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Cream Rises to the Top

By on March 1, 2018

JFR Takes Both NHRA Top Fuel Championships

Following a recent appearance with daughters, Courtney and Brittany, and son-in-law, Robert Hight, at the Al Hurvis/ADAMM Education Foundation, Inc. luncheon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 16-time NHRA Top Fuel Funny Car champion, John Force participated in a RoadKing Q&A session. The resulting cover story appeared in the January-February 2017 issue. In response to a question about his personal and teams goals, John Force said this:

“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 (Dragster), 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.”

If you follow the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, you already know that late-season surges by Brittany Force and Robert Hight carried both teams to Top Fuel championships, the 19th and 20th for John Force Racing. Going forward, the operation is solid and the outlook is bright. Post-season Q&A sessions with all three reveal how team contributions paved the way for winning the 2017 championships and brightening the 2018 outlook.

John Force

Could you be any happier as a team owner?

No, because we told Chevrolet (Jim Campbell) that John Force Racing had won all those championships for all those years and that we could turn it around again. I’m tickled pink to be part of this championship team with Robert winning and with my daughter, Brittany.

You’re still winning races, still contending for championships, how do you stay motivated?

I can’t get off this train. I love it. I lived for racing; I’m still living it. It’s all I know. I love racing, and now I get to be with my kids and do it; and my granddaughter, she’s driving junior dragsters.


How proud are you of Robert and Brittany winning the championships?

We’ve got a great sponsor with Auto Club (for Robert). It’s unbelievable how they’ve supported us for 16 years, our longest-running sponsor. Robert was over-due. We brought Jimmy Prock (crew chief) back, and I’m really proud of him. We put the band back together.

Brittany, with that great sponsor in Monster Energy, struggled all year with that gutache. She worried about working with the great Alan Johnson and Brian Husen. I told her, yeah, but you gotta’ learn. Champions are not born; champions are made. And that gutache is either gonna’ put you out of business or turn you into a winner. And that’s where you gotta’ go. You gotta’ make it turn you into a winner.

We also hired a trainer, Scott Garwood. He and his team worked with Brittany for five races starting in Denver, Sonoma, Seattle, Brainerd and Indy. Then he said he was going into the Countdown. If you’re a driver or a crew chief or a corporate executive, you need to look at this guy. I don’t know all what he did, but it sure helped turn her around. I’m proud of her to tears. She did something that no woman has done since Shirley Muldowney 35 years ago.

How has the successful partnership with Peak helped the whole organization?

I lost two major partners. It hurt us financially. Peak provided the backing required to compete. Then I met Advance Auto Parts through them. The way they market and the way they promote us, they just get it. Bryan Emrich is the lead guy over there. They gave me an opportunity; we’ve got to win championships for them, and that’s what we’re going to do. The 2018 season will be a very good year for John Force Racing.

Brittany Force

NHRAchamp-3You finished the season with a three-hat Sunday: green for the No. 1 qualifier, yellow for the race win, and white for the championship. Does it get any better than that?

No, it’s pretty incredible to see what Alan Johnson, Brian Husen and our team pulled off that day. Not that we just won a championship, but were the No. 1 qualifier and we won at my home track. That just seems absolutely unreal. The efforts of the entire team enabled us to pull it off.

At the start of the 2017 season, how confident were you in the potential of the Monster Energy Top Fuel team?

I was confident about our team coming into 2017, especially looking at how well we ran in 2016. We brought home our first event win and won a handful of races. That was huge. Now, looking at the championship, I didn’t see that coming until later in the season. When we really started moving up the ladder was when I started focusing on that. All I had to compare it to was last season and how well we did. We wanted to improve this year, which we obviously did.

What was the 2017 high point before the Countdown to the Championship started?

Prior to Epping, we were struggling. Couldn’t figure out the car. Smoking the tires every single run. We’d get down the track maybe one out of the four qualifying passes, and then we wouldn’t do well on race day. We tested right before Topeka, then qualified pretty well, had a good weekend. We didn’t win, but that was a huge turning point. And then just two weekends later, we won Epping. That was the big turning point for all of us.

What were the highs and lows of the Countdown to the Championship?

