He’s Still Got It!
Doing what he loves to do when he’s not whipping a competitor’s butt in an NHRA Funny Car final, 67-year-old John Force visited the Oak Creek Campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) on a chilly, overcast September day that eventually dropped some rain
on the hundreds in attendance.
But it didn’t rain on the dynamo’s parade. He was there on behalf of his sponsor, Old World Industries and its Peak Antifreeze & Coolant and Blue DEF brands. John’s 10,000-hp Chevrolet Camaro SS and crew were there too, along with daughters, Courtney and Brittany, and 2009 Funny Car champion and son-in-law Robert Hight.
Team members were the featured speakers at the Al Hurvis/ADAMM Education Foundation, Inc. luncheon. Al Hurvis is the father of Old World Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board John Thomas Hurvis. In his keynote address, John Force said, “Today is a great day to talk about what is really important, which is the young people of this country who need some encouragement and mentoring. The Al Hurvis Foundation luncheon provides a great opportunity to talk with a group of people who give their time and money to help provide inner city kids with a chance at a better life through scholarships. After the luncheon, we talked with some students who someday could be a Funny Car or Top Fuel crewmember. They’re getting some of the best training and education you can get. I have to thank all the MATC teachers and students.”
Through the foundation, Old World Industries teamed up with the Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee (ADAMM), a group of new car and truck dealers in southeastern Wisconsin, to honor MATC students with scholarships that support and advance their studies in the automotive and technical fields. During an open house, students learned about the variety of departments within the automotive and technical sector, including automotive collision and repair, automotive maintenance, diesel and powertrain servicing, and truck driver training.
The highlight of the afternoon for the MATC students and the legions of John Force Racing fans from the Milwaukee area occurred when John fired up the PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Funny Car. He wowed his adoring onlookers with some ground-shaking, old-school throttle whops for good measure. Before the engine demonstration, John and the rest of the team talked with students about the importance of gaining a strong mechanical background for whatever career paths they wish to pursue.
“We’re excited about this event because of the attention it is drawing to our mission and programs,” said Becky Alsup-Kingery, MATC’s Associate Dean, School of Technology and Applied Sciences. She added that while the collaboration is expected to draw more people to the programs and help students with financial needs, it will also benefit all students in automotive and technology programs by opening up new classroom opportunities and resources.
From Humble Beginnings
John Force knows all about humble beginnings and the American dream. His first house was a camping trailer the family lived in while traveling from job to job along the West Coast. His father Harold, mother Betty Ruth and six children moved from trailer park to logging camp to migrant farm seeking work.
“We picked berries up and down the California coast and hauled logs in the camps to the north,” he said.
Family members tell the story of the Force parents picking berries and turning John, a toddler, loose in the fields while they worked. They tied a balloon to him, so he could be easily located. It was a great plan until the balloon burst.
“My kids today don’t even believe those stories,” John said. “They don’t even know what a TV dinner is. I took them to that trailer house, and they couldn’t believe eight people lived in it. Now we have televisions with screens bigger than the front window in that trailer.”
Dreams of Racing
As a child, John dreamed of bigger things as his eyes turned toward racing.
“My father always told me, ‘You’re the dumbest kid I’ve got. You’re a dreamer, and you gotta’ quit dreaming. You’re never going to be Don Prudhomme or Richard Petty,’” he said.
Born in Bell Gardens, CA, about 30 minutes from his current $10 million compound with panoramic views atop a Yorba Linda mountain, John’s early home was mostly on the road—same as today. The family did park long enough in one place for John to play high school football. As quarterback, he led his team to a record quite unlike the one he’s achieved in NHRA. His high school team never won a game.
Fortuitously, drag racing became his thing, joining the tour full-time in 1983. During the early years, he
raced with little money, buying used parts, piecing together old cars that often never left the starting line. Finally, John broke through, winning his first NHRA event in 1987. The victories came much easier soon after, and he won his first Funny Car title in 1990. Ten consecutive titles from 1993 to 2002 cemented a well-deserved reputation as winner, a fan favorite and master storyteller.
While anchoring the Force family autograph table for the assembled masses, John answered questions during a 15-minute RoadKing interview that required 45 minutes to complete. Bantering with fans, autographing hero cards and anything the fans placed before him, handing out Peak Racing patches, and making sure everyone went home with a team cap would make any sponsor proud to have John as a spokesperson. He popped up for photos with anyone who asked, and showing his family pride, frequently involved Courtney, Brittany and Robert. He even took a five-minute break to provide a late-arriving family with a personal look at the Peak funny car already loaded into the hauler. Anticipating you might learn something you didn’t already know about John Force, the man and 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, following are his answers to several questions.
