At my shop, we’re always looking for ways to broaden the scope of our race team. We’ve put in a couple of bids into Ford’s agency to do some commercials, because that’s what Ashley went to school for.
We’ve got a studio where we can film them. It’s a way we can generate some new revenue for the team and cut costs for the sponsors. The commercials will be for Ford’s regional markets for the JumboTron’s here at the track. We cut some costs, and we think we can do it for them cheaper and just as good.
The exposure we got for "Driving Force" on A&E was so huge. It wasn’t just the money we made from the show. Right now, Ashley has come up with an idea for a cartoon show, where the car is the star. That kind of stuff is pretty exciting.
Ever since she was a little kid, Ashley loved making movies. They used to paint me up for them, the whole deal. Those are some of the greatest shows ever, I still watch them to this day.
All my kids are learning the business side of the world. Brittany is close to getting her teaching credentials, but she also wants to drive the dragster for Jerry Darian, even if it’s just part time. Courtney is looking at the future in a Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster. I’ve also been reading the stories in USA Today that Courtney has been doing. It’s about her life and her summer, it’s really a mix. USA Today told me it was one of their three blogs, because she’s writing about what everyday kids do, not just what a racecar driver does.
All I’m doing is giving them opportunities. I’m fortunate they love racing. And if they don’t stay with it, they don’t. I just want to give them that opportunity.
We’ve come a long way since I just drove the truck and drove the racecar because we just loved it. We’ve really evolved over the years. I don’t even like working in the office. I like working through the cell phone because I get into that rut otherwise. If I can stay outside in the fresh air making deals, I can create so much better and make the right decisions.
You get me in an office having to do 10 things in a row, I’ll make a bad decision. I can do more business done in the middle of a race. Even everyone back at the shop says they get more done when I’m at the racetrack calling them than when I’m the office.
I'm having fun right now, but I'm not looking back to the Winternationals win or the final a Phoenix. It's a new race, a new day.
I've got my kids Ashley (Force Hood) and Robert (Hight) out of the nest, so it's time for me to start flying again. It's great to be running well again and see the great Brain Trust of Mike Neff, Bernie Fedderly and Austin Coil come together. It's everybody that makes John Force Racing gel. It's what it's all about.
For me to be back in the game is great, but let me tell you for the first 15 years of my career I was in the cellar like I was last year. I came out of a championship run and then we lost Eric Medlen, then I got hurt after that. It's taken me time and physical therapy to get a lot of stuff back and figure out how to move ahead and not live in that fear of the monster out there.
Well I'm back in the game and that monster sits with me in the front seat, because it's what I have to do.
I have been able to do some special stuff like talking with NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and going too the March Meet earlier this month.
It was good for me and I was honored to be a grand marshal at the March Meet. Austin Coil was there, and I took my son-in-law, Robert Hight.
I had a few embarrassing moments with him there. The fans yelled "Champ," I turned around to wave and they run by me to Robert. Ok, I'm either Ashley's dad or just John Force. Either way I'm learning to adapt.
To see the history and nostalgia of the March Meet really brought me back. The cars that I drove and drove against were there -- the Holy Toledo, Twig Zieglar's Pizza Haven, the Blue Max. I was standing on the starting line watching them run, I turned around and got the feeling I'd see my old crew cab pickup truck, my wife Laurie and my daughter Adria -- somebody was holding Ashley, because she was just a baby. It was like i was back in a time machine.
I was every emotional and often embarrassed myself. I hugged every Smokers guy I could find. We went to their party on Thursday night, and I felt like they accepted me -- because I am as old as most of them.
I've been with Austin Coil for 25 years this year. You know, he's taught me so much about driving.
Coil had two championships with Frank Hawley, 14 with me, one with Tony Pedregon -- that's 17 championships he's earned as a crew chief. Nobody's even close.
I remember Coil putting a block of wood under the throttle when he was teaching me how to pedal the car. He made a bracket so I wouldn't go down all the way. We were racing tracks like Odessa (Texas) or El Paso and they were really rough tracks.
