Transcript from NHRA Teleconference with JFR drivers
The following is an interview with the 2013 drivers for John Force Racing: John Force, Robert Hight, Courtney Force and Brittany Force. The team will begin the 2013 season at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Feb. 14-17.
Below are excerpts from the teleconference.
MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us today. On this call we’re joined by one of the most successful teams in NHRA history, John Force Racing. We have all four drivers with us today from their team, including 15-time Funny Car world champion John Force, 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight, 2012 Automobile Club Road to the Future winner Courtney Force, and Brittany Force, who is entering her rookie season in Top Fuel.
The 2013 season begins in Pomona with the O'Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway, followed by the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Feb. 22nd to the 24th at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.
We are joined first by John and Robert. Later in the call we’ll be joined by Courtney and Brittany.
John, talk a little bit about the team lineup you have coming up for the season and what are your personal expectations for yourself and the team going into the season?
JOHN FORCE: Personally, I like any of our drivers. Robert Hight or Courtney. We want to win a championship. My daughter Brittany coming up in Top Fuel, she's looking to qualify at every event if she can and hopefully to get a win. If you can make all the shows, you can put it in the Countdown and even then you got a shot at winning. She's a rookie, we'll see what happens. I'm excited right now. I made the transition back to (crew chief) Mike Neff that I won a championship with in 2010, when he chose to step out of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. He thought to do both, drive and tune, was too much. Dean Antonelli moved back to the Top Fuel ranks, which is an upward move. He was the best fit to go with my daughter Brittany. As you all know, he started Ashley's career in Funny Car and did well, winning Indy races back to back. The transition is good. I plan on getting back in the hunt for the championship.
MODERATOR: Thank you, John. Robert, last season you and your team got off to an incredible start after Pomona. You had four consecutive wins starting with the event in Phoenix. Not to skip over Pomona, what are your thoughts to returning to Firebird and the start of a new season?
ROBERT HIGHT: I'm super-excited. The last time NHRA had a new sponsor in 2009, which was Full Throttle, I won the championship. To come out and be the first Mello Yello champ, that's my goal. We've all had good luck at Pomona. We've won that race quite a few years in a row, the Winter nationals. No different this year. We feel we have three great Funny Cars, Ford Mustangs, that can come out and win. It's going to be exciting what that Boss 500 can do in Top Fuel. We've got to prove ourselves in Top Fuel, we've never been there. I believe we have the people here. Mike Neff and Jimmy Prock have been around dragsters. Nothing different. We're all going to work together to try to win two classes every race we go to. What I'm looking for with my Auto Club Mustang is a little more consistency. We got hot last year and won four in a row, but I want to win races throughout the whole season and definitely be ready for the Countdown to win the championship. We signed a long-term deal with Auto Club. They're on for five years. That's big. We have to prove to them that we can do this and do a good job for them.
Q. John, you've done a whole lot of winning over the years. What is it like, you entering a season without the NHRA trophy?
JOHN FORCE: It doesn't matter how many you win, trophies or championship rings. It's a matter of what we do. For all the hard work by the teams, the crew chiefs, the people in the offices, the chassis, paint and machine shops, it's a lot of work. As a driver, you want to win for them. As an owner, you want to win because you want to renew those sponsorships that you have. On top of it, for your own personal (satisfaction), me, I want to prove to Robert and my two daughters that I race with, that I'm still in championship form. I work out every other day to stay in that game. That's really what it's all about.
Q. What is your take on a new Mello Yello logo and sponsorship for NHRA?
JOHN FORCE: I think Tom Compton of NHRA has done a great job. You're talking about a sponsor, it's hard enough for us to replace a race team with a sponsor. I've been with Castrol 28, 29 years now. Auto Club for 15, 16, Ford for 15, 16, Mac Tools and Brand Source, I've been years with these guys. But the investment for all of our series from Coca-Cola, whether it's POWERade, Full Throttle or Mello Yello, it’s a huge investment. Compton managed to keep that thing alive, keep it going. I'm excited to promote the brand Mello Yello. I drank that product over the years. It's a great product. The fans are going to love it. I think it fits everybody. I'm excited to have a sponsor. Without it we couldn't have a series.
Q. John, throughout your career, you've made great steps not in just building your own personal career, but in building NHRA as a huge sport. Over the last four or five years you've built yourself as a father who's contributing to the great future of this sport. What does it mean to have Brittany coming in, and overall what does it mean to know that this sport means so much to the rest of your family, not just you?
JOHN FORCE: We're on unchartered ground here. As Robert was saying earlier about this Top Fuel thing, with our Boss 500 engine, we have so much to prove, but so much to learn. She's been training in that car for a year in that Top Fuel car. In testing with the brand-new car, I'd like to thank Don Schumacher Racing for engineering that canopy on these cars in Top Fuel for protection. My daughter, with that canopy on the car, ran 3.79, well over 322 miles an hour, she was the third quickest at West Palm Beach. So I'm excited going into new territory. I'm really excited for her. It was a change that needed to be. When you look at exposure for Castrol, they have two cars out there in the same lane, really didn't make any sense. They gave me a backup car so I could win and have a car to learn from, to test with. But I've already got a number of cars with Auto Club, and Traxxas now with Robert and Courtney. It made sense to get a little bit of TV action with ESPN in that other lane. It was Mike Neff who opened the door, the opportunity to bring Brittany in. We have a new TV package with a new TV series with Castrol, Designing Spaces, she's already filmed the commercials, Brittany has, with the Top Fuel car for it. A new avenue, more exposure for sponsors that have given John Force Racing 28, 29 years of investment. We're excited about it. Truly proud that my children get an opportunity to do the sport that I love to do. It's Castrol, Ford and Auto Club that is giving them that opportunity, but it was Wally Parks in the beginning that gave us a playing field. I'm truly honored and humbled to be a part of it and I'm going to keep working as hard as I can.
