During the John Force teleconference held on Wednesday April 29th, John Force candidly spoke about his life and career. Funny Car driver John Force has been called drag racing’s most charismatic figure, and is considered a living legend amongst drag racing circles. Very rarely in sports do you have a 65-year old athlete still competing in sport they are in, and even more rare is to hear their own life perspective on what still drives them to do what they do. Below are some of the highlights from John Force’s media Q & A.
MODERATOR: Next we have John Force. In Las Vegas, Force returned Chevrolet to Victory Lane in the Funny Car ranks when he raced to the win against his teammate Robert Hight. It was John’s first win of the season and his 142nd in his career. The win also moved him into the top 10 in points. He is currently tied for seventh in points, 103 behind points leader Ron Capps. John, thanks for joining us. That win in Las Vegas, how much of a relief was that to get that win early this season, after everything you went through last year looking for sponsors, a manufacturer, to get your game going strong this year?
JOHN FORCE: Well, winning is always a good feeling. We were able to put it all back together financially where we can be competitive, run for the title, and build technology and safety. But the win’s good, being up against Robert Hight. We put two Chevrolets in the final. That’s pretty exciting because we carry Auto Club, PEAK, Traxxas and Mac (Tools), we carry them all on our Top Fuel car and our three Funny Cars. It was a win-win for everybody. Good for me. Got a brand-new team, a bunch of young kids. I’m still learning their names. They’re all motivated and they love me. The win just gave us a little kick. We needed it. We’ve had a rough going here the last year and a half. Didn’t win the championship last year. Lost it by a round or two. We’re back in business.
Q. I’ve used many times a quote of yours from years ago: Getting a second championship is harder than the first one. Can you talk about what you can share and can’t share about driving and winning that’s so special coming from all your experience of winning, virtually nobody else has the opportunity to talk about that much.
JOHN FORCE: You fight for a championship. That’s why right now when I’m struggling and I’m not where the racecar needs to be, nobody knows losing better than me. First 15 years of my career, trying to just win a round. My daughter Brittany (Force) in that Top Fuel car with a brand-new team there, a year old, new guys again this year, Todd Smith, Ronnie Thompson. You know, we’re still struggling. We’re hit-and-miss. She’s been low qualifier. She’s been in four or five finals but hasn’t got a win. You live your whole life for that dream. You go to bed at night, Am I ever going to get it? You wake up in the morning and one day you get it, like I did in 1990. Come back and got it in 1991. Was warned by Prudhomme and Bernstein, you get on a roll, then it goes away. You don’t know what happens. It went away. I wouldn’t say we got cocky. We were five races ahead, and Cruz Pedregon, that hamburger stand from hell, McDonald’s, he would have to win five races straight, and I would have to lose five first round. That’s exactly what happened. I rolled the car over on its roof, hit the wall three times in Dallas, did everything wrong. I sat down and I thought, Wow, is this the end? Is that all there is to this party? Man, my motivation coming out of Pomona, the World Finals, was I’m going to live this and we’re going to fight back and get it back. We came back and won 10 straight. But every win is great because you’re doing it with sometimes a new sponsor. Me being with PEAK now, of course with Chevrolet. I’ll be back to PEAK the next five races in a blue car racing for them. You never get tired of it. But I guess the question was how do you do it? What actually was the question? I’m sorry.
Q. Basically what can you share and what can you not share about winning, with other drivers, basically what is undefinable?
JOHN FORCE: Everybody has to find their own way. My daughters, Brittany and Courtney, sat and talked to me, Dad, how do you win? I don’t know. I’m fighting to find my way right now. But it’s an exciting time. You know what I mean? You get a second chance. You lose and you come back. You’ve got to dig deep. One, you’ve got to live it seven days a week. Sometimes I get with my daughters who show up on race day, now it’s time to win. You got to live that gut ache every day, every time you go to sleep, every time you wake up. It becomes a way of life. I think that’s how you become a champion. Robert Hight did it. The Pedregon brothers, I know what they went through. You push every button you can from the team to the sponsor to the crew chief, everything right, then with a little bit of a luck you might get that shot. You just got to live it. I couldn’t sit down and write a formula. I couldn’t write a book on how to win. It’s like anything in life: dedicate yourself to it and you can do it. I’m dedicating myself to it right now. Don’t think I love the gym. I’m in the gym every day now because I’m not getting the performance out of me that I want as a driver. I don’t like getting tired in the middle of the day where I have to get my energy up and get coffee’d up. I don’t like that. I want to be 21 years old again, but that’s the way life is. If I’m going to survive. I’m under contract for five more years with Auto Club and these guys, if I’m going to survive, I’ve changed my lifestyle since the crash, and I live it, and more than most. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. She’s tired of listening to me. All you do is walk in and talk about racing. I understand that. But there is life in general. Sometimes I lose it. Now I’m teaching the kids the same way, but I love it. Sorry for getting caught up in that.
