National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
October 30, 2013
SCOTT SMITH: We have John Force, who clinched his 16th world championship in Funny Car in dramatic fashion as he was racing up against his daughter Courtney in the finals of Las Vegas.
John, we'll hop right into it. You won numerous championships in a lot of different fashions. How was it in that final to win the race, beat your daughter, win the 16th championship in Las Vegas?
JOHN FORCE: Well, I was so goofed up, it was probably the worst interview I'd ever done. I didn't realize I had it right there. I knew there were things that could cost you points. I knew I was getting out of reach of Hagen or Beckman or even Robert Hight catching me.
When I got out of the car, they hit me with, Force, once you're understand, I didn't understand where is our interview that we always do. It kind of hit me is this for winning the race or the championship, because they didn't want to tell me. Anyway, I had to pay attention more.
No, it was really exciting. Fans had signs Sweet 16. I don't know if I like that or not at my age. I felt 16, felt like a kid again.
Racing my daughter, would have been good to go down to Pomona. That's why I'm out today, I'm out at the world famous derby for a press conference here, I'm going to be promoting the race all day to put people in the seats, that they can come see the 16-time champion and all the champions.
It's a great race. It's the Auto Club finals. But I wanted to get it done and I needed to take her out and I did it.
SCOTT SMITH: Like John said, he is on a media tour in the Los Angeles area this afternoon, so we'll get through as many questions as we can.
Q. Mid-season you shake up the entire team by crew chief changes. Did you envision yourself winning the championship after that? Is that the turning point of the whole season?
JOHN FORCE: It became a turning point. I'd been in three final rounds with Mike Neff. Courtney beat me at the New England inaugural race in the final. I couldn't seem to get around her. That's why I was on my toes wanting to close this thing out. I didn't want to have to go to Pomona.
I like the excitement, you know what I mean, the hype, but I wanted to close it. I couldn't take any chances. I'm trying to sell corporate America. You all know that. I've hired Just Marketing. I have my TV show back. Coming back next year with Octagon. I hired Rogers & Cowan, a publicist group. I needed to deliver and show that I could win.
It was my wife that made the statement, You're upset over the loss of Ford and Castrol. I want to make it clear, they have been great to me. I'm with them next year. But I've got to find new partners for 2015. I needed to have that championship as part of it.
I got my mind right. But we had flip-flopped for only one reason: that I might have to go to Top Fuel. I thought that's maybe what Castrol was talking about. They talked about dropping a team. I thought, If I got to go, I have to go with Jimmy Prock. Jimmy Prock has run Top Fuel. My daughter Brittany struggled all year. Starting to run now, brand-new chassis. We tested it at Vegas.
But when we got the new chassis with Jimmy Prock, that's when it started running. We believe the car was a big part of the change. Jimmy found it. It was like magic took place. We could do no wrong. And the confidence was unbelievable that we had. The support from Hight, Mike Neff, the whole brain trust was in that fight to win the championship.
The only one trying to beat me was Courtney and her crew chief, because she's trying to move up in the points. We wanted to finish out one, two, three, with me, Robert and Courtney. We got a shot at that at Pomona.
Q. Speaking of Courtney and testing in Vegas, that 397, that is a big run. In the post-race interview with Courtney, you could tell she was really happy for you winning the championship, but you could also tell she was really upset she lost to you. Is she really that competitive?
JOHN FORCE: She really is. All my girls have a different way. Ashley, you would never know she was upset unless you really looked at her face and watched what she said. Brittany is the same way. But Courtney is different. We fight when we go to the movies. We'll stand out in front of the movies. I get in there, I try to put salt on my popcorn, she'll take it away from me, and butter, because the doctors tell me to kind of watch my weight and everything. Every day with her is a fight.
I love her with all my heart. But the other two, Ashley and Brittany, teamed up against me, the two of them together are never the headache that Courtney has been since she was a baby. And winning is all she does. She don't have time for the boys. Her first love is her racecar. I taught her that.
But she isn't why I needed to win. I needed to show corporate America I'm still in the fight, the game. She drives a racecar. It's what the agencies do. I knew the importance and couldn't take a chance, even though the need was stretching, that I needed every point, that any need to get to Pomona, don't qualify. Something stupid goes wrong, it happens. Get some oil down. Then they told me the oil down rule has changed this year. I never read a rule book, so I didn't know you couldn't lose points in oil down. That's why they said it was over if I was able to beat her.
But I was gobbling up like Pacman. Everything I could eat on that table. I said Jimmy, Are we pushing it? He said, No, this is running in the 3s. I said, Nobody is running in the 3s. It's not the altitude of Denver. He said, This car will run in the 3s.
On Monday Courtney runs 397, 327. They took it away from her when she ran 329. So probably the numbers didn't show it, but the numbers showed she ran 401 when they slowed her down. The biggest thing I got to get her is to stop driving out the back door. She likes to improve. She likes to see all. She's a little shit. She's a pain in my side.