Q. John, I'm really excited about seeing Brittany come in. There has been a little bit of chatter about how is she going to do. I would say there's no pressure because this is going to be testing. Of course she's going to want to win, but I think she's got talent. She's been running rails for how long?
JOHN FORCE: Three years in Super Comp and three years in A Fuel. I'm prejudiced for my daughter so I'm going to let Robert Hight evaluate her. How do you evaluate her from what you've seen, not only on the racetrack, but interviews?
ROBERT HIGHT: I think she's done a great job. No doubt at all she can get the job done.
If our learning curve with a dragster isn't too long, she's going to be right there in the hunt. I mean, I don't see at all why she can't make the Countdown. I'm not trying to put extra pressure on her or the team. I feel right off the bat, that's another car that ought to make the Countdown. We've seen before, no matter what position you're in, you can win it. At the press conference in January, she gave a great interview. She's got the best coach in the world with her dad. She also has Courtney, who just went through the ropes a year ago. She's got everything she needs right here in front of her and she'll do fine.
JOHN FORCE: I get a lot of credit. I am proud of her, of all of the things that they do. It really has been Robert. I've been on overload. Robert and I haven't had vacation. We're back here in Indy now. Robert worked with her on that Top Fuel car to build the seat. Eric Lane, Dean Antonelli, they all worked on the Top Fuel car. Robert always made sure with John Medlen that she was fitted to the car, the seat belts, the harnesses. She tested in the car without the canopy. Then when she got in that, she was claustrophobic, but Robert helped her get through that.
I would give Robert the credit for really getting her in the groove of this Top Fuel car for testing.
And I'd like to thank you on the record for making that happen.
ROBERT HIGHT: She'll be fine.
Q. I interviewed Brittany and Courtney, Robert, the whole nine yards. I don't know if you can put pressure on Brittany. She's going into this with, from what I understand, a completely different mindset. Could she win? I think she could absolutely win. I think she might surprise a lot of people because I don't think there's that much pressure on her.
JOHN FORCE: She's very competitive. She talks more about beating Courtney than she talks about beating the competition. I said, you're not even going to race Courtney. I know she'll follow them points because they've been competitive. Ashley was a few years older. She was in cheerleading, into college first, high school cheerleading. Brittany and Courtney came up together. They fought for the praise from mom and dad and the friends. It's always been a fight to beat each other. I think you're going to see a lot of that, even though they're in two different categories.
Q. Did I hear you say you're going to do another TV series?
JOHN FORCE: We already shot the pilot for a show last year. I'll be honest. The problems that we had in '07, the year Ashley started, it was overload with Ashley. Then with Eric's crash, then my own, I realized we needed to get out of the TV business for a while, get back to learning about these racecars. That's taken us away. We shot the pilot, had a couple of offers last year to take the show back on. With Courtney starting, we put it off. Now with Brittany starting this year in Top Fuel, we turned them down once again. They love reality shows. You read in the paper by Super Bowl and these things that are live action are so huge, because they're on the spot what's happening right now. Reality is very strong. The Force family, all its drivers, will be back in that but we'll give it another year.
Q. On the conference call last week there was some talk about this theory of either you have it or you don't. How much of drag racing success do you think is natural instinct and how much is what you learn from experience?
JOHN FORCE: Robert, you got an opinion on that?
ROBERT HIGHT: I honestly think it's 50-50. I mean, you've got to be able to feel what the car does and have a certain reaction to the tree and stuff. But I also believe with a certain amount of willpower, hard work and determination you can accomplish anything. If you work hard and want to do something, I believe you can be successful at it. But I do believe there has to be a certain amount of natural talent.
JOHN FORCE: You see the movie with Robert Redford, The Natural, where he was born gifted. In racing, you have to have a gift. You have to have the love for this, work seven days a week. I believe Robert has it, I have it, my children have it. Even if they're girls, young ladies, they have that motivation. They want to be part of it. They watched Ashley, Courtney, now Brittany going in. The driving aspect of cutting a light, there could be natural ability because some people have good focus and some don't. In time you can learn that. It was funny listening to Brittany talking about the car. She said the first time I drove it in Florida, it was different. It was a blur and I almost couldn't find myself. After 10, 11, 12 runs I started spotting and visuals started coming to me. She said, driving that Ford motor, the Boss 500, I feel sometimes like I'm damaging the car. I said, how can you be a natural and just understand it? How can you just figure it out? How can anybody know what an 8,000 horsepower motor at 300 miles an hour sounds like when it's running or coming apart? You learn that by experience. That's the only way you're going to get there. We spent hours rehearsing her for commercials about motor oil, the Castrol GTX. We had to teach her about oil things that I didn't even know. After all the years in this business, Castrol sends some technicians in to educate us on the new products that they had and how they worked. There's a lot that can be natural and a lot that you have to learn. Like Robert said, it's 50-50.
