|John Force moving to the Chevy Camp|
JIM BRUMFIELD: "Hello and welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us today for what we think is a very exciting announcement. On this call are John Force, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion as a driver and whose John Force Racing (JFR) organization has won 18 titles. Robert Hight, President of John Force Racing and himself a champion driver. Tom Compton, President of the NHRA. Also, here is the Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports for Chevrolet, Jim Campbell."
JIM CAMPBELL: "Thank you Jim. For everybody who joined us on the call I want to welcome you. Today is a very special day. I am proud to announce that Chevrolet and John Force Racing are partnering in the NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series starting with the 2015 season. This multi-year agreement includes all three John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro Funny Cars as well as John Force Racing Top Fuel Dragster. John is a champion and a legend both on and off the track as a driver and as a team owner. John is a racers racer. He is a fierce competitor and we are excited to welcome John and his team back to Chevrolet. He won his first race with Chevrolet. Looking forward to working with John, Robert, Courtney, Brittany, Adria and Ashley. On behalf of everyone at Chevrolet I would like to introduce our partner John Force. John, welcome back."
JOHN FORCE: "Thank you Jim and everyone at General Motors and especially at Chevrolet. I want to say to you and your team you made this possible. We worked with a lot of good friends to put this together. As you know we are in a tough economy. The up and downs aren't off the race track that I have faced in the last year. It's really been tough. I've got a lot of people, our agency, chasing money and ourselves. It's a full time job and to have an opportunity to go back to my roots, it's personal to me it means a lot. I got my first win in a Chevrolet, my first championship with NHRA, six overall with General Motors. I'm going back to my roots. My family is excited. My kids grew up there on the race track. I've got Winner's Circle pictures and Robert (Hight) has even rebuilt the early days 10 or 12 of our Chevrolet cars. It's a great time. I know there are a lot of questions. I want to thank the media and the fans. The internet has been a buzz. 'Where is John Force going?' Everybody wants me in a Detroit car and God bless you. My other partners were great to me and I know where my future goes. Auto Club of Southern California has stood by us with a five year program with Robert Hight and Traxxas with Courtney (Force) and Mac Tools. Lucas Oil came on board. I was in a, boy you can't race without oil. I was in big trouble and then naturally Peak Antifreeze taking the lead of sponsoring the car that I will be driving. But at the end of the day if you don't have a manufacturer you are in big trouble. Thanks to you and your team and GM I'm going to be driving a Chevrolet. I'm excited about it, an SS Camaro, so I think that is enough out of me. I know there are a lot of questions. I want to pass it over to my president and the guy that keeps my sanity Robert Hight, the driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro."
ROBERT HIGHT: "Hey everybody, this is an exciting day here at John Force Racing. Getting to have a manufacturer it is impossible to win in the NHRA championship series without a manufacturer. Over the past few years Top Fuel and Funny Car has become so competitive that you need the backing of a major auto manufacturer. They give you new technology and we are looking at Chevrolet and we are excited to work with their engineers to make our cars faster. If you look at their track record they win in everything they do, IndyCar, NASCAR and naturally 2014 if you look at the NHRA Pro Stock Series it came down to two Chevrolet Camaros for the title. That was very exciting. It's exciting to become partners with some of the NHRA Pro Stock teams, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Erica Enders-Stevens, the Gray family. Now we can call them our teammates. That is exciting. When I started with John Force Racing we were with Chevrolet winning championships. I'm very proud and honored to say that hopefully I can get out there and put Chevrolet back in the Winner's Circle in Funny Car. They picked the right group, John Force Racing. We know how to win and with Chevrolet we are going to be winning in the years to come. Thank you."
TOM COMPTON: "On behalf of everyone at NHRA I just want to lend my personal congratulations to you John and you Robert and everyone here at John Force Racing. It's a big day for the sport. Congratulations to everyone all our friends at GM and Chevrolet, Jim Campbell, Mark Kent, Mark Reuss, Craig Shantz, Roger Allen, Terry Dolan and many more who have made this day possible. It's really great for the sport. It all started with the entitlement of the Chevy Performance U.S. Nationals in Indy. Last year we made the announcement that General Motors was coming back as the official truck of NHRA, Chevrolet he official truck and now the announcement with John Force Racing. Welcome back GM, we are really proud to work with you. This is a big day for the sport."