One winter when I couldn't make payroll, I told him I was going to have the let the team go. He took money out of the bank to finance payroll, and kept me going through the winter.
He's the guy who got me out of driving the truck. He said, "I work for you and I'm flying, and you're driving the 18-wheeler." He bought me my plane tickets so I could fly.
We've just become family, like a brother to me. He was there when Ashley was just a baby, with her running around the racetrack. If I would put Ashley with anyone other than Guido (Antonelli), it would be Austin and Bernie Fedderly.
Austin and Bernie, I've always joked and called them the "Odd Couple." They room together, they're best of friends. They tune together, which is why we didn't miss a step when Coil was out at Indy. I was so proud of the way when Coil was hospitalized "the machine" went into play.
Bernie steps up, takes care of the overall picture of the tuning, and the brain trust rallied around him. The choice was to not move anybody on my team, because Bernie could work with everybody else on how Coil runs this car. On the starting line you saw Jimmy Prock, John Medlen, and even my son-in-law, Danny Hood, at the starting line supporting my team. Nobody would leave me alone, even giving up the focus on their other cars.
Plus Coil was on the phone from the hospital continually wanting to know everything that's going on round for round.
Almost 18 years ago, Coil and I had been winning championships. We were sitting in the staging lanes one day, and after we'd won the race in Dallas, Coil said, "I can't go to the winner's circle, I'm too sick." He'd caught the flu. Can you imagine if that had been Friday? He told me we needed someone to back up the crew chiefs for a situation like this, and that's when I went after Bernie. It showed me the way and I've always had backups. Which is why Mike Neff and Ron Douglas have been brought in, so if someone goes down, somone will be there to carry the ball.
There's been a lot of talk about my people getting older. Yeah, that's true, but like I've always said, as long as they don't fall and hit their head, they're just as intelligent. Maybe they don't move as fast as they used to, but we'l let the young kids do the running. My generals still run this ship.
The Western Swing didn’t go as we had planned for my four Mustang teams. Even though my youngest daughter Courtney won Seattle in her Sanyo A/Fuel Dragster, beating her sister Brittany and the Brandsource A/Fueler in the semis, that didn’t help improve the position of my four Funny Cars in the Countdown.
I’m not making any excuses. The next three races will be all about strategy. There are hitters like Cruz Pedregon, Matt Hagan, and a few others that are shooting for those last spots so somebody is going to be left behind. We don’t want it to be us.
The performance of our four Mustangs appeared to be getting better in Sonoma but we still don’t have the consistency. Robert and I went to Norwalk and came away with the win against Cruz in the final (but) you can’t base a lot of performance improvement off that.
The next Monday we called all the crew chiefs and drivers into our John Force Racing complex in Brownsburg. I wanted answers and solutions. I have always believed in my brain trust because they have delivered 15 championships.
The only car holding its own is Ashley’s Castrol GTX Mustang tuned by Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. That car has performed like a Swiss watch. My other three Mustangs: Auto Club, Ford Drive One, and Castrol GTX High Mileage are struggling.
What has been hard to understand is how Mike Neff in his second year, Robert Hight in his fifth year, and me a veteran with 14 championships are behind a team that has the least amount of experience. Robert should be my lead car. I said it at the beginning of the season; he is my best all around driver. Ashley has already locked herself into the Countdown. She has led the points, been in a number of finals and has even won this year, yet (the) other three can’t seem to produce.
After hours of meetings and listening to the sincerity of my guys I asked for options. I considered moving drivers around, moving crew chiefs around, and changing combinations. In the end I listened to the brain trust. Their vote was to stick with what we have. They convinced me we are about to turn the corner. I told them they have three races left until the Countdown and if we don’t turn the performance around then change has to come. In fact Robert Hight and Jimmy Prock will be testing this Monday at O’Reilly Raceway Park to get their Mustang ready to go. I don’t intend on losing any of my crew chiefs because they got me here.