Q. What do you plan to do with the new land acquisition across the street?
JOHN FORCE: I bought half of Prudhomme's land and I have the option by June to buy the rest. (Chip) Ganassi is over there now with a couple of his teams. (Bobby) Rahal is over there. I've got renters already. I'm not really worried. I'm investing in the future. I have a few bucks in the bank. I'm not making any money there. I don't play the bonds or stock markets. I put it into rentals where I can rent to people in our industry. That's where my growing point is. Racecars are what I do. Everything out of that revolves around the automotive industry. I'm hoping down the road I'm talking with Castrol, not in-depth, things that Castrol does. I'm excited about some of this stuff. Ford has done it with Tasca and Quick Lane. No reason that John Force can't get involved in that because we have the facilities to do it in California and out here. Simpson Safety moved in with us here. The Torrence team took on four bays here with us. I guess his dad is going to race. I'm bringing racing into the Brownsburg community and that's why I'm excited about the growth. I hated to see Don Prudhomme, a name as huge as that, step out. I always pray that he'll come back. He was my hero. Until then, I'm going to keep trying to grow the sport for myself and for Robert and for my children so we can make a living.
Q. I know you've had a relationship for years with Mac Tools. Would you ever consider taking on Antron Brown of Matco Tools, have they ever asked you? And would you be interested in picking up Tommy Johnson, Jr., to drive that second dragster now that he's resigned from Don Schumacher Racing?
JOHN FORCE: They're both champions in my book because they proved themselves. You might not win a championship like Tommy Johnson. At the right time and the right moment, he's been there, been close. Antron has always proved that he can win. He's a great interview. He's a fun individual. That door is always open. Right now my focus, that's why we went to a Top Fuel car. We had Funny Cars running into each other. Seemed we couldn't get away from each other at the racetrack. That's why we cut it back to three and moved into the Top Fuel. But, no, both of them individuals, if I had the money and an opening, without a doubt, they would both be on the top of the list, as well as (Larry) Dixon or Spencer (Massey). So many guys out there that have talent and situations. I heard Spencer is back in the game now. Robert is nodding. He's with Schumacher.
ROBERT HIGHT: We're also loyal to Mac Tools, they're a sponsor of ours and that's who we're with.
JOHN FORCE: I've been with Mac Tools as long as I can remember. One of the first ones that picked me up over 15, 16 years ago. I didn't realize, did she mean go with Matco? No, I love my sponsors. Unless they throw me out, we work through the good times together, the bad times when money is tight. We brought Freightliner onboard with us so we can grow our program because the cost of 18-wheelers, trunks, it's expensive. That's with Robert and I, we've been doing shows, my girls, all winter long. I'm ready to go to Pomona, to do what I love to do, and that's drag race.
Q. John, when did the first idea of doing a Top Fuel dragster in John Force Racing, how many years back, and what prompted it?
JOHN FORCE: Years back when Jimmy Prock came to work for us. Robert, tell us how it evolved.
ROBERT HIGHT: We hired Jimmy Prock. We decided we were going to have a dragster. We ordered one from Brad (Hadman). Had a chassis sitting there. Based out of California then. Anyway, Ford, they wanted brand recognition with the Mustang. That's when we decided to go through three Funny Cars and ended up selling that dragster years later. We've had four Funny Cars on and off. But seems like we run into each other a lot. It's no fun racing your teammate. The dragster was a perfect fit. Moved that sponsor into two different categories every weekend with a chance to win and get TV exposure. I think it's good for John Force Racing and for Castrol.
JOHN FORCE: Years ago when we looked at building another team, we got Funny Cars, let's go to the dragsters. Ford said, that's not a good idea because the Mustang is what we promote. In the process, we went ahead, we went to three, we went to four cars. What's changed now on the Ford side is they have (Bob) Tasca Funny Car. Even though he's his own team, we're all one Ford. That's the way Jamie Allison, the guys at Ford, that's how Ford wants it done. At the end of the day, all of a sudden we have five Fords, we have (Tim) Wilkerson in a Ford. We're running into each other. We looked at, is it really necessary? There were some complaints from other teams, Force has five cars because Tasca is his car. That's not true. I draw no money from Tasca. I draw no bonus, no program from Ford. The only thing I did, just have to share the technology that Ford puts into the cars. If they give it to Tasca, it comes to us. If it goes to Tasca, it goes to Bobby. So it was a fitting time to turnover to Top Fuel, because we have four cars, Wilkerson in a car, but now John Force has three and nobody can complain, but they still will complain.
