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Force Faces Challenges On Track, In Board Room

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 4 2014

John Force will begin the 2014 NHRA season at this week's Winternationals with speed, family and finances on his mind. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Funny Car icon John Force says he would be willing to sit out the 2015 NHRA season in favor of daughter Brittany’s fledgling Top Fuel career if his current search for corporate funding falls short.

Brut Force on the sidelines would constitute the extreme worst-case scenario for both John Force Racing and the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. It’s a circumstance Force, the 16-time/reigning world champion and drag racing’s marquee personality, said he is hustling across America to avoid.

“I’ve been sick for months, OK? But sick is what motivates me,” Force said during a national teleconference previewing the season-opening 54th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals. “The fear of not getting to drive a race car or my daughter not getting to race. I’ve always said if somebody’s got to sit out 2015, it will be me. My daughter, I’ve set her on fire; I’ve crashed her. I’m not going to tell Brittany you can’t race that dragster. I may have to move her into a Funny Car.”

Brittany Force was voted the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 2013 – an exclamation point to her father’s record-setting 16th title. However, both John and Brittany Force must find major corporate funding for 2015. Long-time JFR partners Ford Motor Company and Castrol announced within weeks of each other last summer they would be pulling their support from the Force camp after the 24-race 2014 season that will begin at Auto Club

Top Fueler Brittany Force will be racing in 2015, her father promises. (File photo courtesy of Elon Werner/John Force Racing)

Raceway in Pomona, Calif., on Thursday.

Force, daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight – the 2009 Funny Car world champion – all have spent parts of the short NHRA offseason making personal appearances designed to promote continued cash-flow for their respective Funny Car teams.

“Look, John Force Racing, the problem you have is if you lose a major sponsor, you can drop a team. You don’t lose nothing,” said John Force, who logged four wins, five runnerup finishes and six No. 1 qualifying positions in 2013. “But when you lose two sponsors, you’ve got to replace two cars and let two teams fall, then you lose the manufacturer. That hurts because I’ve got shops at Indy with a hundred employees. So we’re working hard. We’re having meetings.

“I’ve got to bring a manufacturer back. But I’ve got to look can I ever get my funding back where it was? I was a $24-million program – $24-million. I can’t count on the world to come save me. Right now my guys are budgeting. I said very simple, if my budget has been cut 45 percent, let’s pretend I don’t get any of it back. Go back to when my budget was at that amount of money, how did I make it? Well, they went back to that budget and I had less than half of the employees that I’ve got now. That was 15 years, 16 years ago I had a budget like that. So if I don’t get it all back, I go out of business. And I will not go out of business.”

Force’s offseason manufacturer discussions have included a possible return to General Motors with a Chevrolet Camaro body, as well as would-be first-time NHRA professional manufacturers Kia and Hyundai. Force, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, said he was quizzed about partnering with the Korean manufacturers during the annual PRI show in December.

“I made this statement – any company that’s going to join John Force, I don’t care where

With Ford bailing, John Force is considering looking to Korea for help. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

you’re from, who you are, unless you’re a real bad guy out there,” Force said. “I’m going to let you come with me, and I’m proud to be with you. But you’ve got to sell and you’ve got to manufacture in the U.S. You’ve got to give jobs. I’m not going to take a company over here that makes it over there and sends it over here. Now they might make one of their brands and bring it over here, but they better have plants in America that are manufacturing.”

Both Kia (West Point, Ga.) and Hyundai (Montgomery, Ala.) operate major manufacturing facilities in the USA. “I want to race. I’ve got to take a sponsor,” Force said. “As long as he builds some stuff over here and he gives the American people jobs, I will promote the heck out of him. The fans need to look. We’ve got to stay in business.”

Force added he could make money by selling 500 CID engines to competing Funny Car and Top Fuel teams. “That’s a no-brainer. I can stay in business,” Force said. “But then they all come back and beat me with my technology. So I have to be careful who I sell to. I look at IndyCar and NASCAR, is there anywhere I can do any business over there to float my machine at Indy? I own the buildings; I own the equipment. I did it by doing shows and entertaining to get it up to where it is. The only (expenses) I have there is payroll and buying materials. But it’s still a nut, and I’m looking to find it.

“I’m going to make money in TV and in racing and with my endorsements, I can afford to pay for one car. I can spend $3.5 to $4-million for my daughter’s car. But I have to find a sponsor for me. I’ve got money in the bank, but in three years, I’d be flat broke. So, nope. I’m chasing it.”