Q. What is the most important life lesson you took away from your nomadic childhood?
A. Stay a family, number one. Love your mom and dad, brothers and sisters. That’s the key. I learned a work ethic from my mom and dad. She was a cook. My dad held many jobs including truck driving. If you’re going to do a job, do it like you would if you owned the company. Keep trying. Honor what you agreed to. Hold up your end of the bargain. That’s what my dad taught us. He taught me how to work on cars.
Q. What impact did overcoming childhood polio have on shaping your life?
A. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be successful in life. Polio didn’t alter my goals. They said I would never play football. I did. It’s America. You can be anything you want to be. I believe that. I’ve taught that to my kids. They will teach that to their kids, my grandchildren. Everyone has opportunities to succeed. You have to put in the hard work and dedication. Never give up, never take no for an answer.
Q. What did you learn from your football coaches?
A. Coaches taught me a lot. Played Pop Warner football. In a B team against the A team game, I threw a Hail Mary to my 6′-5″ friend in the end zone during the closing minutes. He caught it. The B team won. I carried that into high school quarterbacking. When you’re 0 for three seasons, optimism and a never-say-die attitude kept us going.
Q. What were you doing when you experienced your first taste of success?
A. Austin Coil, prim
ary owner of the famous Chi-Town Hustler, took me under his wing. He was my mentor. He’s the one who got me out of the cab of a truck. He paid for plane tickets to fly me in. He taught me so much stuff about drag racing that I didn’t know. He had already won two championships. I credit him with starting me on the road to success.
Q. What motivational factors drive you to success on the track?
A. I have a true love for everything about drag racing. The crowd’s cheers. Wearing the helmet. Firing up the car. Making a near-perfect pass. The comaraderie. I grew up in a trailer court. Now I’m part of the biggest trailer court in the world. We’re P.T. Barnum on wheels at 330 mph in less than four seconds.
Q. What is your most cherished moment?
A. Watching Robert Hight win his first championship. Watching Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney win races. Very emotional for me. I still compete to win, but everything is about my family now. For me personally, it’s the $200,000-to-win 1999 Top Fuel vs. Funny Car Showdown at Bristol, TN. Everyone said it was impossible to beat the top fuelers, but we did in all five rounds, taking down Bob Vandergriff, Jr. in the finals of the 32-car event.
Q. What’s the biggest technological advancement in Funny Cars?
A. Onboard computer technology. Before that, everything was a guess. Now, data recorders measure hundreds of variables. By analyzing them and making changes, we’re better able to dial in our performance.
Q. What are your goals personally and for John Force Racing?
A. As a driver, I want to keep winning races and championships. As a team owner, keep winning championships. Get the first one in Top Fuel, more in Funny Car. Keep entertaining the fans. Make them happy, keep them coming back. Build our sport. Watch my family grow and develop, and have a bright outlook and solid operation going forward.
Q. In terms of performance, where is NHRA racing headed?
A. We’re about speed and ET, not like NASCAR on ovals or Indy car on road courses. These crew chiefs and their computers have really advanced the sport. We’ve gone from 200 to 250, then 300. Who knows where the future will take us? More speed and lower ETs are always on the horizon.
Q. How do you view the contributions of more than 3.5 million over-the-road professional truck drivers?
A. In my early days out of school, I drove an 18-wheeler and was a proud member of Teamster Local 208 in LA. One of my first racing sponsors was a trucking school. We need railroads, airlines, pipelines, but no one will ever replace the trucking industry. Professional drivers—men, women, teams—move virtually everything across this nation. Long live the American truck driver!
Q. How do you view the role of professional truck technicians?
A. Let’s face it; just like the mechanics on my race car, you don’t exist without professional mechanics. They’re the ones who keep the 18-wheelers going up and down the highway. Keep the equipment safe for the drivers.
STRONG FINISH, GREAT OUTLOOK
John Force was racing in his 246th final round when he picked up his 147th win during the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 30. Force won for the second time in the Countdown to the Championship and outran Courtney in the 47th all JFR Funny Car final. He had three other 2016 wins: July 24 at Bandimere Speedway n
ear Denver, July 31 at Sonoma and September 18 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. The 16-time champion finished 4th in season points, Courtney was 6th, and Robert was 8th. Brittany finished 6th in Top Fuel points. In a classic final round at the November 13 Pomona season-ender, John and Tommy Johnson, Jr. ran identical 3.918 ETs, with Johnson taking the win by .005 seconds on a baby hole shot.
John Force, the all-time Funny Car winner, now has 98 more Funny Car wins than Ron Capps who sits in the No. 2 spot, and more impressively has 50 more wins than Hall of Fame Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson, who is No. 2 on the all-time NHRA win list.
“Our race cars are fast. We’re running right there with the best, and we’re excited about where we’re going next year. We turned the corner this year, and we’re moving ahead,” said a determined John Force. “We are going to be OK. I have the fire to win more championships. We are getting stronger with our sponsors, and I am giving it my all to be the best driver I can be. I am proud of these young guys, and we gave them a good fight today at the Auto Club Finals.” o