In addition to listening to my brain trust, we evaluated how we got to this point. I had my marketing team make a matrix of every elimination round this season and we examined what happened. I wanted to see if we were losing because we missed tune-up, driver error, not having lane choice, or just bad race luck. I couldn’t believe how many races we lost to a racecar that was the quickest of that particular round. It showed me that we weren’t as far off as I thought.
We won a championship in 2006. We lost Eric in 2007 and I know my crash put me out of contention that year too. Since then we have had a year and a half to try and put our program back together.
We're very excited to have our first in-house chassis to come out of The Eric Medlen Project that has the changes from the engineers at Ford Racing. We'll unveil this chassis around the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. There was a lot thrown at us in the last two years but like I have said, no excuses. The sponsors in this economy need all the exposure they can get. We can’t give them that exposure without winning rounds.
For the next three races we are going to focus even harder. I told my people we don’t want any distractions. We are going to do what it takes. I challenged my crew chiefs to show me improvement. Actions speak louder than words. Right now we need action.
It's a tough economy and we're addressing where it's all going in the near future because nobody knows. We hope it's all going to come back. Right now I'd just be happy if it would level out.
We're always looking for new partners but we don't want to forget about the ones who've been with us for a long time like Castrol. It'll be 25 years next year and we're going to celebrate that with some special things, and Ford Motor Company, which has always taken care of us. Anywhere we can do that, in the media, on the PA, or bigger signage on the cars, we reevaluated them to make them a little bigger so we could please everybody. I've got sponsors that I owe to help, because they've taken care of me during the gravy years.
I've come up with a list of about 25 things that we can cut internally to help save money before we go to a place of laying off employees, cutting wages or bonuses, or possibly even dropping a team. Luckily I'm under contract right now, but where do I go in three years? You have to get a game plan now for the next 10 years and not just wait until you are standing in the middle of the river and realize the boat sunk. We're addressing that.
Some of the stuff is so basic. One of the biggest savings was going to 1,000 foot, another is testing. Has it hurt our performance? Without a doubt. It hasn't hurt Ashley, she's in the points lead (and I hope she stays there forever). I pump my endorsements, and any money we get we pump back into the race teams or The Eric Medlen Project, which are the things we love to do most.
We've quit buying first class air tickets. I was guilty of that. Now, unless I'm on a red-eye somewhere that I have to be prepared for a show the next day, I'll fly coach. If I get stuck between two football players on the plane, I don't care. And every time I go on coach fares, I get stuck between two football players. I have no luck getting window or aisle seats. I've had fans offer me their better seats or to put me up in first class. I tell them I started in the cab of a truck, flying coach doesn't bother me a bit.
We've started working with local Ford dealers to try and do work for them to do trade outs for cars, so we save on car rentals. My youngest daughters aren't under contract with Ford, but they are helping with the Ford Fiesta. In the big pie, Ford pays me good, so I give them every opportunity. If I could only get my wife, Laurie, in a Ford shirt, I'll be in good shape.
We've joined Corporate America and there's no way we can go back to when we started and couldn't pay for our hotel rooms. But my brother came to me the other day with an article from 1990, we were half way through the season. I had a shot at winning the title, but I was broke. I hadn't seen my daughter Courtney, and she'd just been born. We'd spent all our money from the match racing and I didn't know if I could hold on to this title lead. I said then I was running on a half a million dollars and most of it was spent. That article gave me a wake-up call. We competed for the championship and we won, even though we didn't have the gravy. It made me look at my current team and see if we had any waste here.
We've dug deep. Going to the Ford Flex from the Excursions is saving us 60 grand in fuel costs. We warm the cars up on alcohol now. That saves us a drum of nitro per car per race. Every time you warm up a car it's like making a run.
And we're looking everywhere. We've adjusted the taxes on my properties, because we shouldn't be paying or the old value if the value has gone down. I'm basically moving my operation to Indy as well. The California shop won't be what it's been in the last 15, 16 years. It'll evolve into a museum or I'll close it and sell it. I can't run two operations and have two overheads. Since my biggest operation is in Indy, everything is going there.
