Sorry guys, but John Force isn’t going anywhere.
The 16-time National Hot Rod Association Funny Car champion says he has no intention of retiring from drag racing. In fact, he’s just getting started!
“I’m not retiring until I’m no longer able to see the starting line,” Force joked. “I actually just signed a contract for the next five years. If I don’t have the reaction time anymore, then I don’t need to be in the seat. But I’m not quitting unless that happens.”
When he’s not in the driver’s seat himself, 67-year-old Force is running his racing empire, John Force Racing, alongside his wife Laurie, four daughters and sons-in-law, leaving him little time to rest. “I’m on the road 40 weeks a year,” says Force. “I do 24 national events, plus other races and car shows. My idea of a vacation is being home in Yorba Linda, California.”
We caught up with Force in late 2016, during one of his rare moments of quiet time, to ask some questions about his famous family, his incredible racing career and what car he’s hoping to get his hands on next.
GG: What other kind of career would you have been good at?
John Force: I wanted to play football but I had polio as a kid and one of my legs was a little shorter than the other, so I knew there was no future in that for me. But I liked wearing a helmet, I liked to hear the crowd and I liked entertaining people, so it kind of makes sense why I got into racing. I was a truck driver for a number of years, so [if I hadn’t gotten into racing] I might be doing that, or possibly working for the police or fire department.
GG: What do you like most about what you do?
John Force: I love being surrounded by people, and hearing the crowd, whether they’re cheering or booing, it doesn’t matter to me. I just enjoy being a part of the competition, and doing things to make people feel good.
GG: What’s your daily driver these days?
John Force: I drive a Chevy Suburban every day of the week, but I’ve got over 80 cars in my museum. Do I drive them? No. I own all types of cars, I don’t drive them.
GG: What are you most proud of?
John Force: My daughters and my family are what I’m most proud of. Everyone in my family is in the business. My wife is very involved in the business, my oldest daughter Adria is the CFO [of John Force Racing], and my son-in-law is our team president. My daughter Brittany drives Top Fuel and my daughter Courtney drives Funny Cars. My daughter Ashley drove Funny Cars and won Indy two years in a row. I’ve never even done that! I am so proud of all of them.
GG: Your daughters have become an inspiration to young girls interested in racing. Do you think we’ll see more women racing in the future?
John Force: I think the door is open for them. Lately, we’re seeing a real run of women [in racing] and the crowds love it, probably because half of the crowd are women. It’s evolved with the new generation, because it’s family entertainment that everyone can watch. [The industry] is changing; people enjoy watching the women, beating up on the guys [on the track]. Still, though, out of 20 cars at a national event, there are may be only two women drivers.
GG: You have to play three roles at the track—racer, team owner and dad. How do you do that successfully?
John Force: It’s not always easy, and sometimes I forget that I have to be a dad first. As an owner, I want all my team cars to excel; as a driver, I want to beat my daughters; but as a dad I want to see all my kids win.
When Courtney crashed [in Seattle in August], people said I showed no compassion [as a dad] because I wanted to know when she could race again. Once I knew she was OK, I was asking questions about her competing, because I have to protect the business. I got beat up for it, and I apologized [publicly] for not being more of a father and less of a businessman [in the situation]. It’s tricky sometimes.
GG: What’s the scariest crash you’ve ever witnessed?
John Force: The worst crashes are when someone dies. We lost Eric [Medlen] in 2007. That was just horrible. His crash led the charge for safety and since then we have improved, and the NHRA [created] new safety requirements because of it. It took losing a young kid like Eric to have the safety of the sport improved and the rules changed.
GG: You’ve had some pretty nasty crashes yourself over the years. Have you ever considered quitting?
John Force: Never. There was never a time [after a crash] where I didn’t consider going back. My attorney says, ‘If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t get in the car.’
GG: Will we ever see a return of your family’s reality TV show, “Driving Force?”
John Force: They’re actually trying to bring back our show. We stopped the show when Eric Medlen died in 2007, so we could focus on fixing cars that wouldn’t hurt people and we did that. Originally the show was about me and [my wife Laurie] teaching the kids the business, but the new version would show my kids teaching me to do stuff.
GG: What’s your dream car?
John Force: I have always wanted one of the Batman cars. I’ve put the word out that I’m looking to buy a Batman Tumbler car. They only built about five of them and it looks like a military off-road vehicle. I’ll probably never get one, but I’ve put the word out that I want it! Other than that, Chevy is coming out with a rear engine Corvette, and that’s the next car I want to buy.
GG: You’ve met so many famous people over the course of your career. Is there anyone you’d like to meet but haven’t yet?
John Force: I don’t really get into politics, but I’d really like to meet Donald Trump. I like watching him. I’m not saying that I’m voting for him or not voting for him, but I am curious about him and I follow him a lot. I love how he deals with business, good or bad, and he’s interesting to me.
GG: What’s something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
John Force: People might not know that the one time I tried to fish, I ended up putting a hook through my hand, and the one time I tried to golf, I almost hit Wally Parks in the head with a golf ball! Those could never be my hobbies. My hobbies now are the gym and my family. My health is better now. Before my crash in 2007, I was drinking and partying and I think the good Lord crashed me to get me right! That crash got me back on track, and now my biggest hobby is spending time with my family. I love being with my grandkids.
GG: What does the future hold for you and John Force Racing?
John Force: I’m entertaining the thought of building my own racetrack, either in California or Indy. We’ll see where things go. My goals are to continue to win championships—me or my teams. That’s my number one priority. My number two priority is to grow the sport of NHRA drag racing. The sport has been good to me my whole life, and it’s been good to my family. I love racing. It’s given me a great life and I want to pay it back.