National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Ashley Force Hood
May 11, 2010
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome everybody. Our special guests joining us on today are six-time Pro Stock world champion Warren Johnson, driver of the K&N Pontiac GXP. Also 14-time Funny Car world champion John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang, and Ashley Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, the first female to win a Funny Car race in NHRA history.
Before we open it up to our three guests, we'll do a little quick housekeeping.
After seven events in the 17 race Countdown to 10, the regular season, the series points leader are Larry Dixon in Top Fuel, John Force for Funny Car, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock, and Hector Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The series is getting ready to embark on a grueling nine races in an 11-week stretch that begins this weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. This critical string of events also includes stops at Heartland Park Topeka after Atlanta, followed by a week off, then a four in a row stretch with consecutive stops at Chicago, Atlanta, Englishtown, Bristol and Norwall. Then the famed Western Swing follows, which has been slightly altered this year as it begins in Seattle, moves on to Sonoma and finishes in Denver.
After that wild stretch of races, the playoff picture will be finalized in mid August with the final race of the Countdown to 10, which will be the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota where the top ten championship fields in each category will be set. The six-race Countdown to One championship playoffs will start Labor Day at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
We'll start with Warren Johnson. Warren, I'll ask the first question for you. Two weeks ago in St. Louis, you won on your 97th career victory. Now that you've had some time to reflect on that, that must have been one of the craziest days you ever had at a racetrack.
WARREN JOHNSON: I'd have to say the way I'd describe it would be bizarre. I've never seen such a rash of fluke circumstances in all my years of racing. I started this in 1976, so it's a pretty good span.
You know, that's why they don't run races on paper. You have to be at the racetrack to run them.
THE MODERATOR: Where does that win rank and how does that win help you in terms of momentum for your program as now you're going to focus on getting into Countdown to One?
WARREN JOHNSON: We've been focusing on trying to get the performance of these cars where they need to be. We're off 3 or 4 hundredths where we would be extremely competitive. It's been a case we've been trying a lot of things, doing a lot of R&D. It's slowly been coming to fruition as far as coming up to is pace. I think we missed qualifying a couple times this year strictly because of performance. We're on the right path. We're just not quite there yet.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions for Warren.
Q. Warren, I was curious, obviously the age factor comes in there. How does your age affect you on a racetrack now do you think?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, it's like any athletic endeavor: You're never as good as you used to be (laughter). It's a case that this isn't quite the same as on-track racing or some of the more endurance sports. You can compete for quite a few more years than in some of the other forms of motorsport. At the same time you still have to be on top of your game.
Q. Do you feel like as a driver you're still pretty competitive?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, we're competitive. As I said before, you're never as good as you used to be. Yeah, years ago you could get (indiscernible) lights whenever I needed them. Now you really have to get it in the teens and 20s.
THE MODERATOR: Where does that win rank like in your 97 career victories and how important is it for you to get to a hundred wins?
WARREN JOHNSON: I never set a goal as far as the number of wins. One day when I get up, I'm going to say, That's enough of this, I'm going to move on to something else. I never set a goal for ultimate number of wins.
As far as where it ranks, it's just as important as the first one or any of them. When you're competing to win a championship, you have to win as many of these races as possible. They all pay the same. They all have the same points total. It's no more important from an emotional standpoint or any other standpoint than any of the other victories I've had.
But a win is a win is a win.
THE MODERATOR: Warren, when you talk about your program. You said after you won at St. Louis that you're getting closer to turning the corner. What do you feel it's going to take to turn that corner?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, you know, you have a number of factors involved. Obviously you have to have enough power to get these cars to perform at the level they're competitive at.
But at the same time you still have to be able to apply that power to the ground. It's a multi-fold approach you have to use. You have to have the power, figure how to use it and get it to the ground consistently and effectively. We've been working on all fronts. We feel we're competitive on power, we haven't been able to negotiate the early parts of the track, the 60s, the 330s. After that, we seem to be able to run with anybody out there. At the same time we have to work on the performance while doing R&D to find more power.