With all of our cuts we think we'll save somewhere between $1.2 to $1.5 million a year. But even with the cuts, I will never jeopardize safety. I'll never put junk parts on a race car. I will continue to run my cars every round of qualifying because that's what I owe the fans. Parking the cars is a last resort for savings. I owe the fans and my sponsors to be there. I can't just cut those areas.
When times are tight like this charities still need help, so that's why we're starting to work with the Bogart Foundation, which helps children with cancer. We've got the logos on all of our cars. I'm also working with the Ronald McDonald House with BrandSource. We're going to do anything we can to help these charities grow.
See you at the track. I'll be the one eating bologna sandwiches.
Making commercials is fun. I do whatever I can to help the sponsors and tracks out. With as tough as times are, I'm just trying to help everyone while we're waiting for Obama to give NHRA drag racing a stimulus package.
And the people you help will remember that. I tell all my drivers the same thing and they all help anywhere they can. That's what we do.
I made this commercial for Bruton Smith's people here at Bristol Dragway promoting this race. They had me up on this mountain. It was like the Sound of Music or something.
Ol' Bruton is always looking to find ways to sell more tickets, and they happen to have some beautiful fields with flowers around here so they got ol' dummy Force to do the commercial. I'll do anything for Bruton Smith. It was fun, but a little corny, but in the end everybody is watching it, so it's working.
And, just to be clear, I do all my own stunts.
I try not to use a script because they slow me down and kill spontaneity. I think it's always the best if I just be myself. At the end of this one I flipped over and rolled down the hill, and kept rolling. I made a fool of myself but the people loved it. Everyone has been talking about it and that's what it's all about.
I like to do commercials with my babies too. When I do commercials with my daughters it's just like they are little kids again. At times it seems like Ashley is still 4 or 5 years old to me. Then I see her make a pass in the Castrol Mustang at 300 mph and it reminds me she's all grown up.
The world is changing and I'm getting serious about Twitter. Twitter-dee-twitter-dum -- that's me.
My daughter, Courtney, is doing something for fiestamovement.com using Twitter. If you get a chance you should look at it; she's loving it. We're pitching the Ford Fiesta, but she tells me every day about people who call her or e-mail her on Twitter. I guess it's working. We Twitter too from the races. My guys handle it and the fans can keep up with what's happening right when it happens. That's a good thing.
Time to race. We'll talk later.
It's been a year now and I guess I've gotten over being spanked by my girl Ashley at this race. The memory now is of my daughter winning her first race, so it's a happy thought.
I had a chance to win my 1,000th round in my 500th race in that final against her and I hate that I gave up those two records because I never would have that chance again but we got it done later so it's okay.
I’ve had a lot of great times in Atlanta. I remember way back. I’d come here from the AHRA circuit, starving to death. I got to face the big guys – Don Prudhomme, Raymond Beadle, Tom McEwen – all the heavyweights were here. It was an eight-car NHRA Funny Car show, and I qualified. That was big for me.
It was one of them deals where we never got many runs, and somehow I went down the track, although I was a leaker! This was way before (working with Austin) Coil. He was there too, the ol' Chi-Town Hustler. He was sitting in his old ramp truck and just whipping up on everybody.
That was quite a deal that I made the show that weekend, and it was a big deal that all the big guys went home. It just happened. The little guys prevailed. That was a proud moment.
I’ve had a lot of wins in Atlanta but it took a lot of hard work and a lot of focus. We’ve won a lot of those races on a rainy day on Monday. Somehow this plays into your hands, and I think that comes from our old match race days. In those match races you learned how to get down an old dirt road.
I actually came down here to pitch Coca-Cola when I was sponsored by Wendy’s restaurants. I was so excited; I was coming out of Englishtown (N.J.) and I had worked on a proposal package – the only package I ever did – and it was an inch and a half thick. They dropped me off at Newark to get on the plane. I never had any money to travel like that. We were all dreaming big. Then I heard the horns on my truck honking and I saw my brother Louie out the window of the airport and he was waving the packet at me. I had forgotten it.