Q. You said Brittany tested without a canopy for a while, then you added a canopy. What created that decision?
JOHN FORCE: We have been building the three-rail dragster that everybody said would be too expensive, too heavy, like they said about the Funny Cars. We flew our chassis builder, Steve Plueger, down to Indy to evaluate what we're building here in our chassis shop. We felt that the Schumacher team had an edge on us in the early numbers and we wanted to change. We had three different designs we tested at Vegas and then before Christmas in West Palm Beach, then after Christmas at the test session. They're all flying. Which one are we going to pick from? Well, the dragster we had, the canopy that Schumacher built, would not fit on it. But it hadn't been approved by NHRA yet. When NHRA approved it late in the year, we built the brand-new dragster and now the canopy fits. I look at safety. We've addressed it. Schumacher invested in it with the vendor that built it. NHRA approved it. That's what I'm going with. We read all their specs on why we believe it's better. My crew chiefs, Mike Neff, Jimmy Prock, Ron Douglas, Dean Antonelli, they all got together and made the call, we're going with it. They work on the dragster as much as they work on the Funny Car. I have some great people over here, I'm very lucky.
Q. John, a couple years ago when Ashley stepped out of the seat, you moved into her car, and Mike Neff then drove the car he tuned you to a championship in. Are you doing the same thing this year? Is he going to stay tuning the car he was and you're going to be driving it or is it all a new program?
JOHN FORCE: Basically Robert is the one that came to me. When Neff came to work for me, we had a number of Funny Car teams. Because of the economy, we had to drop a team because of budget. Mike Neff had to give up that seat. Tuning was what he did for a living. He wanted to try something new with us and be in the seat of the car under Old Spice and under the Ford Mustang brand. Then when Ashley (Force-Hood) stepped out, I was walking away in 2010 from the winner's circle and Ashley was all emotional. I thought it was because I won the championship. She said, Dad, when you were hurt, I knew how important it was in '07, to stay in the car, to keep the Force name alive because you were struggling. Then when you won in 2010... I had just won 10 minutes ago, beat Matt Hagan, my daughter says, my husband and Daniel, we want to start a family. She didn't mess around. She left that day, I think she got started, but Jacob was born just nine months later. So the opportunity changed to put Mike Neff back into the seat as I've given my word. I'll turn it over to Robert. I didn't even know about it till midway through the year. Mike Neff went to Robert.
ROBERT HIGHT: To be a great crew chief, I couldn't do it. There's no way I could do both jobs. John couldn't do both jobs. It became such an overload for him. He was doing great as a driver and a crew chief, but it was too much. He wanted to focus more on the tune-up. Basically it worked out perfect. We watched Brittany grow all year. She was driving the dragster on Mondays, testing, doing a great job. It was time for her to move up. If Mike Neff wouldn't have been ready, Brittany probably wouldn't be driving this year because John keeps his word to his drivers and his people. He always told Neff, You make the call. Anyway, Mike wanted to step out, focus more on the crew chief duties. If you look back at history, John was only with Mike Neff one year. He had Austin Coil and Bernie, too. He won a championship. But that is going to be a great car this year.
JOHN FORCE: When Mike Neff came to me, I said, First of all, Mike, I'm struggling right now. You and Robert are the two best cars I got. This was back right before Dallas. He said, I made a decision here that I can't do both to the best of my ability. If you're going to make a change. And I said, I have no plan of a change. And I thanked Mike this morning, because it worked out great for Castrol. They didn't get Ashley back, but they got the other daughter Brittany. They're tickled pink because it's good to have a female driver. Ashley will be back. But she's four or five months pregnant. Maybe she'll come back when one of the other girls step out to start a family. Who knows what these young ladies are going to do. I'm not even allowed to ask. I can't give an opinion what I think when it comes to motherhood and what they choose to do as young individuals, women, I just let them make the call.
Q. John, now with getting into the Top Fuel dragster, is there even an outside chance, is there any chance you might strap into a dragster and be one of a handful of people that won a championship in both classes?
JOHN FORCE: I don't have an ego. I'll let Robert speak to what he thinks. I've been a Funny Car guy from day one. I loved them from the Plastic Fantastic, signs, moving billboards, short wheel base, motor out front, it just turns me on. I love the dragsters. I want to be a part of everything that's done in this company. It's kind of what's wearing me out. I've never had that urge to go to Top Fuel. I know they're the king of the sport. My daughter now is the fastest in the family. But you can't compare the two. Apples and oranges, dragster and Funny Car. It's just what it does for you. Some guys like blondes, some like redheads. It's a matter of taste. I like Funny Cars. I'll never say never because every time you do that, something directs you down a different road. The dragster is what did it for my daughter. Courtney likes the Funny Cars, so did Ashley. Brittany likes the dragsters. Robert, what do you think? Jimmy Prock was one of the top tuners.
ROBERT HIGHT: Would I like to know what it's like to drive a dragster? Yes, I ask questions all the time. Friends like Del Worsham, he's driven both, kind of explained the differences. Would I like to know the difference? Sure, I would. I like Pro Stock. Those guys in there pulling gears, revving the thing up on the starting line. I love all that about NHRA drag racing. Going back to Mike Neff, being a tuner and driving, you can't do a great job at both in long-term. I'm going to stick to fuel Funny Cars.