THE MODERATOR: Talk a little bit what it would mean for you to win in Atlanta, the track closest to your current residence and shop there.
WARREN JOHNSON: Yeah, I guess from an emotional standpoint, you would have a lot of friends and family and everything else out there, acquaintances. To win in front of them certainly would be important.
At the same time, we're trying to get into the top 10. So the only way we're going to be able to do that is race efficiently and effectively. We have to start going more rounds and hopefully win some more races this year.
Yeah, I'd enjoy winning at Atlanta like I'd enjoy winning anyplace.
Q. A few years ago you announced your retirement, then decided to not retire. Did you find it so difficult that you just decided, I can't do this, I want to continue racing? Too difficult a decision?
WARREN JOHNSON: That retirement was almost a forced retirement because one individual at GM had aspirations of getting all the money out of drag racing, and that was one way of her being able to do that. That was really nothing of my own doing. I just had to go along with it because of the way it was constructed.
I looked at it, I can still race effectively. Not as well as the driver I used to be for sure. But still I have to look at the quality of the competition out there. I feel I'm competitive as a driver. We just have to get the performance of the vehicles up to our standards.
Q. Speaking of the vehicle, what is the shelf life for the Pontiac GXP? The company is gone. How useful can that car remain? How many more years can you get out of it?
WARREN JOHNSON: NHRA had enough foresight to come up with what we call a box method of developing these cars where you have a certain wheel base, width, height and length. It still has to resemble the original vehicle and meet templates and so forth.
So aero-wise, aerodynamics, these cars are as good as anything out there. The past, there was a five-year rule on a particular body style after the body ceased production, it was five years after. We have a good, solid two years, three years left on this particular today. It's still competitive with any of the body styles out there.
That may be extended. I don't know. I have no idea what GM is planning to do, if they're, in fact, going to get back into drag racing, and if they do with what vehicle. I'm not privy to that information.
Q. You say it was almost a forced retirement. You kept with GM products. Is that just your loyalty to GM cars going back for 30 years?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, I've been with GM as far as being supported by GM since 1983. They have been an integral part of our program. I felt obligated, and at the same time they had a competitive product out there as far as Pro Stock racing. It really made no sense for me to switch body styles because the program, whether it had been Ford or Chrysler, would have been no more lucrative with what I had with GM. I felt since we had an arsenal of GM engines here, let's stay with this program instead of switching.
Q. You mentioned about your circumstances that led up to your win. Briefly what were some of the crazy circumstances?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, had to win the first round. Won that on a hole shot. I think Ron was a little late because my light was basically an average light. We were fortunate enough to win that round. Allen Johnson shook the tires in the next round, which he has a propensity to do, one out of five or six times. It happened to be that particular day. Mike Edwards broke something in the engine, I don't know exactly what it was in the third round. Then something happened to Jeggy. I don't know whether he forgot to turn the fuel pumps on in the final. He moved about three feet and that was it. We stayed consistent all day. I think we averaged from 6.66 to 6.68 or 9. We were competitive. Just made less mistakes than everybody else it what it amounted to.
Q. This four-year drought. Had you reached a point where you enjoyed competing but did you ever see yourself winning again? What was your mental approach during the last four years?
WARREN JOHNSON: We knew we were off on performance. We elected to stay with this DRC-3 motor, which I think there's only one competitor out there running it on a full-time basis. That's Ken Black's operation. Right now we're about the same performance level as they are. We feel just a little bit more development time on this thing we'll be right back to where we need to be performance-wise.
Yeah, it wears on you because you put a lot of long hours in there developing these parts and pieces. We're kind of a little bit different shop here. We do everything in-house. We make virtually everything here. We can keep control on the quality a little bit better. I'm not saying we're any better machinists or R&D people, but when you do everything internally, you can keep a little bit better control of it.
Q. What is the rule? Will you be doing this when you're 70? How do you see the future?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, you never know. I'm still enjoying it I always said, it's better than a job. If you do something that you enjoy, you don't really look at it from a standpoint I want to retire from it if you're enjoying it. As long as we can remain competitive and we get enough sponsor support to make this program a financial success, we'll still continue it.