Q. Probably nobody knows more about championships than you do. Could you share how you become a champion, what it is to be a champion, people that haven't got there yet.
JOHN FORCE: A lot of kids weren't even born when I was winning championships. Nobody remembers when I was losing, when I was being spanked by the Snake and Mongoose and Kenny Bernstein. The first 10, 12 years of my career, like Snake said, I was a joke, just somebody they called that I guess the term was 'fodder,' somebody they would put in the show so they could get beat.
When I got to the winner's circle, it was like finding the fun. Castrol, Ford, Mack Tool, coming onboard with us with my daughter Brittany, if they hadn't come onboard, the girl wouldn't be racing. Can't do it without corporate America.
I knew about losing nine final rounds. Couldn't win a race let alone a championship. When I started winning, got enough black eyes on race day, I knew how to turn off that switch of pressure. I see a lot of drivers have it because they want that win. Every now and then, over the years, it would come back. I'd find myself sitting there in the car, You've got the team, you've got the car, you've got luck, all you need to do is not screw this up. Find yourself, turn off that switch, the fear that makes your knees knock, you know what I mean, makes you sweat so bad you can't see through your visor. I learned to handle it.
But I studied a lot of sports books about how to do it, how to fail, but how to do it right. I'd learn from it. That's what I did. It turned the switch on. I didn't even want to know that was Courtney next door to me. She even said later, Dad. I heard you honey. But not right before we ran, you always do. I hunted you at the end of the racetrack in the semifinals because I knew we both won and we were going to the final. I didn't want to see you anymore. I love you, want you to do your best, but I needed to race you like I was racing Matt Hagan. That's what I needed to do.
I didn't need the emotion to take over that that's my little girl, or I would have choked. I needed that round. Probably the worst that I've ever needed to win a round to win a championship, I needed it in my whole career more than my first championship. This is the one that's going to keep John Force in business.
Earnhardt made the statement, I said it on TV, he told his people in the boardroom, I was there: I'll do the winning, you guys sell me. I want no excuses.
Well, I'm not exactly Dale Earnhardt. I don't try to kid nobody. He had confidence like you couldn't believe. But so do I. But I believe luck is a big part of it. We got the job done.
Q. I was curious about reaction times physically and mentally as you get older. We're not that far apart in age. Mentally I don't think I am any different reaction-wise than when I was in my mid 20s, but physically I don't know. Have you noticed over the years that physically the reactions are more difficult to come by?
JOHN FORCE: Yeah, that was only because of age. Probably anything that has saved me, that changed my lifestyle, hell, even my wife likes me now, at least until that final round with her daughter. If you noticed all the grandbabies were in the car, Jacob, Ashley, Noah, they were in Courtney's car in the final, and my wife. Autumn, my granddaughter, was my only grandkid with me. She stayed with grandpa.
But on reactions, I'll try to make these short, when I crashed, I changed my lifestyle. I ain't saying I don't have a glass of wine every now and then, but my party days are done. If I'm going to race with these kids, I have to live in the gym. I was in the gym every night. The lady in the restaurant, fans said, We were in here last night, you've had tomato soup every night. What is the deal? Because I have to eat right. There ain't no room for a steak, not Friday night, not Saturday night. And Sunday night I went back in and I had the soup again, it was so good. And my wife even said, Why? I said, Because I have trouble sleeping if I eat wrong. I know what it's going to take tomorrow to race against Hagan. He's young, strong as a bull. He's got the heart, he's got the dream. I've got to have everything perfect. I've got to have eight hours of sleep.
I worked out in the gym three days in a row to make sure that I was right on track. And my reactions are there.
Tom McCune called me and said, Force, bring your Christmas tree home. Come home and work it all week. You got two weeks off. You'll get out of the groove. I was in a couple final rounds in a row, won them both, Redding and Missouri. So I did everything right. That's what it's going to take for John Force to continue to be a champion.
Changed my life. But I did this years ago. The one thing I did wrong is my company has grown so big, I got too big for my britches. And losing Ford and Castrol in 2015, and we don't know, things could change, hell, maybe they'll stick around, but I know this, you can't focus on corporations that build buildings and restaurants, and you can't focus on the other stuff that I do in the chassis shop, in the motor program, I can't be involved in the entertainment company. I'm trying to micromanage everything.
I'm sitting on the end of the bed telling my wife, If I don't get the money, my racing's done. She said, Well, why don't you focus on winning. You don't get into the winning mode till you get to the racetrack. That was the one mistake I did.
I called in my company. I said, Nobody talks to me business until this championship's over. That started back in Missouri. I went into Missouri with my head right. I'm going to focus. Everything else has got to stop. I was in the middle of a design. Nobody talks to me. Your head goes in the wrong direction and you don't know it. You think you're in the game, you miss something that is critical.