JOHN FORCE: What's neat is we built the Boss 500 with the Ford engineers. It has its own blocks, heads, manifolds, the whole ball of wax. We won a lot of championships with that motor in the car. We always wondered what it would do in Top Fuel. When we were down in Florida in testing, when Dean Antonelli took that team over, he and Danny, we said, Okay, we're going to go out here. I said, look, it's my kid. No need to see the front of the car three feet in the air, trying to our run everybody. Just make it go A to B. The thing, on its second or third run runs 3.79. We were like, That Boss 500 motor, she's an animal. He put her in the backseat of a dragster with all that traction, we've already had a number of calls from Top Fuel teams wanting to buy heads, blowers. Half the stuff won't fit on the other design block that the others use. We think we might have something here special because Ford sells Mustangs, understand that. We do that. But this Boss 500 is their baby and they're really proud to have it in a Top Fuel car. Especially if this girl can win races, it's going to be win-win for everybody.
Q. Robert, you're one of the quietest presidents of a drag racing team that may exist. What is it like being in that position and how do you separate yourself at the racetrack from being just the driver of the car and being the president at John Force Racing?
ROBERT HIGHT: First off, it's an honor that John would trust me with making decisions with this company. He built it from the ground up. It's obviously successful. But there's more to it than just being a driver. You look at John running around the racetrack. He's going all day long. At the end of the day, he's wore out. If there's a little that I can do to take some of the stress and work away from him, it's gladly accepted. But look, there's lots of different kinds of drivers out there. There's other owner/drivers. I want to be involved in this sport a long time. I know I'm not going to be able to drive forever. When I step out of the seat someday, hopefully I'll be able to know what's going on with this business and help continue it.
JOHN FORCE: First of all, I haven't quit yet. I'm going to drive another five years for Castrol, Ford and Auto Club. I got 25 years on you. Robert has a while to be around here. He's an owner now in this company. All my daughters and son-in-laws, they're owners. This year with the government, I was able to grant a lot of my companies over to my children and their husbands because I want to be prepared if that day ever does come, the good Lord wants me, that this organization is set up to go on down the road. But Robert is unbelievable of what he's taken off my hands, allows me to have a life. I really appreciate what he's done. He's deserved that job. If you look at my girls, they all work in the office every day of the week. Ashley is still making commercials. Brittany and Courtney, they were out all day yesterday doing media. Left at 9 in the morning, came back with NHRA at 8 last night. My son-in-law Daniel, out in L.A. working in the business, will be on the road with the teams. Everybody does at least three jobs in this company. Nobody has one job. So there's no time for golfing. I don't know how to golf anyway.
ROBERT HIGHT: Me neither.
Q. I know you're not planning on ever getting in a Top Fuel, but have you ever just driven it down the track? Have you ever wanted to do it, either one of you?
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, I'd like to know what it's like. The truth is, these cars are all built for each individual driver. I'm sure you've noticed we're not as small as Brittany. It would be a little tough for us to fit in there.
JOHN FORCE: I got into her car, the other chassis, which was a little bit different, because we built it originally to fit Robert, me, to fit Brittany. If she struggled at all with it, we could get in it and get it down the racetrack. I got in that thing, they had to get a forklift to get me out of it. I watch Schumacher going in and out. Brittany goes in and out. It's not my thing. I always said, if I'm going to spend all that money on the motor, I want it out in front of me. When it blows up, I want to see it go.
Q. John, I know Brittany has run such fantastic numbers at testing. Let's say you get out there and start competing, the numbers slack off. Do you have any contingency plans to share data with any other Top Fuel team?
JOHN FORCE: We haven't yet. Torrence rents from us here in Indy. Dean Antonelli has been able to go to him and talk to his crew chiefs. We have a big enough brain trust here and we'll figure this out. Would we like to go out and win the championship? Sure, we would. So would Brittany and so would Castrol, Ford, all the sponsors, Auto Club. At the end of the day it's a learning curve. Dean Antonelli has to learn the dragster. That group of guys on that team. And Brittany has to learn. Understand something. I raced for 15 years before I won a national event. Four years after that before I won a championship. I've seen guys win out of the box, then all of a sudden it goes wrong and they can't ever get back there. It's because if you work hard enough to get there one day, you'll earn that right. You've got to earn that right to win your first race, earn that right to win your first championship. I said that to (Matt) Hagan that first year when he was so down he lost to me. You think when you do win how much it's going to live with you, you're living the gut ache, the fight. I say the same thing to my girls, this is all about learning, but never forget it's a job. It's a great job that gives you a paycheck so you can have a lifestyle. It's one of the greatest jobs on earth. I'm really lucky to be able to do this. Did we answer anything, Robert?
ROBERT HIGHT: You did.
Q. John, when you step down as president, we have another presidential job open here in Washington, D.C., might you be open for that?
JOHN FORCE: My wife won't let me have a gun in the house let alone shoot skeet or nothing. Drag racing is what I do. When I go home, try to be normal, I get so depressed. We had a Super Bowl party for our family, marketing people. When it was all over, Steve Cole got up and said, do you realize you, Robert, Danny and the girls talked through the whole football game. Didn't hardly take time to eat. All you talked about was racecars because that's what we do. I did stop long enough to watch the super model kiss that geek. It's what you do, you just love it. Trying to be a little cute here, because Robert is kicking me, I'm talking too much, we want to get the girls on here. Brittany and Courtney, I know you're listening. I'm proud of you. You worked all day yesterday. Welcome to the big-time. Mom said you were exhausted when you came home. I hope you both share the media stuff, not like I'm doing with Robert, I'm talking too much, I'm wound up on coffee, I'm hogging it all. I apologize, Robert.