Q. Warren, during this transition with all the business issues you talked about, being the observer that you are, how did you see things going and how much do you feel like you've adjusted, or specifically how did you adjust to everything that's helping you this year?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, we sat down about a year ago and looked at why we weren't competitive. Before you can solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. We felt we were doing too much R&D work in the wrong areas. Then what we had we weren't applying it efficiently in the racecar. We've got people now that's their only business, is basically as a car chief, to make that racecar is where it needs to be adjustment-wise and equipment-wise. Then my part of the program is to make sure we have enough horsepower.
Everybody seems to be getting along better with this type of program instead of trying to saddle all the problems and responsibilities on just one or two people. Everybody shares in this thing overall as far as making the program work.
Q. Do you feel it's possible to overanalyze things in the sport? Maybe it's kind of a back-to-basics approach that might be helping guys like you and John now?
WARREN JOHNSON: You hear in business micromanagers where they manage everything to death. You have to delegate responsibility and have regular meetings to address where you think you're lacking, what you think you can do to improve, who needs to accept more or less responsibility. It's called sharing of the wealth is what you really call it. With that approach we feel we're going to go a little more successful here shortly.
Q. Another age question. Sorry for that. Winning at 66 seems like a remarkable achievement. I'm wondering what, if any, kind of senior moments do you have?
WARREN JOHNSON: That's a perfectly valid question (laughter).
No, yeah, you'll have senior moments. We'll be doing things in the shop, I'm thinking about two or three different problems that we're attacking all at the same time. Once in a while, I'll just start focusing on one of them and completely forget about the other one.
Yeah, you can have a senior moment. Hopefully it's not on the starting line.
Q. Warren, how much harder are you driven because of Mike Edwards' performance advantage right now?
WARREN JOHNSON: I've never taken and looked at somebody else's program and tried to compare our program or do anything about what they're doing. I have no control over their program. All I have control over is my own program.
So we just keep looking at where we need to improve. We feel that, yeah, you know, it's quite reminiscent of when we dominated for 10 years. Bob Glidden did it for years, Greg Anderson, Jason Line had a run for five or years where nobody could beat him.
Mike is on top of his game right now. That's good. If it's the same person winning all the time, it gets boring. Basically it's stagnant as far as the sport is concerned.
It's almost a requirement to have different winners, not necessarily repetitive every race. If somebody dominates for one or two or three seasons, that's fine, because there's going to be somebody else coming along and it's going to get exciting again.
THE MODERATOR: Warren, we appreciate your time today. Good luck over there at Atlanta at the Summit Racing Nationals coming up this weekend.
WARREN JOHNSON: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Now move on to our next drivers on the call with us today, family members and teammates. Both are doing quite well this season in the Funny Car category, John Force and Ashley Force Hood. John turned back the clock this season with three victories and four final rounds and currently leads the points standings in Funny Car. Ashley is currently fifth in the standings with one runner-up finish. She's 10 points out of second place. So the competition in Funny Car is really tight this year.
Let's go ahead and start with Ashley. We'll get a question from Ashley and John and then open it up to the media.
Ashley, you have seemed consistent this year. Does watching your dad perform like it's the 1990s again give you any extra motivation on the track?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Yeah, it's definitely been a trip down memory lane for me. Fortunately, I've grown up a little since the '90s. I'm not wearing a side ponytail, but I am cheering on dad. It's good to see that team, after the struggles of the last few seasons, to be back on top where they're used to being. You can tell in our camp it's that excitement to have all three teams running strong and our boss back in the No. 1 spot.
THE MODERATOR: John, how much fun are you having this season?
JOHN FORCE: Well, I'm trying to figure out what a senior moment is, what you were just asking Warren. I just want to say we were really proud of him and excited. I know what it's like to struggle and to bounce back and get that win. When Robert won St. Louis, we went by Warren Johnson, we were cheering him on. He is a true champion and a winner. He's getting a few years. I think I'm a few years older than him, but we're still doing our job. It's pretty exciting and a lot of fun.