Brittany Force, 27, finished 13th in points last season in the Castrol Edge Top Fuel dragster, the first season for JFR in NHRA’s premier class. She won 10 rounds of competition during the season, including a semifinal performance at the season-ending event in Pomona. She also led qualifying on Friday and Saturday at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Brittany is the fifth member of JFR to win the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, joining brother-in-law Hight, sister Ashley Force Hood, Mike Neff, and sister Courtney Force.

John Force said another option he has been exploring is “global match-racing” as a source of income. “That’s why I met with the group out of Canada,” Force said, “because Corporate America Global says do you race in Canada? Do you race in Mexico? Do you race in England? Do you race in Dubai? Well, I will, if that’s what it takes. I’m setting up to build cars. We’ve got NHRA tracks in those countries. I can put cars in those countries and leave them.

“I know they want me. They’ve been trying to get me back for years. So going to have to stay in business. If I’m going to race NHRA, and that’s who I race for, then I’ve got to do a lot of work to make it happen. Then throw in a TV show, it’s a heart attack in the making. But I’ve got no choice. It’s where I’m going.”

Force, 64, finished 104 points ahead of 2011 world champion Matt Hagan of rival Don Schumacher Racing at the conclusion of the six-race Countdown to the Championship. Force posted a 41-20 won/loss record and went 19-3 during the Countdown working with crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“What I’m looking at now is I hired Just Marketing. We’re even working with other agencies,” Force said.”We’re chasing manufacturers, we’re entertaining them. We’re looking at not just trying to find a major sponsor that will buy a whole team; NASCAR has rewritten how it’s done. It’s all changed. They’ve rewritten the way to go to business and I’m following it. That’s why I’m bringing back the (reality) TV show. I want to offer a little more TV than just what ESPN’s got. I’ve got my traveling Road Show that will go around the country. I’ve got my own show car program that goes around to the national events, my midway.

“NHRA is my home. It’s where I want to race. I know they work hard. They can only do so much, and the rest of us got to work. I took a few days off at Christmas, but Robert and I have been living on the road and meeting with people. We’re not going to fail. I will not fail because I’ve got nowhere to go. This is what I love, and I won’t fail my kids. I put them in this business. NHRA has a great product and we’ll fight our way out of this hole. All we can hope is that everybody does their job, because I’m doing mine.

“Cars are all I know. I love them. I’ve got a romance with the highway, trucks and cars. It’s just what I do. I have no reason to quit. Health may take me some day, and I’m going to race as long as I can do the job. And when I can’t do the job, I’m going to figure out how to get in the race car, test them and at least learn how to make them safer. The sport that made me financially stable in life that I could send my kids to college and I can retire right now, I owe the sport of NHRA. I owe the fans and I owe it to protect these kids.”

CIRCLE K NHRA WINTERNATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 54th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories _ Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock _ earn points leading to 2014 world championships.

WHERE: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Pomona, Calif. Track is located off I-10 at Fairplex Drive. Go north on Fairplex drive.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 6-9.

SCHEDULE

THURSDAY, Feb. 6 _ LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying.

FRIDAY, Feb. 7 _ LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, Feb. 8 _ LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, Feb. 9 _ Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Saturday, Feb. 8 _ ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 11 p.m. (EST).

Sunday, Feb. 9 _ ESPN and ESPNHD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 8 p.m. (EST).

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel; Courtney Force, Funny Car; Vincent Nobile, Pro Stock.

MOST VICTORIES: Bob Glidden, PS – 7; John Force, FC – 6; Greg Anderson, PS- 5; Warren Johnson, PS – 5; “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, TF- 5; Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, TF/FC – 5; Larry Dixon, TF- 4.

TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.721-seconds by Shawn Langdon, Feb. ’13; 328.70 mph by Doug Kalitta, Nov. ’13.

Funny Car _ 3.995-seconds by John Force, Nov. ‘13; 320.66 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’13.

Pro Stock _ 6.495-seconds by Jason Line, Nov. ’12; 213.13 mph by Line, Nov. ’12.

NATIONAL RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.

Funny Car _ 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.66 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’13, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock _ 6.471-seconds by Mike Edwards, April ‘13, Concord, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

TICKETS: Call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRATIX.com.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 4 2014
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