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ATLANTA -- John Force, driver and owner of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang and Ashley Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, took part in an NHRA teleconference today in advance of this weekend’s race. Below are some highlights from that teleconference.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD – driver Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Q. YOU HAVE SEEMED CONSISTENT THIS YEAR. DOES WATCHING YOUR DAD PERFORM LIKE IT’S THE 1990S AGAIN GIVE YOU ANY EXTRA MOTIVATION ON THE TRACK?
A. Yes, it’s definitely been a trip down memory lane for me. Fortunately I’ve grown up a little since the 90s and I’m not wearing that side ponytail anymore but I’m still cheering on Dad. It’s been fun in our camp to see that team after the ups and downs that they’ve had over the past few seasons to be back on top where they were so used to being. You can definitely tell in our camp that excitement to have all three teams standing strong and having Dad back in the number one spot.
JOHN FORCE – driver/owner Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Q. HOW MUCH FUN ARE YOU HAVING THIS SEASON?
A. I always have fun racing even when I’m getting spanked. There are no highs without the lows and I’ve been on a roller coaster, it just got kind of stuck in the mud. We’ve made changes. By the great words of President Obama, you have to make changes. I don’t know if it’s working for Obama, but it’s definitely working for John Force Racing because we’re back in the ballgame, especially me. Ashley and Robert were always there finishing first and second in the championship last year, but I wasn’t even in the game. I was still having fun, though. I’m excited the media is still talking to me, so life is good. I’m really proud of Ashley and what she’s doing to help her sisters come up in the ranks. Courtney wants to go pro in a Funny Car. A lot of fun is going on here at John Force Racing in Yorba Linda, California, so life couldn’t be better.
FORCE HOOD (continued)
Q. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR’S FINAL IN ATLANTA?
A. It was an evening run and I think what the problem was, and everybody was facing it, I just hadn’t been in that situation before going down a track, most events are set up pretty good with the lights, and usually we’re not running during that time of day at that event but because I think there were some rain delays, I think we were pushed back a little. Going down the track I just couldn’t see and we pinpointed it to reflection on the track, or the spotlights on the track that were there to help everyone to see, but if you were looking at it from the right angle it could kind of blind you. I got down the track. I was on probably one of our best runs that we’ve ever had of course, but when you can’t see you’re not going to win a race but crossing the center wall or hitting a wall or doing anything unsafe. I was really bummed and really upset. I felt like I made a mistake. When I went back and talked with my team they 100 percent backed me up for what I did. They said that there’s always another race and if I ever feel antsy or uncomfortable in that car to shut-off. They would have been mad at me if I hadn’t because that’s really dangerous when you’re going 300 mph and not seeing where you’re going. We’ll be a little more prepared this year going into that. I never had any problems going into there before it was just that one run. Hopefully that won’t get us again and we can get back in that final shot and have a better outcome.
Q. HOW MUCH EASIER IS IT TO SHOW UP AT THE TRACK NOW?
A. There’s was times when you had so many times like me of winning and you come through the gate and the fans are cheering and you see the change of them saying ‘Come on Force, you can do it!’ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And your kids are there and your wife, it’s embarrassing. When you’ve been good, like I was good over the years, and then all of sudden to be in the cellar, it was tough. Then you got the joke of senior moments and you think, maybe it is over? The truth is I really love what I do. Especially now I can’t even tell you how I feel. I love to watch Robert, even when he beats me. I stand at the end of the track and I watch his interviews. I’m so excited to watch Robert, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney… when they lose and when they win. This sport is really special and I know what it takes to win and to lose, and to watch them getting to go through what I went through for so many years, it’s painful, but when you look back it was the greatest time of my life. If I’m guilty of anything I’m guilty of not wanting to let go. I’m like Warren Johnson, and I’m not speaking for Warren, but it’s all we know. Every day in that car, every loss is a learning curve at how to be better and we just don’t want to give it up. I want to show my kids that I still have what it takes to be good. Some of them are so little that they don’t remember when I was winning, or when I was dominating. I really do love this. I’m going to do it until I drop, it’ll probably be on a race track some day and it will be embarrassing, but I’ll have my kids there and my family to pick me up. It’s just what the Force family does.