Q. John, you mentioned being in the gym. I did a story on you 20 years ago. Your ritual before the race was eating Reese’s peanut butter cups that you dipped in peanut butter. What do you exactly do in the gym? What kind of nutrition program are you on?
JOHN FORCE: In the old days I always said, I spent two hours a day in the bar, and now I spend it in the gym. I just changed my lifestyle. That was after the crash. They told me it was over for me. You’re going to be lucky if you can walk, you ain’t driving no racecar. I’m the kind of guy, nobody tells me anything, I’m too thick-headed. I still have problems with my left thumb because I worked it so hard when my wrist was broke, how to get my hands back to where I wanted to be so I could pull a brake handle and drive a steering wheel. I actually created some new problems, and I can’t fix them now. I redesigned my body so the knuckles and the thumb from workouts. The other day in the gym, a guy in the gym was laughing. He said, You used to come in here every other day, you have a gym in your house. I come in there to be in the mode of being around people. The motivates me. It’s kind of guilt that you got to work. You get in your house sometimes, you get a little bit lazy, a little bit sloppy. Mainly I got to where I’m going every day. On the road sometimes we go till late at night, we get up early in the morning, I might miss a day or two. I feel it in my bones when I get up in the morning. It ain’t like you’re a young kid and your body builds back up to where it was. It will never be the same. I found if I stayed in the gym, the gym becomes a place I love. I have music there, TV if I want to watch the news. That depresses me. But I also found there’s so many things I can do. I can study contracts. The guy in the gym was laughing so hard. I was on a treadmill running, trying to read this manual. I slipped. I went down on the ground. It shot me off the back of the treadmill. I looked like the guy in Dumb and Dumber. Shoved me into the wall. I got up, was okay. You got to be careful, focus more on your workout than trying to read contracts. I just love it. I love it. That’s the way I live my life. It’s probably my biggest problem. This weekend I’m going to spend a little time with my grandchildren. It’s my birthday. I’m going to take them to Knott’s Berry Farm. I’m going to swim a little bit with my kids and grandchildren. I’ll probably be in the gym that morning, probably that night. I’m never going to be the guy I used to be, but I can still race with these youngsters out here. I’m going to prove that to everybody.
Q. Question about the past two years. When you found out that sponsors were leaving, it was a real negative. You had to go through it. Now that you’ve gone through it, have new sponsors, just the way you walk, the interviews you give, the young guys around you, it seems like the process maybe has reinvigorated you. Talk about when something negative comes along, it might seem negative for the moment but it ultimately can become something positive.
JOHN FORCE: I was fighting over the weekend with Courtney. She’s probably my problem child. She’s been in Charlotte filming a TV commercial. Her and I, we seem to fight. Brittany and Ashley and I, we all get along. We had our days. But Courtney can send me over center sometimes, just about her approach, the way she is, the things that matter. My wife tells me, You’re old school. Over the weekend racing on Sunday morning, I was being the typical John, coming to the races, bummed out about new deals we’re getting, how am I going to make them work, are they going to happen, is the car going to win today, is the crew going to be able to make the call. Even the girl in the office, John came to me, Joan has been with you 17 years, she’s worried sick over you. You come in here in fight mode. I was kicked in the tail end. I lost half my money. My ego was shot down. I had to pick up the pieces, me and Robert, fight my way out of this mess. I find myself, I’m a great salesman, I’m a great talker, preaching, of how you should do stuff. My daughter came to me after church. Dad, read this from church, from Racers for Christ. The things you taught me is that God tests you. He’ll let you run and do good for a while, then he’ll put you down in a hole. He’s testing you to see how good you are. What we’re seeing is not the way our dad taught us. Sounding like a preacher here. He’s walking you down this road and he’s just seeing how good you are. He gives you the opportunity. He gives you the tools. He gives you a family. You are not addressing it this way. It’s like you’re turning away from all of this. I read this. It was mostly from Brittany. Courtney didn’t even want to sign it. I looked at it. I was very emotional before first round. I called them in there and said, “You know what, you’re right.” But the reason is I’m so afraid of failing you and my grandchildren. I gave you all of this, put you into all of this. You finally learned how to do it, found your way, and I’m going to fail because I can’t find the money. What I love as much in life is driving these racecars. It’s stupid, but I do. I’m hooked, I’m addicted. Every day when I get to that racetrack, I’m a little kid. I apologize to them. I called a team meeting. I said I’ve been the biggest horse’s you know what. Came home, said, I apologize. If that’s what I’ve been showing you, I’m down and out, I’m fighting every day. It looked like I was down and out, but I really wasn’t. It was the way it was coming out of me to everybody. Robert said, “You’re putting us on a bummer.” I got my stuff together. Over the weekend better get into church next Sunday, better listen to what I preach. I got a lot to learn. I’ll be 66 in a few days. I’m not going to let an age limit hold me down. I love it, and I’m going to do it as long as I can get in that seat and do that job. When I can’t, I know when to get out. As I said, these kids work too hard. Sound like I’m getting mad, but I’m not. I’m actually happy today (laughter).