What was the question?
THE MODERATOR: How much fun are you having? It's kind of like you turned back the clock this season.
JOHN FORCE: I always have fun racing even when I'm getting spanked. There are no highs without the lows. I've been on a rollercoaster. Just kind of got stuck in the mud. With the changes we made, I addressed Castrol and Ford and Auto Club and everybody, said, I need a little help. They said by the great words of President Obama, you make change. Well, I don't know if it's working for Obama, but it's working for John Force Racing. We're back in the ballgame, especially me. Ashley and Robert were finishing 1 and 2 in the championship, but I wasn't even in the game, but I was still having fun.
I'm excited. The media is still talking to me, just barely. So life is good.
My kid, just really proud of Ashley, what she's doing to help her sisters come up through the ranks, Courtney wanting to go pro in a Funny Car. Life couldn't be better.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to media for questions for Ashley and John.
Q. I'm the one that asked about the senior moment. If you have figured out what it is, can you share it with us?
JOHN FORCE: There's a moment you're sitting out there in that racecar. I'm not stupid. I know my age. Yeah, I've been performing. But I think living in the gym, I had a lot of those senior moments. I joked about it. I had days in the gym, it was very emotional.
It was Ashley, her mom, sisters, pick your head up, you'll get back to that dream. Even if we all thought it was bull, just keep trying. The last couple years I've been kind of faking it. But I even called last year the No Excuse Tour. The truth is, I am back in good shape. I'm living in the gym. It's start to show on the racetrack.
Do I got a good racecar? Without a doubt. But my physical and my mental being is really strong. I've got those senior moments, yeah, there were days I thought it's over, not gonna make it. But I have gotten back and I just got to keep doing it. I hope that I can. I pray that I can continue to just do the job so the sponsors will let me race.
The fans, they'll let you race no matter how bad you do because they love you. But sponsors, they got to sell products. They do that through us by winning. So I'm doing okay.
Q. Ashley, does your dad ever seem like he ages at all or is he still a young guy to you?
JOHN FORCE: She's laughing at me because she's watching me, I've got eight bottles of pills that I'm taking.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: He does have his moments where he just forgets things, like everyone does. I don't think it's his age. I think it's more how much stuff he has on his plate, and that would make any person forget what they're doing (laughter).
Q. Ashley, could you recount last year's final, how the visibility played into the race at Atlanta?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: The final in Atlanta? Yeah, it was an evening run. We went up to race. I'm trying to remember what happened.
JOHN FORCE: You got in trouble in the dark and said those lights were hitting you in the eye.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I think the problem was, and everybody was facing it, I just hadn't been in that situation before going down the track. Most every event is set up pretty good with the lights. We're usually not running at that time of day. I think there were some rain delays, we were pushed back a little.
So when I was going down the track, I couldn't see. We pinpointed it to reflection on the track, maybe the spotlights at the end of the track that were there to help everyone to be able to see. If you were looking at it from the right angle, it could kind of blind you.
I got down track. I was on probably one of our best runs we ever had, of course. But when you can't see, you're not going to win a race by crossing a center line or hitting a wall or doing anything unsafe. I decided to lift.
I was really bummed. I was upset. When I went back and talked to my team, they said they backed me up for what I did. There's always another race. If there's a race where you can't see or feel uncomfortable, shut off. They would have been mad at me if I hadn't. If you're going 300 miles an hour, you're not seeing where you're going...
We'll be differently prepared going into that. Never had any problems there before. Just that one run. Hopefully that won't get us into that situation again. Maybe we can have a better outcome.
Q. John, you struggled really hard the last couple of years. You're on top. How much easier is it to show up at the track now?
JOHN FORCE: There was times, when you've had so many years like me of winning, you come through the gate and the fans are cheering, then you see the change of them like, Come on, Force, you can do it, we love you, your kids are there, my wife. It's embarrassing. When you've been good, and I was good over the years, then all of a sudden to be in the cellar, it was tough.
