John Force at Bristol
Photo by: Jeff Kluss/ SIT
Fourteen-time NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, scored his first victory of 2007 over the weekend, winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Force improved to 13th in the standings with five races remaining before the series’ new Countdown to Eight format. Force now has won at least one event in each of the last 21 seasons.
JOHN FORCE – Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang – YOU DEDICATED YOUR VICTORY TO ERIC AND JOHN MEDLEN. “Yes, Eric and his father. There was a lot going on. A number of kids have won; Robert [Hight] had won and dedicated it to Eric, and Brandon Bernstein and J.R. Todd, some of these guys who have won in Top Fuel, because they were real close buddies of his, like we were – he was like my kid – and I really wanted that win for him this year. I wanted to tell him thank you, and even kind of ask him for forgiveness. There’s a lot stuff going on here, and I’ve been a different person lately, and I think our team might be back on track – might have a shot at this chase.”
John Force wins at Bristol
Photo by: Jeff Kluss/SIT
DOES THE WIN BRING SOME SENSE OF NORMALCY BACK TO WHAT YOU’RE DOING? “No, I’m going to be honest. Normalcy in our race team, yeah. It pulled our team tighter together. You know, it’s real easy to be great when you’re winning. When you’re on top of the game, to be a great boss, it’s easy. But when you’re losing, that’s when it shows to be a good boss. But I’ve been hit on the head this year with so much stuff, overload, from Ashley [Force, his daughter] coming into the game, and then the loss of Eric, and my race car struggling – but the loss of Eric was the major hit. It’s just hard to get you heart back; get back to where you belong. And I rode my guys real hard because my car struggled real bad, and that we will fix the problem. But I forgot to love ’em along the way. If you noticed right before first round, I said, ‘I apologize,’ to my whole team; they had it on TV. I said, ‘I’m sorry that I pushed you too hard. I want you to be perfect and we’re not perfect. And, most of all, I failed as a leader, and I want to get back on track, and I want to ask for your forgiveness,’ and I asked it of Eric Medlen, because he wouldn’t have liked me to have been the way I had been. I mean, I push hard. But there’s a difference in pushing hard and giving ’em love with it. And maybe I just felt that I’d been wronged. We addressed everything. And we picked the car apart – everything we could find. We know that we took Guido [Antonelli] out of the formula. He was our lead guy. [Austin] Coil and Bernie [Fedderly] and the crew chiefs are all in what we call ‘Houston.’ They’re all in the space-shuttle tower. But Guido was the guy who was on-hand. When he went to run Ashley’s car, we brought in the top people that we could hire, but after 12, 13 years, you just don’t pull a guy out of your machine, because it doesn’t operate the same. So, we thought that was a problem. So then we brought in John Medlen to overlook the whole operation. Glen Huszar came in, and jumped in right on top of the clutch, because he had moved to Eric’s team after doing our clutch last year. And we went from running 4.60s at Pomona, winning the championship, to can’t qualify – in my whole career, never missed all these years, I had the record. And we addressed it, we addressed it, we addressed it, we went through everything. We don’t give up. We’re like Ford – we work to build a better car. And in the process, we nailed it down. I kind of joked with Austin: It’s down to two things – it’s down to the chassis or the crew chief. And the crew chief says, ‘There ain’t nothing wrong with us. Is there anything wrong with you?’ And, we changed chassis the week before this race, and we tested a new car at Norwalk and it showed potential and it bounces out and it wins. That doesn’t mean we found the problem. We made some changes in the clutch program that we never changed before. So, maybe we’re onto something, but we did get a win. So, that was a big emotion for us, but mainly so I can say to my sponsors – and I was reading the sponsors every round that I won, because it’s been a long time.”
DESPITE HAVING WON 123 EVENTS IN YOUR CAREER, AFTER GOING THROUGH THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON WINLESS, DO YOU EVER START TO THINK THAT MAYBE THE LAST WIN WAS THE LAST WIN? “No, I don’t believe that. [Don] Prudhomme told me when I won my fifth championship, he said, ‘You know, one day it just comes to an end.’ And then when it came to 10, a lot of people said it would come to an end, and it got to 14. It comes to an end when you quit wanting to win or you run out of money or your team breaks up. I’ve held the team together, I am training new recruits, I have the best crew chiefs in the business, and I want to win.”