MODERATOR : Let me introduce Courtney and Brittany, talk a little bit about their credentials, with Courtney as the rookie of the year for the NHRA last year, and Brittany stepping into the cockpit this year. Courtney, take us quick through your first season behind the wheel of these Funny Cars. Did it meet your expectations of what you thought you were going to do going into the season?
COURTNEY FORCE: Honestly I really do think that our Traxxas team exceeded our own expectations. Going out there, my dad told me, this is a learning year, you got to go out there, do the best you can. Every lap, the more and more comfortable you get, the more practice you get. I mean, I'm lucky enough I had a crew chief, Ron Douglas, Dan Hood, they gave me such a consistent racecar throughout the season, we qualified at every national event last season. We made it in the top 10 and finished fifth in the overall points standings as well as picking up rookie of the year. I'm very excited with how the season went. Got a win in Seattle, Washington, for the first time. It was definitely an exciting season. We're looking forward to starting it again next weekend.
MODERATOR : Brittany, you're going to be one of the first Forces to battle against Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Morgan Lucas, some of these heavy hitters in the Top Fuel ranks, what goals have you set for yourself for the upcoming season?
BRITTANY FORCE: I'm excited to be out there. I'm going to be running against these guys I grew up watching. A lot have come over during testing, given me tips, advice, asked if I had any questions about things. They've all been really great. I'm anxious to get out there and be in the other lane next to them. I also have a lot of goals coming into the next season. I'm working with Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane. I think we have a really strong team. I would love to qualify at every national event. I would really like to go after my first win. I'm really going to go after it this week.
Q. For any of the drivers. In a fuel team, you have teams of people you trust to get you safely down the track, do you ever find you're aware of that as you're staging the car? How do you let that go when you have this 8,000 horsepower monster underneath you and all these hands have touched it?
BRITTANY FORCE: For me, I know my dad has put together a great team behind me. The same with Robert and Courtney and all of us. We have a great team behind us. I know they all support us. I know that they're a really strong team and are going to build a fast car but a safe car to take us down the track in.
JOHN FORCE: It's about camaraderie. You got to believe in the guys around you. They dedicate themselves. They want to win as much as you do. You just got to believe in them. Whether you're doing something on the car, packing the chutes, mixing fuel, it doesn't matter. You have your job and they have theirs. Robert, do you have anything to add?
ROBERT HIGHT: I think it goes back to the rules, too, that NHRA has put in play. The guy in the other lane, he's had eight guys working on his car, too, so something could go wrong over there. NHRA drag racing is very safe. NHRA has been very proactive about making rules, keeping these cars safe. When you're staging, that's not the time to be thinking of any of this.
MODERATOR : At this point I'll thank John and Robert for joining us on the call today and we'll chat with Courtney and Brittany going forward. Have a great start to the season and we will see you in Pomona and Phoenix on consecutive race weekends.
ROBERT HIGHT: Thank you, guys.
JOHN FORCE: Thank you very much. Girls, give it to 'em like your old man always has done, show them that you love it.
Q. Brittany, now that your dad is gone, we can get to the root of the matter here. He was talking a minute ago about he sees you competing more with Courtney than worrying about the opposition you're going to face on the track in the Top Fuel class. Is that kind of true?
BRITTANY FORCE: A lot of people have asked me that. For me, all my sisters, yeah, we're all involved in the sport. We all love it. But when Ashley came out, she had her own set of goals, things she wanted to achieve. Same with Courtney. Same with me. I'm going down my own path. I'm still involved in racing, it's a Top Fuel car, a little different. For me, I have my own set of goals. I don't need to compare them to Courtney and try to beat her, her first win, whatever it is. For me, it's about setting my own goals and achieving them myself in my time. Courtney and I, it's a bummer I won't be able to race her out on the track because we're in different categories. We used to have fun with it. I know she'll be rooting me on and I'll do the same for her.
Q. Courtney, you won your first Funny Car race in Seattle last year. At the NHRA Finals, you were caught up in this crazy drama between Capps, Beckman and Cruz. Had you not blown a rod in your car, you may have won the NHRA Finals. How much confidence has that given you for this season?
COURTNEY FORCE: It's definitely built our confidence I think as a team. We had an amazing season last year. I mean, we had a good racecar. Seeing that we can go all the way to the final round, we're hoping to get that win. To get around Cruz, we would have been in the number four overall points position, which I would have been the first rookie to do that. We were pushing. At the beginning of the season, it's really crazy to think we were just going out there trying to do the best we can, just wanted to qualify. Towards halfway to the end of the season, we started to realize, this Traxxas Ford Mustang, it's definitely one to beat out there. We had a consistent car, and I think it started to show. I think people started to realize that we had a pretty good racecar and a competitive one. It definitely built our confidence for next season. We're getting excited. Just through testing, we were one of the quickest cars out there in West Palm. I actually ran my fastest at 322 miles an hour. I believe it was at 4.01 seconds. We're excited. Now I have a different perspective. We're definitely going after something better than the number five position hopefully by the end of the season and even going to try to tackle a championship. But we got a lot on our plate. I'm actually renewed as a Ford Driving Skills For Life spokesperson. I'm excited to go into next season with that, talking to all the kids about safe driving while racing my Mustang down the track and across the country.