Maybe that's the joke of senior moments where you think, Maybe it is over. But the truth is I really love what I do. Especially now, I can't even tell you how I feel. I love to watch Robert. Even when he beats me, I stand at the end of the track and I watch his interviews. I'm so excited to watch Ashley, Robert and Brittany and Courtney. When they lose, they're emotional, when they win. This sport to me is really something special.
I know what it takes to win and to lose. To watch them getting to go through what I went through for so many years, oh, it's painful. When you look back on it, it was the greatest time of my life. If I'm guilty of anything, I'm guilty of not wanting to let go.
I'm like Warren. I'm not speaking for Warren, but it's all we know. It's what we love. Every day in that car, every loss is a learning curve of how to be better. We just don't want to give it up.
I want to still show my kids that I'm good. Some of them are so little they don't remember when I was winning, you know what I mean, or when I was dominating. I really do love it. I'm going to do this till I drop. Probably be on a racetrack someday. It will be real embarrassing. But I'll have my kids there and my family to pick me up. It's just what the Force family does.
Q. Ashley, now that your dad is back on top of his game, leading the points, do you want to beat him that much more?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: You know, the toughest people I think to race are the people on your own team because they're also the people you cheer for. When you go out, it's a saving grace for you that even though you lost, you have people to go up on the starting line to root for and cheer on.
When I run against them, the pressure is off. I feel when I run dad or Robert, we can have some fun, not make ourselves nervous or sick, but may the best car win. It's a different feel than running other team, the Schumacher teams, Pedregon, Worsham, all the other teams we compete against. You do feel different going against them.
I do feel I push harder running other camps because they're our competitors, and my teammates, they're my teammates. Maybe that's the wrong way to look at it, but that's how I do it. I spent many more years in my life cheering on my family than competing against them, so I'm still adjusting to kind of changing my way of thinking.
JOHN FORCE: I'm having a senior moment. May I say something?
THE MODERATOR: Go ahead, John.
JOHN FORCE: I sat in this office over 20 years ago interviewing right here probably some of you folks. I can remember sitting here, Ashley and her sisters running around the office, her mom over at her desk, and I had my hand over the phone. I'm yelling, Ashley, would you hold it down over there, be quiet Brittany, I'm trying to talk and do this interview and get it right, put town that trophy. Laurie would say, Are they going to break your trophy? You have a ton of them. Now to be sitting here and looking at Ashley in the jacket that she won an NHRA championship race at Houston, looking at her interviewing with you, if that's not a senior moment, I got to watch out or I will sit here and cry because from that little baby, to being this girl hustling this 300-mile-an-hour Funny Car, it just don't seem real.
There are a few women that are doing it. It was amazing we thought it was a man's job. They were just kids. Melanie Troxel. The other kids out there. To watch them grow up and do what they do, let me tell you something, this is amazing of what they can do these young women, not just Ashley, but the others, Hillary Will, what they can do with a Funny Car or a dragster. I can't even imagine it. So anyway, that's that.
Q. John, I want wanting to know how much of a factor having your family with you, not just in the pits and garage, but on the track with you, how much of a factor was that in your comeback?
JOHN FORCE: In my office there's pictures of my wife Laurie backing the racecar up, mixing the fuel. She wrote the contracts in the early days. When she had Ashley, our world started changing. She came to the opening race at Pomona, she could go to Indy, and the Western Swing because of summer. But I started evolving away from my family.
You wake up someday one day in a bar somewhere, Like where are my kids, where is my wife? You look around and you become this superstar and you believe that you're something special. It's like I blamed NHRA. I did what I was supposed to do. I raced. I won. I lost my family. All of a sudden it was like NHRA took my kids away from me. My wife and I weren't close anymore.
Because of Ashley, 16, wanting to go to Frank Hawley's driving school, and her sisters don't want to be drivers like me, every interview, we want to be like Ashley because they were really close together. I got a second chance that they'd come back with me through racing. I thank NHRA for that.
The crash, if anything, in '07, they spent weeks in the hospital with me just listening to me whine and go through the pain. But they stayed right there. And, boy, it's a real wake-up call to what really matters in life. Your children, your wife, it's everything.