JOHN FORCE: "Thank you Tom. NHRA they give us a place to play, a place to raise our children, a place to entertain. I think it is P.T. Barnum on the road at 300 mph. I grew up in a little trailer court in a little town of Bell Gardens. I'm so wound up here today I want to let Robert talk. Robert is the future of John Force Racing. I get all excited, like I said I'm going back to my roots. Right now Jim and your staff Mark or anybody have anything they would like to add before we go to questions?
JIM CAMPBELL: "No, I would say John we are excited about getting to the race track and welcome home."
JOHN FORCE: "Thank you."
JIM BRUMFIELD: "Thank you Tom Compton, John Force, Robert Hight and Jim Campbell. All four are now available for questions. We will open up the phone lines."
Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE IN NHRA AS A SALES PLATFORM THAT MADE THIS A GOOD DECISION FOR CHEVROLET?
JIM CAMPBELL: "Certainly racing is important to Chevrolet it is part of our history and heritage and we are obviously involved in a lot of series. What we see in NHRA we have been in stock eliminator, super stock, Erica Enders-Stevens won the championship in Pro Stock with Camaro. We had a great U.S. Nationals and so we never left the sport just what we see is a really enthusiastic fan base. They love cars, they love trucks and they love racing for sure. We see it as an opportunity to interact with those customers and fans and keep the enthusiasm high in our Chevrolet's that race on the track, but also that we sell in the showroom. What we know about NHRA is the average fan basically buys more cars and trucks than the average customer out in the market. So that is great for a company like Chevrolet. We know also that within that categories like full-size pickup are very popular. We just introduced an all-new Chevrolet Silverado light and heavy duty and more recently the new Colorado. We have a three truck strategy something the other manufacturers don't have. We are the only one that has a heavy duty, a light duty, both with Silverado and then a Colorado mid-size pickup. It's a great chance for us to interact with the fans and of course on the track keep the enthusiasm high. With that said I would also like to mention that there is just so much TV coverage and social media coverage around Funny Car and Top Fuel they really with augment our reference in Pro Stock and the sportsman classes."
Q: IN YEAR ONE ARE YOU BUDGETED TO FULLY ACTIVATE THIS PROGRAM AT TRACK DISPLAYS, TV ADVERTISING, DEALER PROMOTIONS AND SO FORTH?
JIM CAMPBELL: "Yeah and the one thing if you have been going to the track, if you have been in the midway Chevrolet has been there. We obviously became the official truck of the series as Tom and Robert mentioned. We are the sponsor of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. We have our third year of that contract coming up. We have been activating and we are going to continue to do just that and interact with all the race fans, all of our Chevy customers and all of the people who don't own Chevrolet's. We want to say 'hello' we want to show them our whole line-up."
Q: WHEN WAS THIS DEAL FINALIZED? DO YOU CONSIDER THE TEAM TO BE FULLY FUNDED NOW FOR THIS SEASON?
JOHN FORCE: "Yeah I'm financially strong. I've got great partners like I said Auto Club nationally a five year program, real strong. Traxxas, Mac Tools, I needed an oil program, I needed a major sponsor for myself and had to have a manufacturer. Like Robert said it is almost impossible to compete. Peak Antifreeze God Bless them they jumped on earlier in the year and took the lead in my program for John Force personally for me to drive and chase for another NHRA championship. Lucas Oil, boy that was tipping the scale. He and his son personally spoke with me, made a deal that day. We already had an announcement with them at Pomona at the World Finals and that was on the stage with Auto Club. They love working together. Naturally at Las Vegas the announcement where we announced the Peak program.
