Photos courtesy John Force Racing
Just in time for the 54th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationls this weekend, here’s our exclusive interview with none other than 16-time Mello Yello Funny Car Champion, John Force!
John provides some insight on the improvements in racing technology, Ford leaving the NHRA and his long term goals in the world of drag racing.
How have the cars improved for this year?
Technology has changed as the horsepower grew over the years. The trick became figuring out how to get that power through the clutch and onto the track. How does the driver explain all that in four seconds? Corporate America came in with the money and as that money grew we were able to buy that technology so we were able to put computers on-board to educate the crew chief. It would show the teams what really happened if the driver had brain fade or just didn’t know what happened. A new driver can’t tell a crew chief what happened. It takes years to learn these race cars. Computers come into play but you can’t have computers control the car. It is all about getting data for the crew chiefs.
What are your thoughts on Ford leaving the NHRA after the 2014 season?
Our number one goal is you can’t race without money. I have a job to do with Ford and Castrol as well as all my sponsors. I owe it to them to win the championship even if they are leaving at the end of this season. Auto Club and Traxxas are strong with us for many years. We are chasing new partners with JMI (Just Marketing). We are looking at global companies as well as companies here in the states. I won’t be with a sponsor if they don’t have production here in the states. They have to manufacture in this country and build in America. If you don’t find money you can’t race but we are going to focus on winning. The fans should support all our sponsors because they have supported us for so many years.
What are you looking forward to most this season?
You can’t think about last year’s championship because that is not going to get you into the winner’s circle. You take your championship trophy and put it in the trophy case so when you come out here now you have your mind right. The guys that you beat are really hungry and they are back looking at you. Last year they weren’t watching me. I watch all of them. A guy will come out of nowhere like I did last year. I barely made the Countdown and then got on a roll. Our teams were in every final of the Countdown. Robert Hight won Indy and then Charlotte. I was in the next five finals. Robert Hight is watching me. They should be watching out for my girls too Courtney and Brittany. Courtney is about ready to really take charge. Brittany is right there with a brand new car and a new crew chief, Todd Smith working with Dean Antonelli. I am looking forward to getting out to the track and winning.
At this stage in your career, what are the differences between your long term and short term goals?
We look at all our goals as long range goals. You build a sponsor for long range just like you build a race car. You have to have a game plan just like we have with the Top Fuel dragster. You have to build your brand with any sponsor. You go out and win a race with a new sponsor and a fan may not know who that is. We educate them. I almost never sign a one year deal. It is no good to let them get in just for one year and try and build something. There has to be a long range plan.
You treat a sponsorship and your race team just like a marriage. If you don’t treat it right and give it love every day, you are not going to make it. You have to reinvent yourself. Even if you get good and you want to ride the wave. I never did that. I kept reinventing myself and kept it fresh. I try and be honest with every interview and sometimes I still get stuck in the mud. You have to give interviews that appeal to Corporate America and the gear head and the first time fan. It is tough but I love it.
In the end I even hear it from my PR people when they ask me how many more championships do you want. I want a million more! This is all I do. If I set my goal for two more championships then I have ended my career. Hell, I am just getting good at this. You set your goal to win every round and every race. You want to qualify No. 1, win every round and win every race. If you are lucky you might get a championship. It is the greatest life a person could have. It is a lot of work. Don’t do it for the money or the fame. Do it because you love being out here. You love hugging those fans. Do it for the passion of what you love. Don’t marry a woman just because she is beautiful. Love her for what is inside of her. One day, look at me, I am not so beautiful but my wife still loves me because she loves what is inside. God bless her.
What’s your dream race car? It can be a current car, a car from the past, or something you envision in the future.
My dream race car is a Fuel Funny Car. I get the urge to get into Brittany’s Top Fuel Dragster. They run the big speeds. They run the low E.T. The Funny Car is my dream. I love NASCAR and I have raced the Long Beach Grand Prix in a celebrity race once. I had a ball. I still have that Toyota firesuit hanging in my museum with all my Ford firesuits. My dream some day is to reach the ultimate speed. I will never be a fighter pilot and they will never send me to the moon but I would like to run a land speed car.
Watch John race against his daughter Brittany’s Top Fuel Dragster during the PRO Winter Warm-up: