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John Force Ready To Beat Up On The Sharks

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2013

Team owner and nervous father John Forces leans into the cockpit to give daughter Brittany Force some drag racing tips. (Photo courtesy of Elon Werner/John Force Racing)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

TOPEKA, Kan. – John Force was in an anecdotal kind of mood Friday as he “relaxed” in his motorhome at Heartland Park Topeka. Apparently when things are not going well for the 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion, stories with uplifting morals come to mind.

And, with neither he nor his other two drivers among the top five in points upon arrival in Topeka for this weekend’s Kansas Nationals, things could definitely be considered as not going well at John Force Racing.

So, fidgety despite being seated in a very comfortable leather captain’s chair in his mobile lounge, out came a story about a movie he had just seen. It was a true story about a girl surfer who had lost an arm. “Shark got her,” Force says.

Very long story short: The shark incident freaked the girl out to the point she didn’t want to get back in the water again – until she visited Thailand after that country had been devastated by a tsunami. The girl saw that little kids that lived through the tsunami were afraid to get back in the water. The surfer girl reacted by helping the kids back into the ocean to do what kids do.

“The statement that was made,” Force said, “…was that you can get hurt, but you got to go back in that water.  I crashed (in Texas in 2007) and should have quit then. Lost Eric (Medlen, one of his drivers, in a crash), should have quit then, but you got to get back in that water.

“At the end of the movie, they build it all up and I thought she’s going to win this big surf deal and she rode the big

John Force and daughter Courtney. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

wave but the horn had beeped before she got up on the wave. And when she got to the beach, they called the other girl the winner. They interviewed her afterward and said, ‘Are you upset that you lost? You should have had that. That rule was wrong that they blew that horn, they couldn’t see you out there.’

“And she said, ‘It doesn’t matter. I didn’t come to win. I came to surf.’ After about 10 minutes of crying…I knew you’ve got to live life that way.”

The Funny Car waters are full of sharks these days. Don Schumacher Racing is loaded with fast cars and fast drivers. Cruz Pedregon is having a terrific year. Ditto for Tim Wilkerson and Del Worsham, who is back behind the wheel this year after tuning for Alexix DeJoria last year.

And at JFR, Courtney Force is the team’s top points person – at sixth. Robert Hight was eighth and John Force was 12th, 224 points behind leader Pedregon when the engines fired for the first time at Heartland Park.

Force said that Hight arrived in Topeka with the blues. Force said that he has had to issue pep talks to “his girls” as daughter Brittany is having rookie growing pains in Top Fuel and Courtney has slipped in Funny Cars in recent weeks.

The message to all at JFR from the boss was: “I came to drive a race car, not to win. Because I love it.”

Force also had talked with his crew chief, Mike Neff in recent days. Well, actually it was Neff who did the talking and Force who did the doubting.

Neff decided to roll out new chassis for the Topeka weekend. Force also said that cars have “a new clutch deal”. Force said he couldn’t believe it when Neff said he wanted to put the new stuff on the track this weekend – a weekend which started with the JFR teams in need of something to have and hold.

But, Force said, he trusts Neff so out came the new stuff. “I got total faith in Neff,” he said. “I go by what my generals tell me.”

And, Force said, leaning forward from that comfy leather chair and getting mighty dang serious, “We’re due. This

Funny Car driver John Force just enjoys racing. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

could be the day that everything turns. Everybody’s got their stuff together better than us. This race car could be the difference. I said to my guys as we went to the ropes (to sign autographs for fans). I said this could be the day where we turn everything around.”

Then, on Friday, came qualifying. And when the night ended, Hight was on the provisional pole and Courtney Force was second. Dad has sufficiently recovered from the sob movie to qualify eighth.

And, for the moment, the water was feeling good. Sharks and all.

“We rolled it (the new cars) out of the shop the other day and I stood there and I looked over at Eric’s (Medlen) statue there in Brownsburg (Indiana) there that we have out in front of our building and I said, ‘Eric, maybe we got sideways here. Maybe there’s something a little bit different.’ We’re going to look at it.

“You know we got the money. You know we got the talent. We got the manpower. We build everything. We got everything. Then we got snake bit. The snake got us. But you take the good with the bad. And you fix it. And I told my guys, this is the fun time. They said, ‘You don’t really mean it?’ I said, oh yeah. When you get hot, it’s easy. But when you really show what you’re made of, true grit, like the old John Wayne movie, is when you say I’m gonna do this no matter what it takes. I’m not saying we’re going to do it this race, I’m not going to say we’re going to fix it this year.”

Force is suddenly getting worked up.

“There was years that I made decisions and I failed,” he said. “In ‘92, I got cocky. I had a four- or five-race lead. Cruz Pedregon was back there so far in No. 2, the word made it to me by the media that he’s got to win four or five and you’ve got to lose ‘em. Well that couldn’t happen. He couldn’t win five in a row. I’ve been there. I think maybe I won six in a row. The point is, he did it. We got a little cocky. ‘Hey, let’s try some new stuff and get ready for next year.’

“And that kid (Pedregon), in the ‘Hamburger Car From Hell’, I called it, McDonald’s car, and he spanked me. Some guy took a photo me. I was on the road and I got the girls those package things from McDonald’s, what, Happy Meals? First, I was trying to open it. With my teeth as I drove. Then I pulled off the road and tried (to bite it off ) and almost pulled a cap off. Little plastic bags. I pulled off the side of the road, opened it and then jumped up and down on that little car, it was (Pedregon’s) car. My kids were like, ‘He’s nuts.’ I gave it to them and we were back down the road.”

Then came Saturday at Topeka. Force, John Force of ‘Destroy All Happy Meals’ fame, sets a new track record at 4.043 seconds. And on a hot, humid day in America’s capital of hot humid days.

Minutes later, Hight popped for a 4.05.

In the final round JFR and its fans could rightly say they were back – for a day, at least – as John Force, Courtney Force and Hight qualified 1-2-3 for the Kansas Nationals.

“We got a little bit of life over here,” the bossman said.

Sharks? What Sharks? Somewhere out there, a surfer girl has to be happy whether she knows it or not.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racingoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2013
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