'A lot of fans were like 'where is he going with a manufacturer?' 'Where is John Force this old truck driver where is he going to end up?' Everybody wanted me to stay with Detroit and I will be honest I love my old partners they were good to me, but GM was where I wanted to land. There are so many opportunities and you know I'm a car salesman. If you look at our video that is going to go up here right after this press conference I'm already pitching. See you at the NHRA races, see you at the car dealerships and not only the Chevrolet SS Camaro, but see the trucks, see our whole line-up of cars. That is what I do bet. I know that I can work along with Robert Hight. We are excited about this. This is a change and change is good. I'm ready to go drag racing. My sponsor said 'what did it take' and I told Mr. Campbell we have to be competitive, but we have to have safety it has to go hand in hand. We all know that we lost Eric Medlen and that changed my whole life and my girls Brittany and Courtney. Ashley got back in the car last year. So, NHRA the door is open the competition out there against the other brands is what is exciting and we will be on the stages with General Motors at all the races and I'm sure we will be over at NASCAR and anywhere they want us. This is an exciting time."
Q: WHEN WAS THIS DEAL FINALIZED AND IS THE TEAM FULLY FUNDED?
JOHN FORCE: "We have been working on getting our car with changes up to go. There will be a brand new 2016 Funny Car the Chevrolet Camaro coming, but we are excited right now. It was signed here what Robert? Two weeks ago?"
ROBERT HIGHT: "Right before Christmas."
JOHN FORCE: "Right before Christmas it was signed. We got to enjoy that. That was the biggest Christmas present I ever got."
Q: "AS YOU WENT THROUGH THIS PROCESS YOU ALREADY REVEALED THAT YOU HAD IN MIND WHERE YOU WANTED TO LAND. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE INTERESTING PLACES THAT YOU LOOKED? WE HAD TALKED ABOUT POTENTIALLY A FOREIGN MANUFACTURER. YOU SAID YOU WOULD WORK WITH ANYONE AT ONE POINT. HOW DEEP DID THIS SEARCH GO BEFORE ENDING BACK WITH CHEVROLET?
JOHN FORCE: "I've got to be honest guys, I made a statement, sometimes I say too much. But I said I'm going to drag race. I don't care if I have to drive a motorcycle. I don't care if I have to go to Top Fuel I'm going to do something whatever money that I have because funding is all important and the sponsors, the new and the old have made this possible. They stepped up, General Motors and put me back on the map. I was in trouble and I was dancing like a mad man. Yes, we did approach others in the industry, but my heart is with Detroit. My company is called John Force American Made in Indy where we build our race cars and our engine programs and all of our aero and everything that we do. It's where I needed to land. So, my other partner was great, but this is a new relationship. I feel like a kid. I have my Chevrolet shirt on. I feel like I have been drafted from college into the pros and I'm making an announcement today. Robert laughs at me, but I go downstairs I have Corvette's, I have Lumina's, I have Camaro's. I wish I had all my cars here to film in the video. I had a show with Peak Antifreeze in Florida. Robert was in Indy meeting with GM to get these cars finalized the last couple of days, Courtney and Brittany were getting fitted for new cars. We just got back and put everything together here in the last few days with the help of Jim's team we got it done."
Q: YOU MENTIONED YOU DID TALK TO OTHER MANUFACTURERS, HOW FAR ALONG DID YOU GET IN TALKS WITH TOYOTA AND DODGE? ALSO, HOW LONG IS THIS RELATIONSHIP WITH CHEVROLET GOING TO BE?
JOHN FORCE: "To be honest I never had a conversation with Dodge. My conversation with Toyota was because I have friends over there I know the people. Toyota had a big group of teams and drivers and we did have a brief conversation, but nothing in writing, nothing on the table. After change this is where I wanted to land. I always want to be respectful to my old partners because they were good to me and they are rooting for me right now to move ahead and I wish all of them well. Right now my focus is on where we are going. What makes this transition so good I'm back to my roots. I'm back to where I started. I have history in my museum in Indy and in Yorba Linda, California. I got GM cars everywhere. I say I'm starting all over, I am to rebuild, but basically this is an easy transition for us. Like Robert said, we know how to win. It's not going to be easy. The competition is unbelievable out there, but we are ready for it."
Q: WITH CHEVROLET YOU ESSENTIALLY HAVE THE ENTIRE BRAND TO YOURSELF IN THE FUNNY CAR RANKS. HOW MUCH SIGNIFICANCE WAS THAT IN MAKING THE DECISION AS WELL INSTEAD OF GOING TO PERHAPS TOYOTA WHERE YOU WOULD HAVE OTHER DRIVERS AND OTHER COMPANIES?