Jimmy told me, We're putting too much heat in the clutch, it's losing its consistency. I went off into my other businesses and forget. He rode it and put it in the trailer. Every day he told me, Focus on what we're going to do. Jimmy, like Austin Coil, very sharp cookie, knows what it takes to win.
Like I said, we got it done.
Q. To backtrack to something you said earlier, would you seriously have considered chucking your Funny Car career if Castrol wanted you to run a Top Fuel car at age 64?
JOHN FORCE: I made a statement, Funny Car is what I do, it's who I am. There's nothing to prove for me in dragsters. I'm John Force, but I work for people. I'm an employee. Just like my employees work for me. If they tell me I have to go drive a dragster, if they told me I have to go drive a motorcycle, whatever it takes. I never realized twice in my life I've never had a fear of losing the love I have for NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing, how much I need the fans, how much I need to drive and wake up. I always joke that if I quit driving, I'd end up like Marlon Brando, weighing 300 pounds in six months. It's the only thing that when I put my pants on in the morning makes me diet.
John Force, people don't believe it, but I'm a very nervous guy. That's why I talk all the time.
Hell, I forgot the question.
Q. I asked you about would you have gone to Top Fuel. You answered it basically.
JOHN FORCE: No choice. That's what I got Jimmy for. He said, Are we really going? I said, I have to be prepared to know this team well enough that we have to go into next year especially when I'm looking for sponsors, I've got to win. We might as well learn together to be a team.
I learned these kids, because I've known them for years. I've known Jimmy since he sat on the tailgate when I used to race his dad in the Tom and Jerry Funny Car, the Detroit Tiger he drove, when Jimmy was a little kid. I remember sitting there, him and I eating hot dogs, drinking soda pops, because I was usually beat out of the race. His dad would say, Can you watch my kid? I got nothing to do. I love that guy. I watched him grow up. Anyway, that was the reason for Jimmy. He was the guy that ran the dragster and did well.
There was nobody else. That's why I moved Robert with Mike now. Auto Club deal was done. They weren't going to do a dragster. That's a Funny Car deal.
Okay, next question.
Q. In all of the conversation that you've been having, all the answers to the questions, you sound like a rookie senior driver. Senior people start at age 65. They're rookies as seniors. Do you feel like you're just getting all started over?
JOHN FORCE: Can I tell you truthfully? I've had a lot of crossroads where I thought I was broke. Sitting in Memphis, not knowing which way to go. My dad called me. Hey, NHRA has a rain-out, now the guys that are going to run the match race there in Houston, all those guys are going back, they need you. It was a crossroads for money that got me to the next race.
But twice in my career I really felt it was over. It terrified me. That's when I laid in that hospital in Texas, in Dallas. The doctors said, We're going to struggle to make you walk because you're a mess. You're broken on the left side, the right side, the upper right wrist. You're going to be lucky to walk good. It's going to take a lot of work. So quit thinking about racecars and get your head into this.
I laid there sick for four or five weeks. Then I came back. I said, Okay, I'm back. They'll never take it away from me till I say it's over. Ford and Castrol hit me for 60% of my budget. If I don't replace that, I can't race. My machine is too big, you know what I mean?
That's why in the bed in the morning, my wife said, You're so busy now chasing money, press conferences, just go win. Everybody loves a winner. So what I'm saying is I knew I got to find a sponsor. Winning is the key. Everybody wants a winner. That's just the way life is.
I went and saw that movie Rush. I watched it three different times. My wife said, Are you going to go see it again? I said, Yeah. There's things I learned in there about attitude and winning, different styles.
Still ain't figured out who John Force is. My wife says I'm so full of it. One day you're one personality and the next you're another. Probably the best friend I've ever in my life is my wife. She's gotten me through all this.
Anyway, next question.
Q. What is the earliest you've ever lost your voice coming into a race at Pomona?
JOHN FORCE: I've done that before. I get so wound up, blow my throat out.
I'm just excited to get to this race because I got a car that can win. But all my cars, Robert's car ran 403 at testing. I'm loving it. But I know I've got a future now. I'm being honest. I'm not trying to kid nobody. I was sick for weeks. I didn't let anybody know it, but I went right into fight mode. That's why media, everything, I want all that I can get because I'm trying to sell corporate America, and I will. If not, I'll be on the start line with my daughter, I'll be out there with Robert with Auto Club.
I have had friends come forth trying to help. The agency is working. I feel a lot of love, not because I won a championship, but before that.
I don't want to quit racing. I know someday I'll have to. Father time is chasing me. Like I told them in the press room, they better put on their tennis shoes, father time, and he's going to have to get running because he has to chase me till I drop. I don't fish, I don't run my motorcycles any more since I crashed, I can't take another hit physically. I have pins in my legs now. If I crash, another racecar crash, it could be over. This is all I know.
I tried golfing. That was terrible. You know what I mean? This is what I do. I'm scared to death of not being able to get out there, so...
SCOTT SMITH: John, thank you. We'll let you get running.
JOHN FORCE: Thank you.
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