I got a second chance. I'm a real lucky guy. I lived in the gym to show them that I could come back and be part of this family and hopefully to teach my kids. But just to be a part of it.
That is my energy every day. Every day when I see Ashley on the racetrack when she gets beat, she's all bummed out, it builds my energy to get on her to where I'm a pain in the butt to her. When she sees me coming, she goes the other direction because I rag and rag and rag. But that's what builds champions, to stay on top of it and fight it every day.
But she's doing well. I could go home to wherever you go in the end and Ashley will go on and she will chase that dream that she loves. I know someday, could be tomorrow, she wants to have a family. She's going to address that in her own way. But we're excited for that opportunity, too. When the woman says it's time, just like my wife, it's time.
There's a lot of things in John Force's house. There's the other daughters that can race. They're going to want to have families, too. I'm in a good position with my wife. I'm close with my wife now. That surprises a lot of people. We always loved each other, but we went different directions. I'm giving you a lot of stuff you're not asking for. I'm in a confessional. Ashley is staring at me, but it's all the truth.
Q. Ashley, how did it affect you watching your dad struggle so much at the same time you're trying to establish your own name in the field?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: It was tough. Last season around this time in the year, through the spring and summer, my team, everything kind of came together for us and we were running really good. We were winning races, going to final rounds, leading the points to few times during the season. It was very bittersweet because we were so excited to be a newer team and be doing so well, yet our own teammates were both struggling. My dad and his team who won so many years, had such success, who we learned from, and also Robert's team who came so close year after year to that championship. Those were the two that we really felt would be the ones going after the No. 1 spot, yet we found ourselves in that position.
But the thing I can say about that is both of those teams, they never showed that they were envious or upset. They were just a hundred percent supportive. They cheered us on. They were on that starting line whether it was a semis or final that we were in. Even if it was them that they beat the round before, they would come over and help us out. They really did feel at the end of the day we were one big team. It was great to know they were happy for us.
Now when the tables are turned, we can give our support as well. If we struggle, we'll be there cheering them on. Coming November, we want any of these cars to be in the No. 1 spot. To be 1-2-3 would be amazing.
I think this year we're all starting out really strong. I think we have a really good shot at it. If we can't get into slumps which happen from time to time, but if we all keep doing how we're doing, I don't see why we couldn't end up being 1-2-3.
Q. Ashley, can you talk a little bit about last year. You set a course record and you won the race at Topeka. Can you talk about what that has meant to you.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: We're trying to remember what happened last year. I don't think I won Topeka.
Q. You set the track record there.
JOHN FORCE: Speed record I think you set.
Q. You were runner-up and set the track record for speed.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: We're now going into the warmer events. It's just a different time in our season. The beginning of the year is kind of just getting back into the groove of things. The end of the year it's all about the championship. But now is really the time that you get some good laps down the track and really get to know your car because we are going to be seeing a lot of conditions. It kind of just depends on where you're at in the country racing, what the weather decides to do.
These next few races, Atlanta, Topeka, Englishtown, it can be cool there and it can also be hot and muggy there. That's really where the crew chiefs are going to flex their muscles and see if they can figure out the tracks as quickly as possible and have it down before race day.
We've tended to do well during this time of the year, like Topeka, Atlanta, Houston, in the past three seasons before this one, that's where we got into a stride, went rounds, were consistent. We're hoping to keep that up.
I don't know why that is. It seems every driver has certain tracks they do well at. This time of year is when we seem to do really well. We're going to try to take advantage of that, get our cars figured out. It's a new season. You can't count on last year or the year before that. You have to go with what you got and do the best you can.
It's exciting to return to a track that you've done well at in the past. You do have those memories. You remember that feeling. You feel like maybe you have a little bit of an advantage to others because you have done well there.
Q. Anything about that race? You were the No. 1 qualifier. Anything that cost you a victory there?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: No. I don't remember anything in particular. It just wasn't our day. Capps is a really tough competitor, good team. He's always one that when you go up to run, they have the ability to win that race.