JOHN FORCE: "That was really key next to my past with GM. The key was we got an exclusive. Robert Hight negotiated that. I get so wound up I talk too much. Robert has really worked with Mark Kent and Terry Dolan and Roger Allen, of course Jim. You know me like now, I get going, I get wound up and I never get anything closed. Robert is President now he has learned from me and he is just very good the way he puts things together.
"It is significant because the wind tunnels working with their engineers and our motor program. Guys we are not trying to kid nobody we are just getting started. This whole thing, you don't do all this change overnight. Right now we have to hit the race track running. We rented the track in Phoenix. We are heading there Monday morning to do the testing. We will be okay that is what I'm going to tell you. I have great financial backing from GM I've got a long range program. The conversations of growth and where we are going to go in the future to build their brand and build JFR's brand, Robert Hight, my daughters Brittany and Courtney and Ashely and to build the brand of NHRA we are in a tough economy and we have our work cut out of it, but we know how to do it. The racers out there we are all in the same game. We are all trying to make a living and feed our children and our grandchildren. That is where we are going. We have an exclusive that makes it great and there isn't anyone who loves drag racing more than I do. I'm like a little kid I feel like I'm 16 years old again. Of course Robert is laughing about that right now, but in that race car I am 21. I'm a bad hombre when you put me in a firesuit. But tell that to Courtney or Brittany or Robert."
Q: TALK A BIT ABOUT HAVING BOTH ROLES, RACER AND SALESPERSON, AS YOU MOVE FORWARD INTO AN ORGANIZATION LIKE CHEVROLET:
JOHN FORCE: "We're in the entertainment business and we entertain the fans both on and off the race track. And the bottom line is NHRA gives us that ball diamond, that arena for us to go into and to entertain the youth of all of our brands that we have and the cars that they'll drive, when they grow up. So it's a great opportunity. It's a lot of work. It's seven days a week."
ROBERT HIGHT: "Like John said earlier, the racing part of it is easy. That's the easy part. It's doing the job with the sponsors so we can have the funding to be out there and race and help them sell their products. Auto Club didn't sign a five-year deal with John Force Racing if they didn't believe in NHRA Drag Racing. And the same is with General Motors. They didn't sign-up and cover our biggest race of the year, the U.S. Nationals; the official truck. They see a value with John Force Racing and NHRA, and that really makes me proud."
JOHN FORCE: "With our traveling road shows, we'll be going places inside NHRA, outside NHRA, and to other events. We've been to the Indy 500. We've been to NASCAR races with Bruton Smith, and of course the dealerships. If at every town we can work the dealers and make that happen, we're going to. That's how we see once again; not just on the race track by winning. And don't get me wrong. There's tough competition out there. But that's our job and that's what excites us. But working those dealers and selling all the brands in General Motors, and the truck lines, that's what it's all about. One thing that's really cool is all of our partners, it's a good relationship. The chairman of the board at Auto Club of Southern California, Thomas McKernan, is a big Chevy guy. Jim Campbell, you know this; he's a Chevrolet guy in and out. He always wanted me. I can say it. He always wanted me with Chevrolet. Basically, we're back in business."
Q: YOU HAD A DOUBLE WHAMMY LAST YEAR BY LOSING SIX SPONSORS RIGHT AWAY. YOU'RE COMING BACK WITH A BIG SPONSOR NOW. WHAT'S THAT LIKE FOR YOU?
JOHN FORCE: "I've got to admit it. My operation grew, with some sponsors, over 30 years. And sometimes maybe, I'm still winning. I'm still in the game. But change is good for them. But maybe change is good for us. I'm not going to look at the good Lord and what he believes. I don't question life. Nobody owed me anything; or my daughters, or Robert Hight. You have to earn it. And we fight every day. And I pray along the road. And we made it. And that's what's most important. And now we go to work and start preaching the gospel for Peak and Lucas and Auto Club tracks. That's what I do best. That's what Robert does best. And my girls are learning the trade. We'll be out there in three SS Camaros and a funny car and we'll be out there with a Top Fuel funny car. My girls, Brittany, that's her claim to fame fastest in the family in Top Fuel. But we've got a lot of work cut out for us. We've had a lot of changes in our programs. I've built a whole new race team. But we've built it from within because we had people. I've always had an A-B-C plan. And we had the young kids we were training to come up the ladder if anybody left us. Some did, (which) we've already replaced. And the proof's in the pudding. It'll start at testing in Phoenix and we'll move on down the road to the opening race, the Circle K Winternationals, NHRA Mellow Yellow will be preaching the gospel. And that's where we're at."
