BRISTOL — John Force can handle the struggles better than his fans and sponsors.
The 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion admitted they aren’t happy to see him in the midst of a 31-race losing streak heading into today’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals eliminations at Bristol Dragway.
“Oh boy, they’re on me,” said Force, currently 10th in the Mello Yello point standings. “They’re like ‘You told us you were going to win last year.’ I’m like, ‘Oh no, I never told you that.’ But, I love them. A fan is so loyal to his driver like an Earnhardt, a Don Garlits or a Shirley (Muldowney). They want to see you deliver. The problem is I spoiled them — won for 15 years, 10 straight. Maybe they’re spoiled a little bit and so are my sponsors, but they pay us good.”
Luckily for him, the struggles haven’t reached all of John Force Racing. His youngest daughter, Courtney, won the season-opening race at Pomona and ranks three positions ahead of her dad in the standings.
“Courtney finished good last year, ahead of me and won some races,” Force said. “We have three different designed chassis that we’re playing with, different things with the tune-up, the clutch. By this time last year, we had won six races. Me, I’m just John Force still struggling.”
Brittany, his middle daughter who is racing Top Fuel cars, is also struggling. Still, he tells all of his daughters it’s easy to handle the success and the adulation that come from his NHRA record 134 national-event victories. It’s those other times when character is built.
“People talk about the 15 championships,” he said. “That ain’t really what it’s all about. I tell my girls it’s how you fight from the bottom or the top won’t have any meaning to it.”
He added Brittany is racing a new dragster, complete with the latest safety innovations, but heavier than other cars in the class. Despite that, she is enjoying her first season in the Top Fuel class.
“She’s loving it and that’s what makes me happy,” Force said. “All those years racing at Bristol without my kids, maybe Ashley a few years, but now they’re all here except Ashley who’s home with the new grandbaby.”
Even Ashley’s married family is represented in the John Force pits. Her husband, Danny Hood, is a tuner on Courtney’s car, Force’s other son-in-law is team driver Robert Hight. He is married to Force’s oldest daughter, Adria, who has preferred to remain behind the scenes.
“She never has been one for the spotlight,” Force said. “I wanted her to drive years ago. She’s from my first marriage and her mom, Lana, and my wife are best friends. You never see that. They like each other better than they like me.”
Still, the driver’s oldest daughter is an integral part of John Force Racing, there when the team was first taking off.
“Adria started off when I had one desk and one phone out of a gas station,” Force said. “I told her when the phone rings for her to answer because if we have a business we have to act like it.
“She would say, ‘Hello, John Force Racing, let me see if I can get him.’ I would be sitting right there. That’s how we got started.”
Although he was a struggling driver at the time with no wins for the first seven years of his Funny Car career, Force was an astute marketer. He used perception to shape reality.
“I painted Coca-Cola on my race car when I didn’t even get any money from Coca-Cola,” he said. “I did it because I did one regional show for them. All of a sudden, they saw Coca-Cola and were like, ‘We need to be a part of that.’ I got involved with Stop and Go Markets, Wendy’s, chased all the food chains. Sometimes, it’s who people want to be associated with. They sure didn’t want to be with me. Now they do, but never forget where you came from.”
In recent years, he’s come back from a life-threatening crash at Dallas to win his 15th career championship. Although 64, he insists there are still good racing days ahead.
“I’m right on the game, on the Christmas tree,” he said. “I worked out in the gym this morning an hour and a half. I have to just to keep up with the kids. But, I haven’t taught them everything and I’m going get back to the top.”