Really, that's how we feel about every person in Funny Car because the class the last few years has gotten very competitive. There's really not anybody that you're not going to count on getting down that track and have a good time. That's why the points are as close as they are. I think it's more exciting for the fans like that and us as well.
THE MODERATOR: Ashley was runner-up to Ron Capps. She was the No. 1 qualifier in her performance. Set the track ET record 4.107 seconds and the track speed record or 295.59.
Q. John, you gave me a senior moment talking about 20 years of interviews. I wanted to ask you, sir, with your lead, the way the car has been performing, are you looking to maybe experiment a little bit here and think about what you need to do for the Countdown?
JOHN FORCE: No, right now we're staying focused. We are testing with NHRA with the smaller fuel pumps. We tested at St. Louis. We'll be testing after Chicago. That's because NHRA, they're trying to change the motor programs, to build a motor that's not so explosive, you know, to try to stop some of the problems that we've had on the racetracks with these fires and the bodies flying off. We have been testing that.
That is in a complete different car we put together.
As far as our racecar goes, John Force Racing is always in test mode to try new things. We're really staying focused. I haven't had a championship in a few years. Ashley wants a championship. Robert wants to repeat. So we're going to stay focused because we think our combination may not be way ahead of the pack.
But we found consistency in our motor program with the Boss 500 and this new chassis that we built that I'm driving, I actually have the first chassis that came out of the project in Indy. So that car is really working. Robert is waiting for his to be delivered in the next week, then Ashley is going to get one because we believe there's something in the new chassis, the way it's been designed. John Menlin (phonetic) was a big part of that. So we know that Schumacher is going to get that information also. So he'll be looking at that technology if it interests him.
But we see it working for us. We're going to stay on track, go down the road, not get lost like a lot of teams get ahead in the beginning of the season, then at the end they struggle. Nope, we're going to stay focused and see if we can get another championship.
THE MODERATOR: John and Ashley, how do you mentally and physically prepare for a stretch of races like we have coming up here with nine races in 11 weeks in a row?
JOHN FORCE: I'm excited. I can't speak for Ashley. She approaches racing different than I do. I'm full throttle, yelling and screaming. She's like her mama. That's why I love looking at her. She always looks at me like, What is the old man going to say next that sounds crazy? We found our balance how we get along. We have our days of fighting for that win because she wants to win.
THE MODERATOR: Nine races in 11 weeks. Western Swing in there. Four races on the East Coast. Atlanta, Topeka.
JOHN FORCE: She was in the gym the other night with her mother. She's physically in great shape. You wonder how she sets these speed records. She's a hundred pounds lighter than me. I carry a lot of ballast on my car I wish I could get rid of. At the end of the day, she's young, physically fit.
Me, I'm in the gym. I pulled a muscle the other night in my back. I've been in the gym two years, eight months. I came home and my wife said, You look like two years ago. What happened? Said, Got too aggressive, hurt my back. Had to work on it last night. Felt real good. I'm ready to go. Bring it on. I want to race every week. I just love it.
You know, I go out there, the fans to me aren't fans, they're friends. I look forward to seeing people, seeing them in the stands. I know it's an overload for Ashley. I've been doing it for years. It's all been thrown on here the last few years. Her crowds and sales are bigger than mine. She's a woman in a 300-mile-an-hour racecar. I'll let her tell you how she's going to approach it. I'm going to approach it running full stride. If I fall I just fall. But that's the way I'm going to do it.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Dad already answered it.
JOHN FORCE: All right, baby. We're supposed to have equal time here.
THE MODERATOR: Ashley, any thoughts on that, with 11 weeks coming up, how close the points are with basically 10 points separating 2 through 5?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: It's a lot of time on the road. I think a lot of teams and drivers do like that it's kind of one right after the other because you do kind of get in the swing of things. It's hard when you have a race, you go home, you're off for a week or two, it takes a little bit of time to get back into the groove. When you're hitting one after the other, staying on the road, it's almost easier because then you're just in your routine and you're going through each week into the next.
