, we are good enough, we can fix them
Well, Katz fixed his, he qualified. I didn't fix mine obviously; I didn't make the show. We have our ups and downs and but in the heat of the battle we find to win. The head game is part of it, you don't want to get into it but you just want your opponent to know that you believe you're going to win at whatever cost.
Q. I'm sure you've been asked this question many times but what have you learned from your Dad both off and on the track?
ASHLEY FORCE: I think the biggest thing that I've learned from him is how important your team is, and that's always been one of the top things that he would talk about and how he loved his guys and they are like sons to him and you know, to really enjoy your team and not let it become such a business of racing but really that you're on the road with them and you're traveling to different places with them and you lose together and you win together about; it's those two guys around you that are really your closest friends.
You know, he taught me that, and I really see how important that really. So my crew chief, we do dinners each week to talk about what's going on in all of our lives, and it makes us a better team and we are that much tighter come race weekend. And if things are going wrong, we are there to work through it together instead being against each other. It just makes for a more successful team, and that's the biggest thing that I've gotten and learned from my Dad.
Q. You said you're back to 80 percent of your muscle mass and you're working in the gym to get back to 100%; when do you think you'll be back to 100% and second part, you indicated eventually it could be time for to you step out of the car and how would you recognize that?
JOHN FORCE: One, you know, with therapy, they had me using big, Giants four-inch wide rubber bands to get motion and doing all of these -- all the things that you do to get your body to bend again, and I kind of reached a point after three and a half, four months that I wasn't getting anywhere and they okayed me to go into a gym to work weights.
I lost 25 pounds and I wanted to put muscle back on, because if I'm going to compete with these kids, to race against the young people that are coming up, and stick around a while, I've got to be in better shape than I was. I haven't had a drink -- and trust me, nobody likes a beer better than me. But I haven't had a drink since the crash
And the doctor said that you need everything that you can, and one, you don't want to slip and hurt yourself; watch when you take baths. Give me all of these rules that if you're going to be back to where you were. But I really looked at myself in '07, and even though I was in the hunt for the championship, I wasn't the same guy. I didn't have the energy. I didn't have the strength. I was tired in the middle of the day. Basically Father Time was catching up with me
So through the crash, and I've always said, I'd do anything to have Eric back, we can't change that, but I would not change my crash.
So much came out of it and mostly in technology and the things that we learned but what I've learned about my own health, how to eat right, how to get my sleep and how to work out every day, and I've got to say, it's a religion and it's hard to do, but I think therapy got me into that.
So when I come back as a driver, when I get back 100%, John Force is going to be better than he was. And this ain't a bull drive story; I won't say something I can't back up. When I come out my reactions will be better. My timing, everything that I do, experience that I have is going to make me better.
Seat of the pants, like Ashley was talking about earlier, of just doing it and doing it and doing it. But my health is going to be stronger because I'm getting my strength back and I'm never going to be 25 again like Ashley, but I can stick around. I just signed for five more years last year, so I've got four years -- and as long as I can drive the car, as long as I can cut the light and as long as my heart is good to where I want to do this, then I'm going to drive -- like I said, I'm going to drive till I drop
The day that I can't do the job for the sponsors or that I fail the team on the racetrack, then I have no right. These kids work too hard to give you a winning car that as a driver has you failing
As long as I can do that, and that's why my drive -- I go to the gym some mornings and it's like, man, I can't do this, it's six days in a row, it's the seventh day; I can't do it. And then I say, well, you're going to have to give up your time in that seat because that scares me to death. I don't know anything besides driving these hot rods. We got into Hollywood and so caught up in making movies that racing it almost became secondary, and that's a big mistake I made. I'll never make that mistake again with myself or my family.
Back to racing, got a second chance is and with me and my kids and I'll be better and stronger. At the racetrack, people tell me, "you lost your gate," I didn't even know what that made. Dopper Dom had the walk; we all used to imitate and John Force had his walk. But I don't have it anymore. I kind of walk like a monkey when I'm tired. It's all I can do from one hip to the other, but I'm going to get back, and that's my whole goal in life right now and the other goal is to be with my family.