FORCE HOOD (continued)
Q. NOW THAT YOUR DAD IS ON TOP OF HIS GAME, DO YOU WANT TO BEAT HIM THAT MUCH MORE?
A. The toughest people I think to race, are the people on your own team because they’re also the people that you cheer for, that when you go out they’re the saving grace for you. Even though you lost, you still have people to go up on that starting line and cheer on. When I run against him, the pressures off. When I run Dad and when I run Robert I feel like I can go out there and have some fun, not make ourselves nervous or sick but go out there run our cars and may the best car win. It’s a very different feeling than when you’re running different teams like the Schumacher Team, the Pedregon Team, all the other guys you race against. The mind frame is just different. Whether you mean to be or not, you still feel different running against them. I still think I push harder running other camps because they’re our competitors not my teammates. Maybe that’s the wrong way of looking at it but I’m still adjusting and changing my way of thinking.
Q. HOW MUCH OF A FACTOR HAVING YOUR FAMILY WITH YOU, NOT JUST IN THE PITS OR IN THE GARAGE, BUT ON THE TRACK WITH YOU, HELPED DURING YOUR STRUGGLES?
A. In my office there are pictures of my wife Laurie backing my race car up and mixing the fuel. She was part of it – she wrote the contracts in the early days. When she had Ashley, our world started changing. She could go to the opening race at Pomona and the world finals here at Pomona. She could go to Indy and the western swing because of summer.
Because of Ashley, 16 and wanting to go to Frank Hawley’s driving school, and her sisters, they don’t want to be drivers like me. Every interview, they want to be like Ashley because they were really close together. I got a second chance that they’ve come back with me through racing. I thank NHRA for that. The crash, if anything, in ’07 they spent weeks in the hospital with me. They stayed right there and it’s a real wake up call to what really matters in life. Your children, your wife, it’s everything. And I got a second chance. I’m a real lucky guy. I lived in the gym to show them I could come back and be part of this family and hopefully to teach my kids. That is my energy every day. Every day when I see Ashley on the race track when she gets beat and she’s all bummed out, it builds my energy to get on her too, where I’m a pain to her. When she sees me coming, she goes the other direction because I rag on her. But that’s what builds champions, to stay on top of it and fight it every day. She’s doing well. Ashley will go on and she will chase that dream that she loves.
FORCE HOOD (continued)
Q. HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU TO WATCH YOUR DAD STRUGGLE SO MUCH AT THE SAME TIME YOU ARE TRYING TO ESTABLISH YOUR OWN NAME IN THE FIELD.
A. Last season, through the spring and summer, everything kind of came together for us and we were running really good. We were winning races, we were going final rounds, we were leading the points a few times during the season. It was very bittersweet because we were so excited to be a newer team and to be doing so well and yet our own teammates were both struggling – my Dad and his team who’d won so many years and had such success and who we’ve learned from… and also Robert’s team, who had come so close year after year to that championship. Those were the two that we really felt would be the ones going after the number one spot and yet, we found ourselves in the position. The thing I can say is that both of those teams never were envious or upset. They were 100 percent supportive. They cheered us on; they were on that starting line whether it was the semis or a final that we were in. Even if it was them that we had beaten the round before, they would come right over, try to help us out because they really did feel that at the end of the day we’re all one big team. It was the best feeling in the world to never feel that they weren’t happy for us. Now when the tables are turned, we can 100 percent give our support as well and if we struggle, we’re going to be right there cheering them on because come November, we want any one of these three cars in the number one spot. To have one, two and three would be amazing and obviously what our goal is. We’ll see how it goes, but this year I think we’re all starting out real strong and I think we have a really good shot at it. If we can’t get into any slumps, which happen from time to time, if we can all keep doing how we’ve been doing, then I don’t see why we couldn’t end up one, two and three.
Q. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LAST YEAR AT TOPEKA WHERE YOU SET THE TRACK RECORD?