I'm excited to get to Atlanta, see my team. I'm going to be staying on the road all through next week because we have some media and different things we're doing, an event with Castrol. I think that's just a good way to start getting prepared. Then we go to Topeka, have a weekend off, then hit it hard with a lot of races, more on the East Coast.
I'll be planning my packing accordingly tomorrow because we only allow 50 pounds of weight in your luggage or less. I push it every weekend. It is a lot of time on the road. Little things like laundry and things like that you do have to get figured out before you leave town. That's just the little things that go along with what you do.
The teams have the toughest part because they do live on the road. We can come home in between. When they pull the machines out of the shop, which they're doing today or tomorrow, they're not going to be back for quite a while. It's toughest on them.
JOHN FORCE: Densmore (phonetic), our PR man called, one of them. He said, I looked at you and Ashley and Robert's schedule the next five or six weeks. Are you going to be able to get home? We go back to Atlanta. The Coke dinner. We fly to New Jersey. We go to Topeka. We go to Wisconsin for shows. That's when you get in the run of things, get in the groove. You come back home and get into the office and the office is painful. I love being out in the street, and so does Ashley, even though she hates never getting to come home. Boy, once you get in that fight mode of racing week after week, you just get better, sharper, your mind is right because that's all of the focus, is how to win.
So I'm looking forward to it. So is Robert. My other two girls will be out there, Brittany and Courtney. They're on a limited schedule, so we're pretty excited about the coming weeks.
Q. Ashley, your father is arguably the most popular drag racer of all time. You growing up in his shadow, how much gratification do you get shining on your own now?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Well, you know, it was never about being in anyone's shadow. I liked cheering him on. He's definitely more of an outgoing personality than I am. It was actually helpful to me when I moved up the ranks and started getting more and more attention to kind of be in his shadow. It was a little overwhelming, not something I thought about. But to be in front of crowds, to be on stages, things like that, it's part of what we do. Yet probably the part I struggled with more than anything.
In a way it was a benefit to me to kind of be able to be under the umbrella of John Force Racing and get to learn the ropes and yet let him do his thing. It's worked out well. It's been a good balance. I think when you talk to me and dad and Robert, we all have very different personalities and backgrounds, yet we all love to drive these Funny Cars. I think the fans like to see that, that we aren't cookie cutter people. Even when we're all related in our own camp, we're all very different. It just goes to show the variation there is in NHRA drag racing. I think that's why people love to come and see a race because there's such a good mixture of different kinds of people.
JOHN FORCE: It's funny. On the airplane coming home the other day, Robert said, You ought to read this book. It was a book on Dale Earnhardt. I read the whole book in like two hours. It was a picture book. But watching Dale Earnhardt, Jr., what he's into now, really a struggle because they expect that he has to win a championship. He's no different than anybody else. There's a lot of drivers out here that haven't won championships. Not that they haven't deserved the right and been so close, but it happens that you don't sometimes.
To watch Earnhardt, I thank the Lord that I'm here to be here for Ashley and her sisters because I feel sometimes Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is lost without his dad. I think he's doing great. He's in the fight. He's the biggest media machine in NASCAR. The money income is huge, nothing compares, not even his dad, to him. Yet I feel sometimes us dads, as big a pain as we are, sometimes we can help. I try to help Ashley when I can.
But she's got the confidence of a family around her, a great husband with Danny Hood and a great team led by Ron and Dean. Sometimes I worry does Earnhardt, Jr. have that because I know what the dad wanted for his son and the kid is having to do it on his own. There's writing books in the stores, When will this hero legend become a legend? I think you have to make that in your own time.
I really believe they ought to give Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a little bit of slack. What's he guilty of? Making a lot of money. He didn't cause all that. It was kind of handed to him because of the name.
He will prove himself in time because I believe he is his daddy's son, as Ashley is my daughter. I believe only time, these kids will go down that road of the dream, the dreams they want. I just have to throw that in.
THE MODERATOR: We certainly appreciate you, John and Ashley, for joining us on the call today. Good luck to you at the upcoming race in Atlanta. Appreciate the media joining us on the call. We look forward to seeing you all at races down the rest of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Tour.
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