Q: YOU'VE BEEN WORKING WITH THE OTHER MANUFACTURERS FOR ALL THESE YEARS. NOW YOU'RE JUMPING TO THE BOWTIE. WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES, IF ANY, DOES THAT AS FAR AS GETTING THE CAR SET-UP BY USING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MANUFACTURER AND PARTS & PIECES?
ROBERT HIGHT: "I don't believe it will be. Like John said, change is good. We're looking for a fresh start here. And all the major auto manufacturers wouldn't be in business if they didn't know what they're doing. It's just going to be different. I'm looking forward to working with new people and new engineers. We've already been talking to Chevrolet for the last couple of months and everybody we've met there is just more than helpful. They're very good people to deal with and it's only going to get better from here. No, I don't think this is going to be a roadblock or a road bump at all. It's going to be business as usual. And we're looking forward to working with them."
Q: SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR GARAGE SALE?
JOHN FORCE: "Basically, we don't sell anything. When you look at the stuff that we had to do in the very time that we had, we were going to address different directions to go. Right now, we haven't got a chance to really sit down with GM; and go over. I know there's a 2016 brand new Camaro that I haven't even seen the look of it. And when they're ready, they'll tell us. When it comes to the manufacturing side and helping us with our engine program and look, we don't try to kid anybody. Our engine program that we build 90 percent of the pieces (for) in-house is the NHRA stock motor. We have to stay within rules and guidelines. It's the same thing with the bodies that we run. And we're staying within NHRA rules and specs. We'll be able to deliver. But it's going to take us years, you know what I mean? To make this transition starting now."
Q: WHAT I MEANT BY THE GARAGE SALE IS THAT YOU'VE GOT A LOT OF PARTS AND PIECES FROM THE OTHER MANUFACTURER AND I'M SURE THERE ARE SOME RACERS DOWN THE ROAD THAT WOULD JUST LOVE TO BE ABLE TO COME TO A SWAP MEET OF YOURS IF THAT'S EVEN IN THE PLANS.
JOHN FORCE: "One of the ways that we've made it financially strong is hey I just thought that I'm John Force and I've got this big machine and money was just going to fall out of the sky (laughs). Let me tell you. It's tough out there. Everybody evaluated me and evaluated my teams and my girls and basically we had to reinvent John Force Racing. We had to sit down and say, wait a minute. We're not getting where we used to be. So it's very simple. I looked at my accountant and I said, 'That's my money up to this. This is what I have. What do I need to do to make it, to be competitive, to build safety?' And we went back. And then we went and tried to cut new deals that were financially strong. In the middle of companies, a lot of them, having budgets that were already sold and we were able to put it together because the fact is, without money you can't compete. You can compete, but it's tough. And we were able to find the financial backing. And it started like I said, with my old partners. Peak came on board; Lucas, and then General Motors put us over the top and now we're okay and we're ready to go."
Q: WITH CHEVROLET AND CAMARO COMING ON BOARD THIS YEAR, WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT GIVEN TO MAYBE DIVERTING BACK TO HISTORY AND MAYBE HAVING JOHN FORCE RUN A CORVETTE AND HAVE THE OTHER TWO IN CAMAROS AND MAYBE GIVING MORE BREATH TO YOUR MARKETING PLATFORM AND BRANDING?
JIM CAMPBELL: "No, the focus has been on Camaro in Super Stock and with Camaro in Pro Stock and now Funny Car with a Camaro. So there was singular focus on Camaro. We run Corvettes in road racing series, if you're familiar primarily with TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in the GTLM class; and we also run a prototype in the Corvette Daytona prototype class. So, the focus was singularly on Camaro for our effort with John Force."
Q: WHEN WILL THE ACTUAL CAMARO BODIES HIT THE TRACK?
ROBERT HIGHT: "We'll have these cars out there like John said, in a week at Phoenix, Arizona. We're going to test for a week over there. And then we move into Pomona. All the fans will get to see the car that we'll be running all year."