Q. Do you think some day you'll be going for your 500th race?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, that's a long ways off. But I didn't see, you know, I'm only in my second year of funny car but I've been racing now seven years and I've grown up at the track. I think it takes all that background, that these cars, there's a lot to them. It's not just going straight down a racetrack. There's so much physically and so much emotionally and mentally that I didn't realize was a part of it until I moved into the funny car class.
I also am fortunate to have a great team behind me and so many times people want to -- oh, talk about being a woman and this and that, but you've got to remember that I have a team of ten guys behind me that give me this awesome car to race, and they give me a safe car to race, and so, know, you can't take the credit. I am the female in the driver seat but they are the ones that get me up there to the line and tear down my car and put it back together and are 75 minutes between rounds, so they are just as much a part of this as I am.
So it's nice to be a female in it and doing well, but I absolutely would not be here without them.
Q. Can you compare the rigors of rehab to the quest of trying to win and get the championships?
JOHN FORCE: You know, it's a complete different way of life. But you have to dedicate your life -- you know, it's sad but when you dedicate to be a champion -- I don't mean just to win a race or to win a championship, but when you do the things like the New York Yankees did, when you do things like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt to where you dominated; you've got to give up something. Because you've got to live every day like an addiction.
I see Robert height the same way, my daughter, Aubray (ph) says, "Daddy, he gets off an airplane, he hugs me, he hugs the baby and he goes straight to the shop: Because race car is an addiction, you live it and it becomes a way of life and that's what it took me to dominate
Once I win a championship, then it starts all over again and then you become this machine and you just go, go, go, and you're winning, you're winning, you're winning, you even take winner's circle for granted. You're getting awards and records, I walk into banquets, do you know why you're here, well no, I really don't, I just know my said says to be here; well, you're getting an award because you did this.
Am I proud to be making 500? Well, yeah, that's something in a lifetime. I joke about it; if you stick around long enough, you'll get to 500.
What I'm more worried about is getting qualified and getting two rounds, or four rounds to get to that thousand. I couldn't even qualify at Vegas to get a round. So I have to get my stuff together
This doctor I met, Dr. Robert Ordemeyer (ph), he said: You want to be ready in two and a half months? I said, well, two other therapists didn't want the job. They said, you need six months, and then we'll take a look at you, and I said you don't understand, if I ain't back in my car for testing, I've got to turn the ride over to another kid and that means I lose the season.
And I've got to get back for sponsors, for a lot of reasons and because I want to. Your body doesn't bend and you have to go into this thing and you've got to live it to the point where I had my arms and fingers bent till I cried, and I'm so mad some days I want to slug him like he was being mean to me; and I said no, I told you, you have to live this every day
I remember Baysmore (ph), once thing he said to me that stuck in my head, he called me and said: You've got to go to therapy, because I went through it, and I only had one broken leg; I didn't have broken leg, broken arm, burn off fingers, burn off toes, knee screwed up. He said: You're a mess, you'd better go to therapy, you know what I mean, like you chased those championships in the last 15 years because if you ain't loving it, you'll never make it. It better be Disneyland, he said, every day. Don't let anything -- don't take your cell phone, don't let business -- and I turned the business off and I've got to say, my people ran it really good while I was gone
So to compare the two, completely different, but the same drive, the same motivation. In fact, that's how I got hooked on football again. I had not watched football since I was a kid and I played it at school, in high school, but I found that I could get up at four in the morning, five in the morning, turn on ESPN, start watching the football, the Tony Romo, all this stuff, and it would help me motivate to get back because they were showing it all day, all night.
Luckily through my rehab, football season was over, and I was ready to move on. I don't know what I would have done without it but it just got me caught up that every day I live by it, and what the teams were doing, what they were doing in training, and I got another addiction for it, and that's why my wife says, John, you never take a break, you go every day, even when I'm on the road guy to the gym at the hotel. If the gym ain't a good gym, it ain't good that I get my rubber bands out and I go to work with my little barbells that I carry in my suitcase, you've got to live. Getting well you've got to live it just like winning a championship.
If a man wanted to save his marriage, you've got to live your marriage the same way.
Q. Ashley are you amazed, when your Dad gets rolling, just watch him answer questions, or try to?
ASHLEY FORCE: It is, it's really interesting to see how far off of a question he can get, and I try to remember what the question was, and I can't remember, and somehow he always sums it all up and it's a funny story but he rarely actually answers I think what you guys are asking.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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