Q. Brittany, how much of the information can Courtney give you from the days that you did race in drag racing? You're in Top Fuel, but how much of that will transfer over? With the speeds that you've done in testing, what are your feelings on how you can tackle this season this year as a rookie?
BRITTANY FORCE: We are in different categories, but Courtney has been pretty helpful. I've asked her questions about the car, certain tracks we're at. But also going in as a rookie, going into my rookie season, I know it's going to be very overwhelming, it's a lot of pressure. I'm excited, but I'm definitely nervous about it. She's been helping me out quite a bit with that.
Q. Knowing the speeds that you've gone, are you surprised you could meet those speeds in testing already?
BRITTANY FORCE: I'm shocked. When I was in West Palm running the Castrol edge Top Fuel car, we made about 10 or 11 runs that week. I don't remember what run it was, but I ended up running a 3.79, at 324 miles per hour which was my best ever. I mean it felt a lot faster, going from a 3.85 to a 3.79, I definitely felt how much faster it was. When they told me, I couldn't believe that I had ran that. I know I have an awesome team behind me. I know we're only going to make changes to the car, speed it up, and it's only going to get faster. I'm looking forward to it all.
Q. How have you adjusted to using the canopy?
BRITTANY FORCE: The canopy, I was worried at first. I was more worried about being claustrophobic in the car. Once I made a few passes using the canopy, just for safety reasons, having that around you, it feels more comfortable. I think it would be hard to go back without the canopy. We'll be running it this whole next season.
Q. Did you have to have any adjustments to your car or seat when you added the canopy?
BRITTANY FORCE: Yeah, we made quite a few changes. I got a whole new dragster, and we put the canopy on that car. We had to do a whole new seat pouring, so it's a brand-new car.
Q. Brittany, your dad mentioned you were a little bit claustrophobic. Are you normally or was it just the thought of the canopy over your head?
BRITTANY FORCE: For me, I am a little claustrophobic, depending on the situation. In that car, it's already so tight with the gear you're wearing, the helmet, all that extra padding, the seat that's formed right for your body, it's already so tight in there. It was nice having that open cockpit. When they told me they were putting that on, I was like, oh, no. I was a little worried about it. Like I said earlier, I was worried about it. I did lose a little of my side vision. I talked to some of the drivers out there. Tony Schumacher told me, it's good not having that side vision, because when you have that vision, you end up driving towards that car. So it's good I don't have as much side vision as I used to have.
Q. Courtney, I understand you're with Ford Driving Skills for Life. You're coming to San Diego. Are you going to be coming to that event?
COURTNEY FORCE: I don't think we've officially established which appearances I'm going to make it to. If it's permitting, I would definitely love to be there, especially because it's in California. I think this just really got announced pretty recent, so we'll probably be talking about appearance dates pretty soon.
Q. Courtney, what is the website?
COURTNEY FORCE: Drivingskillsforlife.com. I've done the ride and drive event. Pretty amazing. I was able to talk with kids out of high school in Arizona. I mean, it's really a great program. I went through it, visited the website. You can learn from the training tips, modules, whether you’re a parent, new driver, veteran driver, there's a lot to learn at the website. Hopefully everyone can go on and sign up and check it out.
Q. I would like to talk about the Driving Skills for Life with Courtney. You're a spokesperson. It's a teen driving safety program. Those teens are younger than you, but not that much younger. What is it like for you to share with people that are in your age group?
COURTNEY FORCE: I definitely think it's cool. I think that's why it really goes hand-in-hand. You can relate to these kids. I was in high school not that long ago. It's cool to go back there, talk to these kids. You know they're nervous getting into a seat of a car, especially at 16. At that age, you think you know everything. You don't want to listen to your parents. This program makes it so much fun. It comes out to the schools. You sign up for free just to take these rides and driving lessons. It's really cool. You get to hop behind the seat of the car. I went through a course where it's set up, cone course, it's texting while driving. It's so much fun to go through it. They don't make it like this is a lesson learned deal. It's really about having fun. Practice makes perfect. I think that's the one thing I can really teach 'em, because my dad told me the same thing. I didn't want to listen to my dad growing up, but it's pretty crazy how much I listen to him now. He knows how to drive one of these Ford Mustang Funny Cars. Getting behind the seat of an 8,000 horsepower car, the more laps I made in a Funny Car, the more I learned. For teens I always say, Get behind the wheel, practice, listen to your parents, just try to learn from maybe their mistakes or what it may be. But get behind the wheel and just keep practicing.
Q. Courtney, do you have some first memories as a child that you want to share with people, your first thoughts about drag racing?