We won 18 out of 24 rounds in the Countdown, which is just unbelievable. It proves that the Countdown is when it really matters; that’s how you move up in the points. The biggest low was the red light in Vegas. It was the final round and that was tough, because we should’ve won that race. It was driver error, my fault, but I sucked it up. My guys patted me on the back and told me what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas.

You and Robert Hight doubled up in Dallas and then went on to win championships. You’re the only JFR drivers to double up. How special is that?

It’s pretty amazing. Robert and I seem to have good luck together. My first win ever was Gainesville in 2016 with Robert. To have Robert there, it wasn’t just my first win, but it was the first double-up for John Force Racing. So it was huge. That’s something special because Robert is family, and he’s helped me throughout this whole journey, back in Super Comp, A-fuel, Top Fuel, getting licensed in Funny Car. He’s been there all along the way. John Force Racing hasn’t had a championship win since 2013, and then to get two in one year is pretty incredible.

Photo by Randy Anderson/NHRA

Photo by Randy Anderson/NHRA

When you crossed the finish line in Pomona and knew you won the championship, what was the first thing you thought?

The first thing, I said it probably a hundred times with my helmet on, still buckled in was, ‘There’s no way! Oh my gosh, there’s no way, there’s no way!’ You’re so close, all you have to do is win the round, but anything could go wrong. To see the win light and know what you’ve accomplished, it fixes all those days you struggled or had bad runs. Accomplishing something I never imagined we could was a dream come true.

Have you thought about what 2018 will be like as the Top Fuel champion?

I’m ready to go. We’re all on this high, feeling the energy, the excitement. It’s going to be pretty cool having No. 1 on my car.

Robert Hight

Was the second championship more satisfying than your first?

I believe it was. We were lucky enough to get Jimmy Prock back as my crew chief. That was key. He said it was going to be tough for Ron Capps and his team to keep winning. Our goal was to get our act together by the time the Western Swing started, and that’s exactly what we did. We won two of the three Swing races and set national records along the way.

NHRAchamp-2What improved the performance of your car and team over the season’s last half?

The way my Funny Car ran from Denver until the end of the season gave me so much confidence. Teams can win a lot of races when they’re confident. When we got that first win and started turning it around, my driving got better. My lights got better. I was having a lot of fun. We were all having fun doing it as a team. We had a blast.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO RESUME your relationship with Jimmy?

I started my career with Jimmy from 2005 until 2013, so most of my 41 wins are with him. I felt like I won the lottery when he came back. Jimmy and I are very close, and I feel like he is the best out there. A lot more wins will come. We just have to keep it together.

You and Brittany have two double up wins together and you clinched your championships together. What is that relationship like?

It’s pretty cool. I was at the top end when she won her first race in Gainesville, and that was the first double up for John Force Racing. It was the coolest thing to see her get that win and then do it again during the Countdown in Dallas when it really counted. All of us were dreaming of winning two championships with two great teams. To clinch both on the same day in back-to-back rounds was amazing.

What was it like to share this championship with your daughter, Autumn?

She loves going to as many races as she can. From Vegas on, she told me how nervous she was. I would tell her all we have to do is go out there and do our jobs. At the banquet, I brought her on the stage with the team because we all feel like she’s part of the team. She’s my biggest supporter.

What did John say after you clinched the championship?

He just made a run, and when he got to the other end, he was very emotional. He said he was crying before his run because I had just clinched. I think it was the payoff for all the hard work we’ve put into this operation the last three years. We’ve had some sponsorship and personnel changes. It was validation that we put the right people together, and all the hard work paid off. When Brittany won the Top Fuel championship we were like, ‘Wow, there’s no way to ever top this!’

What does it mean to John force racing to win both Nitro championships?

It’s going to be huge when we go into a boardroom. Sponsors want winners. You have to stay in the spotlight and be relevant. The best way to do that is to win. In this era of the toughest competition, we won both classes and one of them was with a single-car team. It just shows we’re going to be contending. We’re not backing down. We’re only going to get better and stronger.

How excited are you to defend your 2017 championship?

Very excited. You have a target on your back, and everybody is gunning for you. You want to do a good job representing the sport and the Funny Car class. You want to present yourself as a champion. I’m ready. All four teams can contend for championships, if we work together and stay focused.

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