I made my plane and got down here. They were just the nicest people in the world. They put me up in the big hotel with a piano in the lobby. I’d never been to a hotel like that -- ever. When I got to my room, Coke had put out an array of fruits and bananas and chocolates and all these Coca-Cola bottles. And I was a freak for Coke. I was there two days and I drank every one of them.
I went down to the lobby with Bill Dunn, the guy from Wendy’s, and he had all these bottles. I asked, 'Whatya got in the bag?'
He said, 'All those Coke things we got, Coke left those as gifts to us.'
I said, 'Yeah I drank every one.'
He said, 'Tell me you’re kidding? You know those Coke bottles? Those were collector Coke bottles. They give them to chosen people who visit.'
They were old-time Coke bottles, shaped different – I drank them all and left them behind. I went back up to my room, took the ones the maids didn’t take from the day before. I took them home and still have them. I thought they gave me Coke to drink but they gave me collector gifts.
When we were on tour, we ate at Wendy’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because they gave us free food all around the country. When you don’t have any money that’s how you live.
That’s why I love the small-time racers. I like that (Terry) Haddock kid. He’s the future.
He told me, 'I guess I’m not a good promoter, I can’t come up with any money.'
I told him he came up with a great idea to bring both a Funny Car and a dragster and go with the car that has the fewest entries. That's what he's been doing. He’ll make it; he’s a survivor.
He said he wanted to have a meeting with me in Indy. I said okay. The next morning I get to work early and he was sleeping in his truck in our parking lot, waiting to see me
I did that. I never forget guys like that, because they are the future. You never forget where you came from or you’ll end up right back there.
I always talk about how much of the little things I missed with my girls when I was in the fight and they were growing up but one thing we always did every year was go to Disney World. Laurie and me would usually head down there after the Gatornationals and it was something we all looked forward to every year.
Well, everyone that knows me knows that I have a hard time relaxing and just having fun so Disney World and all those rides don't really allow me to just do nothing but there was this one ride at the water park area where you could get in an inner tube and float around this river. I think the whole thing was man-made. You could just get in there and float all day. You never had to paddle.
That was my favorite ride because it was one of the few areas in Disney World where they had beer. You know I love my beer. Not so much any more, but I love beer, especially when I want to relax a little bit.
Well this river deal had a bar right down there on the water. You didn't even need to get out of the inner tube to get a drink. You could just float by and they'd hand you a beer. I liked that part a lot. The girls would all take turns running over there and getting Dad a beer. The whole thing was timed out perfect where by the time you did one lap you'd need another beer.
Some of my favorite memories were of that ride because the girls would take turns sitting in the tube with me while we were floating around, big ol' smiles on their faces. Laurie always wondered why I'd spend all day in that one ride. It was for the beer!
Of course the amusement park is great. We'd do all the rides and chase all the characters around to get pictures just like everyone else.
I've never told anyone this but I always wanted to be a Mouseketeer when I was a kid. That show came on every Saturday morning and that seemed like the most perfect place in the world. I had as much chance of being a Mouseketeer as being an astronaut but a kid can dream, right?
The last few weeks at the track everyone has been talking about their family trips to Disney World this year and it reminded me of those times. Those are great memories.
John Force here. I'm gonna make a promise to everyone before we get started this year. I promise to enjoy myself no matter what happens.
We're fired up and ready to go at John Force Racing. We have all four of our Ford Mustangs ready to go and any one of us can win the championship. If I could have it my way we'd take the top four spots. That's what we're paid to do.
Castrol is back with me, God bless 'em. Times are tough out there all over the world but they ain't giving up and neither are we. I didn't let anyone go and no one had to take a pay cut. We're gonna suck it up and get through this together.