COURTNEY FORCE: Yeah, I mean, I loved being out at the drag races. I pretty much grew up in my dad's race shop. I grew up in a paint shop when he was fixing his body after blowing it up the weekend before. I loved being out at the track, traveling with my dad. It was especially over the summers as a kid. My parents kept us in school. But the weekends my dad was able to come home, the weeks he was able to come home, he came with his truck and trailer right from whatever state he was coming from. It was kind of like a show and tell. He showed the Funny Car off to the kids at school and let them sit in his Funny Car chassis, put a helmet on, try on the gloves and the fire suit. Those were some of the best memories when you're a kid back at home. But really just being out on the road with my dad, getting to hang out with the crew guys in the truck, your fingers crossed, hoping for the win. We loved being in the winner's circle with him, sharing those moments with him as a kid. The smell of that nitro, watching these cars going over 300, there's nothing you can compare it to. Definitely a great childhood. Pretty cool that I get to rejoin with my dad now.
Q. Brittany, obviously you being so close in age to Courtney, you probably share some of the same things, but what is your comment?
BRITTANY FORCE: Like Courtney said, we've been out there forever. We just grew up out at the track. The racetrack is kind of like our second home. Everyone out there, teams, other drivers, crew members, they're all kind of family. So it feels like home out there.
Like Courtney said, most of my memories are being in the tow truck, watching my dad through the windows, plugging our ears, crossing our fingers, driving down to the end of the track when he won a race, hugging my dad, cheering him on. Memories like that, it was so much fun.
Q. Brittany, I haven't met you, but in reading a lot about you, one of the things that I remember is that drag racing as a profession wasn't something that you were focused on for an extremely long time. You looked in different directions. Do you remember a day or a moment or an activity that changed your mind and you said to yourself, I'm going to give professional driving in the NHRA a try?
BRITTANY FORCE: You know, I love the sport of drag racing. I always thought I'd be involved in it some way. My plan when I got out of high school was to go to college. My first plan was I wanted to graduate college. I ended up getting my BA in English, then ended up getting a teaching credential. I was running the A Fuel dragster at that time. I didn't see a reason to step up to anything different. I really enjoyed that car and my team. I wanted to continue to compete in that car more than I was when I was in school. We couldn't get our team and get a sponsor to fund and A Fuel team because it was in the sportsman division, it was difficult. My dad threw out the idea of testing in a Top Fuel car, maybe gaining exposure that way, which was a big trick. He knew once I got in that car, I wouldn't want to get out of it. Like I said, my plan was I wanted to run the A Fuel, I didn't know if I wanted to do teaching or what I wanted to do.
That moment was in Vegas when I made my first pass in my Top Fuel car, it was my first full pass, I ran a 3.96, and that's when I realized that I was hooked. I was not going to hop out of that seat anytime soon, that was the ride I wanted to go, and we just continued from there.
Q. What is going on with Ashley at John Force Entertainment? Anything cool going on there?
COURTNEY FORCE: She works on a lot of videos that we bring to a lot of sponsor appearances to show them all of our teams in racing, what we do, the behind-the-scenes look. She's busy putting videos together left and right. Half the time I'm not even sure what it's for. She's kept busy over there, along with raising her son Jacob. She's currently pregnant with another child due in May. She's got her hands full, but she's doing a great job putting videos together. I don't know if you saw the latest one she put up on YouTube. It's a pretty cool clip about our cars and how we did throughout testing in West Palm. It really gets everyone motivated and pumped up for the 2013 Mello Yello season.
Q. Courtney, you started out racing in Super Comp. Brittany, you did, too, if I'm not mistaken. How much of what you learned translates to driving a Fuel car or is it thrown out the window in a Fuel car?
COURTNEY FORCE: You definitely picked up what you learned. Back when we were 16, I think the biggest thing was just seat time, just learning the basics. I mean, a lot goes into it. We grew up watching my dad out at the track. Once you sit in the car and you can't talk to anybody on the outside asking questions, once they start that motor up, it's all up to you. It's all about memorizing the basics, learning where the starting line point is, learning how far to do a burnout, learning to reverse, get the routine right, going down and learning the routine to shut off your car. There's a lot of little things you pick up throughout the years of racing in Super Comp and A Fuel dragster. When we went to A Fuel, we picked up a lot. It's not just getting it to go from point A to point B, it's a lot about staging. Some people will shallow stage, go in deep. We definitely learned a lot throughout the years of driving in the sportsman class. I give them a lot of props. There's a lot of cars that go into the Super Comp category. It's very difficult to win one of those races. It is very tough out there. They are great competitors. I learned a lot from all of them. I even raced with Shawn Langdon back in Super Comp. A lot of them started there in the beginning. The toughest thing was trying to tell my dad, you've never been in a Super Comp car, you can't tell me how to race one of these. He said, don't forget amber step, amber step. In Super Comp, you lift your finger off a button and that's how you get started. It's a little hard to comprehend with my dad. But we definitely learned a lot throughout the years in sportsman.
BRITTANY FORCE: I agree with Courtney. Every driver has done it differently. We got into it that way, moving up the ranks. For me, it's about being comfortable in the car. Starting off in Super Comp, not running as fast as you are in the Top Fuel car. It's about getting it started, down the track, the whole shut-off process. I think it was really helpful. I think I needed those years in Super Comp and A Fuel to get me where I'm at today.
MODERATOR : That's the end of our questions for our teleconference today. Thank you very
much, Brittany and Courtney, we will see you next Thursday in Pomona.
COURTNEY FORCE: Very excited to get this season started. Excited Brittany is going to be out there teaming up on my dad and getting this thing started.
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