JOHN FORCE: "Understand guys. To be straight-up, we have to fall under the NHRA rules and NHRA spec. And we had to redesign. We had to do revamps. You wouldn't believe what we've been through to create this Camaro. And it looks good. There will be photos of it going out today. A lot of work went into it. Basically, it had to be modified to get to where we need to be. So, it's NHRA-approved. It's a Chevrolet. It's a Camaro. And that's all we need to know and we're moving on."
Q: HOW DID THIS IMPACT (DAUGHTER) BRITTNEY FORCE'S OPERATION?
JOHN FORCE: "We've been announcing sponsors like at Vegas when we announced Peak. At Pomona with Lucas Oil. Now the manufacturer, we wanted to do something at PRI, but we couldn't get there. In respect, I was under contract to other sponsors. I had to be real careful and respectful to them as I would be with General Motors or Auto Club or anybody. What was the question?"
Q: THE DRAGSTER?
JOHN FORCE: "Oh, the dragster, yeah. My daughter. The excitement. The dragster, it is a different animal. We're running a Camaro body on it, naturally. We'll be going out with our NHRA; with our power plant that we have that we build at John Force Racing. But we've got to make changes. We've already looked at designs and different stuff to fall within the rules, okay? And we'll be okay. But she'll be on the track at Pomona, but the point I wanted to get at is all my sponsors that are supporting here, she's got financial backing. We have a major sponsor we're looking to announce and once again, I can't make that announcement. I don't think she'll be at Pomona with a new team and everything that can tow a brand new hotrod. She'll be running just a Brittney Force name and all the sponsors right now. But I don't think the new sponsor is going to be announced (until) maybe Phoenix; probably Gainesville. There are three or four that we're talking with. But we'll get there. They all want to be a part of John Force Racing. They love the girls and they want to be part of NHRA. It's going to happen."
Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR YOURSELF AND COURTNEY AND JOHN?
ROBERT HIGHT: "Well, it's not getting any easier and especially in the Funny Car class. We won half the races last year with our three Funny Cars. But, we didn't win when we needed to, right down to the wire. So, we've got some new teams. Obviously John's got a brand new team. My team is intact. Courtney's team is intact. We were both very competitive all year long. We've just got to get John's car up to speed and I believe with Mike Neff's help and all three teams working together, that we're going to be fine. We've hired a new guy to work with Todd Smith on the dragster. That car went to some finals last year and real close to winning some races. So, in the countdown, I believe that Brittany's going to win some races this year and all three of our Funny Cars will definitely be in contention for the championship. And hopefully, that dragster will be, too."
JOHN FORCE: "We made a lot of changes in personnel. We have to stay within a budget and nobody knows that better than Dean Antonelli, to watch each car. I mean he's a crew chief. He could run any one of these cars. But right now, I needed a guy who could over look, and make sure that my team stayed within budget. And we're training new kids coming up through the ranks. And even will be doing releases of before Pomona on the young kids that are moving into these higher positions and take John Force Racing's next generation to the next level."
Q: DOES THAT MEAN THAT DEAN 'GUIDO' ANTONELLI IS NOT GOING TO WORK ON THE CARS ANYMORE, OR IS HE JUST GOING TO WORK WHERE YOU NEED HIM?
JOHN FORCE: "No, because number one, we're going into sales. JFR (John Force Racing) had to reinvent themselves. We've never really sold to the completion. We sold Jim Head a new chassis from '82. But basically because of safety. I've never really sold my engine program or anything like that to anybody; maybe only a couple. But right now, for financial reasons, we don't want to have to race what you make, especially with GM technology, anywhere in our program when it comes to make this faster and quicker and win. But at the end of the day, financially, we're going that direction. That's why Dean Antonelli was so important. Dean understands the race car. I talked to some of the manufacturers. And they said the biggest problem you have (is) you get a salesman, the greatest salesman in the world, if he doesn't know an NHRA race car, he'd sell the wrong parts to the wrong guy, the guys at the race track. So, Dean Antonelli will be at every race. He'll be out there with our cars, naturally as back up; but any parts we sell to any team, he'll be sure that they have….. He's very key to keep at John Force Racing. He's a personal friend. He was a young kid when he come here and we're working together to keep John Force Racing alive."