I just did the Super Bowl with Castrol and we unveiled my new car, the Castrol Edge Mustang. It's gold and black and the fans in Tampa Bay really liked it. One of these days I'm going to stay and watch the Super Bowl live but I had to leave early again this time to get back here for the race.
Brand Source, Auto Club, Ford, they're all sticking with us. We're proud of them and we're gonna make them proud of us this year.
My daughter Ashley, my son-in-law Robert Hight, and Mike Neff are great drivers and they're really good at representing the companies that keep us in business.
I think I've finally got my emotions where they need to be. I've always been an emotional guy. I ain't afraid to cry and I'll yell when I need to. I'm just me. But after Eric Medlen died and then to watch his father John every day become the guy that picked us up time and again, then I have my wreck and go through all of that, man, it just wore me out.
But I'm a changed man now. All that time to think and get better, it helped me a lot. I spent a lot of time last year learning how to enjoy myself and that's the way it's gonna be from now on. If we ain't having fun, what's the point? And we're gonna win races because nothing is more fun then that, even after all these years.
I've traded two hours in the bar for two hours in the gym. Don't get me wrong, I still love my beer, but I'm racing kids that want to kick my butt and I have to be ready for them. Believe it or not, I love working out. If I miss a day I'm down about it. I like the way it makes me feel. I'm in the best shape of my life right now.
So come on out to the races this year and make sure you stop by and say hello. I'll be the guy with the smile on my face.
Here we are closing in on Christmas and we're all under the stress of this financial crisis. I mean, I'm sitting around waiting for congress to make a decision that might be the difference between us racing or not. That's crazy, but it's reality.
If you haven't noticed, we're in a recession. You just better hope we don't hit a depression because my mom lived through the first one coming out of Oklahoma and the Dust Bowl. I've heard the stories and it wasn't pretty. I have that trailer we used to live in right across the street from my museum. It was so small that you'd take a shower and use the bathroom at the same time because it was all together. I thought those were hard times, but it was nothing like what my mom had when she was a kid growing up in the Great Depression.
Let's get something straight -- It ain't hard times when you lose a sponsor. It ain't hard times when your car ain't fast. The people whose houses burned down last month out here in California, they're having a hard time. These mud slides cause hard times when people lose everything. Factories are closing down and people are losing their jobs. The home foreclosures you see every day on the news. All of those things are real hard on people.
What you have to do when you're down like this is figure out how to turn it around. That's what I've found out in my life. Hard times make everyone equal. When you're down in that foxhole and bullets are flying, it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have. You just worry about the people that are important to you.
Some people just collapse under pressure. But when I'm under pressure I think that's where I'm at my best. The biggest crisis in my life was the death of Eric Medlen. I'll never face anything like that again, God willing. Nothing in my lifetime prepared me for that. And John Medlen is the real one that suffered the pain. And Eric's mother, she suffered as much as anyone.
I cried and cried and I suffered too. It was so bad I reached a point where I had to go to therapy. I wanted to quit racing. I really did. But I found a way out of it.
We can watch the news and feel like the world is collapsing and I know that feeling because that's how I felt when Eric died. I blamed myself for his death. I was all about winning and maybe I overlooked something. Now I'm all about safety, because if you can't keep the drivers alive then what's the point of any of it. I had to turn my suffering into something good and that's why we've spent so much time and money on making the sport safer. That's turning something bad into something good.
One of the best things about American people is that they really pull together when times are bad. I think that's why wars bring people together. Maybe that's why God creates war, to let us suffer together so we see what really matters. Maybe that's what's going on now. It's time to refocus on the really important things. That's what God wants.
When my baby Courtney was born they took her straight over to Children's Hospital. We thought we were gonna lose her. I went there and cried and just stopped caring about everything else because it didn't matter. But she fought and came through. Maybe she has that fight in her from me and her mother.
Bottom line, at the end of the day we're all gonna make it. Maybe we won't have the biggest presents under the tree this year. So what? We're all in this together and we need to face the challenges and rise up to them.
Have a great Christmas and take a minute to realize what's important to you. I can tell you this, it ain't under the tree.