A. We’re now going to the warmer events and it’s just a different time in our season. The beginning of the year is getting back into the groove of things; the end of the year is all about the championship. But now is really the time that you get some good laps on the track and really get to know your car because we are going to be seeing a lot of different conditions that it kind of just depends on where you’re at in the country racing and what the weather decides to do. In these next few races, Atlanta, Topeka, Englishtown, it can be cool there and it can also be hot and muggy there. That’s really where the crew chiefs are going to flex their muscles, show what they can do, show if they can figure out the track as quickly as possible, and have it down before race day. We’ve always tended to do well in this time of the year. Topeka, Atlanta, Houston in the threes seasons before this one, that’s where we really got into a stride, went rounds and we were consistent. We’re hoping to keep that up and I don’t know why that is. It seems every driver has certain tracks that they do well at. This time of year is usually when we really do well, so we’re going to try and take advantage of that and get our cars figured out. Obviously, it’s a new season, you can never count on last year or the year before or the year before that. You just have to go with what you’ve got and do the best you can. It’s exciting to return to a track that you’ve done well at in the past because you do have those memories, you remembered that feeling and you feel like you maybe have a little bit of an advantage to others because you have done well there.
Q. ANYTHING ABOUT THAT RACE THAT COST YOU A VICTORY IN TOPEKA?
A. No, I don’t remember anything in particular. It just wasn’t our day. [Ron] Capps is a really tough competitor, that’s a good team. He’s always one that when you go up to run, you know that they have the ability to win that race. Really, that’s how we feel about every person in Funny Car. The class in the last few years has gotten very competitive. There’s really not anybody that you’re not going to count on that’s going to get down the track and have a good time. That’s why the points are as close as they are. But that’s how you want it to be. I think it’s more exciting for the fans like that and us as well.
Q. ARE YOU LOOKING TO EXPERIMENT WITH WHAT YOU NEED TO DO FOR THE COUNTDOWN?
A. Right now we are staying focused. We are testing the smaller fuel pumps with NHRA. We tested at St. Louis and will be testing again at Chicago. NHRA is trying to build a motor that is not so explosive. They are trying to find ways to stop some of the problems with fires. As far as our race car goes, John Force Racing is always in test mode to try new things. We are really staying focused. I haven’t had a championship in a few years. Ashley wants a championship and Robert wants to repeat. We think our combination might not be way ahead of the pack, but we have found consistency with the BOSS 500 and the new chassis that we built that I am driving. I actually have the first chassis that came out of Indy. Robert is waiting for his to be delivered in the next week and then Ashley is going to get one because we believe there is something in the new chassis. We know that Schumacher is going to get that information also and is looking at that technology. We see it working for us already. We are going to just stay on the road, stay focused and see if we can get another championship.
Q. HOW DO YOU MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY PREPARE FOR A STRETCH OF NINE RACES IN 11 WEEKS COMING UP?
A. I am excited. I can’t speak for Ashley … she approaches racing different than I do. I am full throttle, off the wall yelling and screaming and she is like her mama. That is why I love looking at her. She is always looking at me thinking ‘What is the old man going to say next that is crazy’. Ashley is physically in great shape. You wonder how she sets these speed records; she is 100 pounds lighter than me. She is young and physically fit.
I love being out in the street. Once you get in that fighting mode of racing week after week, you just get better … you get sharper. All of the focus becomes how to win. I am really looking forward to it and so is Robert. My other daughters will be out there as well. We are all just really excited about the coming weeks.
A. It is a lot of time on the road, but I think teams and drivers like that because you get into the swing of things. When we have time off it can become hard to get into a groove. It is almost easier to have them back to back like this because you get into a routine. I am excited to get to Atlanta and see my team. We will hit it hard after Topeka out on the east coast. It is a lot of time on the road and I need to figure out how I am going to pack and stay under that 50-pound bag limit. The race teams have it harder because they basically live on the road where we can come back home for small spots here and there.
Q. HOW MUCH GRATIFICATION DO YOU GET SHINING ON YOUR OWN AFTER GROWING UP IN YOUR FATHER’S SHADOW?
A. You know, it was never about being in anyone’s shadow. I loved cheering him on all those years. It was actually helpful to me to have him be a more outgoing personality than I am because as I moved up the ranks and got more attention it was a little overwhelming and he was able to deflect some of that. In a way it was a benefit of me to be under his umbrella and learn the ropes and let him do his thing. It has been a good thing. When you look at me and Dad and Robert you see that we all have our own personalities, but we all love to drive these race cars. I think that is part of why people love to watch us race.