Q. John, have you ever won an event on your birthday, and what did it feel like for you if you have?
JOHN FORCE: I can’t say that I did. I don’t know if I ever have. I don’t know a national event, I couldn’t answer that. (Dave) Densmore has my whole history. But, no, I couldn’t answer that. But, you know, my daughters want a party this weekend. I said, I don’t want anything. I want to be there. I want to stand with you, maybe have a glass of wine. Swim with my grandchildren, get that taste of life. It’s what life is all about. It’s not about a racecar. It takes guys like Robert Hight, Beckman, Ron Capps, turns us into this other person. It’s hard to go home. It’s hard to go home. That thing becomes your life. This is not the Army where we went off to Afghanistan to fight. You know what I mean? Iraq. It is not that. It is not war. But, boy, you start believing it is. You know what I mean? It’s not. We don’t compare to those guys. Those are the heroes. We’re racers and entertainers. You have to look at the ones we lost along the way, Eric Medlen, Blaine Johnson. How did this stuff go down this road? Then you still love it so much, I put my own kids in it. Pray every day they’re going to be safe. I still love it. Love the moment. Love you guys that have to listen to me, same old story, you probably get tired of it. I really love what I do. I really love my people that I work with. I’ve gotten real close like I did with (Dave) Densmore, Elon Werner, talk about stuff, know his family, watch how he tries to write that perfect story, like you all do. Sometimes we get slapped in a story because we did something wrong, and well-deserved, because you have to write the truth. I’m preaching now.
(Editor’s note: John Force (May 4th birthday) was runner-up to Randy Anderson at the Lone Star Nationals at the Texas Motorplex on May 4, 1997. He won at Richmond, Va., on May 5, 1996 and again at Richmond on May 3, 1999.
Q. Talk about the Las Vegas win this year. If you look at your entire career, how big does that race rank?
JOHN FORCE: Coming back from a championship when you lost, coming back and winning, it’s great because you realize now that you get it, you know how to work it, how to build a team, how to find the money. When I crashed, it was probably the biggest thing to come back. When they told me I couldn’t, that was probably the highlight of any race, next to seeing my daughters win a race and Robert. I got to be honest. Boy, I hate to be this weak, but when you lose your money, and people with a lot less people than me, I’m probably one of the top money programs in the sport, but I lost from where I used to be. I had to reevaluate my whole company. Money was falling out of the skies, I took it for granted. All of a sudden we had to build. I dug deep. Robert dug deep. We found out where we had fluff and how to change it, how to come back from that. I have people pat me on the back and say, Man, what you did was unbelievable. You came back. You put a race team back together. You may not be great, but you’re in the hunt. Let me tell you something, all that was good, hard work with a lot of emotion. But can you imagine somebody coming back from the war, like Beckman talks about with stress disorder, with things that can happen, losing a limb. Can you imagine what it takes an individual like that to fight back. You see why they need the help. Let me give you one last example that I have never figured out in my life, and I want to hug the guy every time I see him. But Doug Herbert losing his two sons, I dropped to my knees when I heard it. Just in fear of losing my own children. Prayed for him. You talk about a tough individual that came back. When I saw that racecar at Charlotte with his boys’ pictures on it, that is what drives him in life now. That is what his life is all about. It gave him a purpose. You have to believe that. You talk about coming from something. So to have me complain, I’ve had financial, I lost a crew chief, I got young crew chiefs, I broke my legs, that is nothing. I don’t know if I could have recovered from what he went through. The Eric Medlen deal wasn’t even my son. I watched John Medlen rise from that. I’m amazed. The loss of a child, there’s nothing harder than that, anything. I can’t imagine it. Scares me every day. I move ahead. I try to build good racecars that are safe. I try to give them the best instructions that I can. There’s a lot better people than me out there. You know what I’m saying? Every time I think of Doug, it’s just unbelievable what he’s been through. He’s my hero, I tell you that right now.
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