Q: DO YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE NOW FULLY FUNDED? THE NEW SPONSOR THAT WILL COME OUT AT GAINESVILLE IS THAT FOR BRITTANY ONLY, OR WILL IT BE ON YOUR CAR AS WELL? IS RONNIE THOMPSON THE ONE THAT IS GOING TO JOIN DON SMITH?
JOHN FORCE: "Yes, Ronnie Thompson did join Don Smith. He came over from the Al Anabi group. We have a lot of changes at John Force Racing. A lot of young kids who are hungry. I've had great kids in the past. A lot of them are with me. Around 90%. I lost a few because of change. But these young kids coming in, new heart, new chance to be with JFR Racing. I was in Indy only for a couple of days with GM and Robert. I had to go to Florida to do a show for Peak, but it was just exciting. The excitement. There is so much change in Indy. You are not going to recognize it when you get there. Old signage coming down. New signage going up. I have car museums Corvettes, and a lot of GM. My race cars; the Luminas; the Citations; the Vega that I raced in Australia. I am never going to get rid of my past so all the cars of past will be there, and my other partners.
"But now my focus is getting these race teams out there. I know you and other reporters have been worried if we were going to stay in business. Like I said, the economy is tough. You have to get even tougher. We went out there and worked this thing for a year. It was hard. We were chasing it every day. But it is tough. But we made it, and first of all, John force isn't broke. I've got rental companies; I'm financially strong. I've got my endorsements. I could fund a car. I don't want to, but when it comes to my baby girl I always said I would if I have to, and now I don't have to. I have a handshake. I pretty much know where I am going with the Top Fuel car. There are reasons that you will all understand when it comes out. I hope we make Pomona, but I don't think so. I don't want to put a carrot out there that I can't give you an answer. I will be business by Gainesville. She will be there with a full budget, because anywhere we are short, we have others like Mac Tools in our programs. A lot of names that I haven't mentioned here today.
"Yes we are strong, but we are up against strong competition like Schumacher, the Pedregons, they will all be strong on just an average budget. So we have our work cut out for us. But you know, last year, I had a few times I sat and Man, reality hit me. What if I couldn't go to the races and drive a car? One day I will have to be the team owner, I am a team owner now. But I like driving that hot road, and I am going to drive the [heck] out of that Chevrolet. You have my work on that. I am going to make them proud, and Robert and my girls, we are in business; we are funded. And, you'll see it when you see the paint at Pomona."
Q: JOHN (FORCE) MENTIONED SAFETY AND MENTIONED YOUTH. SO WHAT INITIATIVES MIGHT YOU HAVE PLANNED WITH THE ERIC MEDLEN PROJECT, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY PR PROGRAMS WITH COURTNEY AND BRITTANY PLANNED?
JIM CAMPBELL: "As John just said, and Robert as well, we're at the beginning here. There is so much we are going to do together. Safety is something that is very important to Chevrolet…there is no doubt. We run in five major series here in North America. We have programs inside of our company that run in Australia and Germany. And, in all those programs, safety is a critical aspect of all we do. We work closely with the sanctioning body and with our teams to focus on safety. We will to that with John and Tom and the whole team. Not only John Force Racing, but with Tom Compton and Graham (Light) and the whole crew at NHRA."
Q: WITH JOHN MEDLEN HAVING DEPARTED DSR (DON SCHUMACHER RACING), IS HE STILL GOING TO BE INCLUDED IN THE FOLD OF SAFETY RESEARCH?
JOHN FORCE: "John Medlen has moved on to Schumacher. I want to make that clear. John Medlen is a great man, and if anybody put a hiccup in his program, maybe because I am deadly honest, I told my people I'm in trouble here and we've got people out there with children to raise; and college tuition. And, they have got houses that they are trying to grow their families. I said I will keep you up quarterly on what is coming, what is new. It was more of a new beginning than what I thought… I did lose a few people. God Bless that John Medlen was part of the project because of his son, but the project will go on and we want to wish our best to John Medlen and Jimmy Prock that went over to Don Schumacher. That is a great racing facility and we need competition. We need all of these guys back on the race track to keep NHRA strong because competition is what it is all about. It wouldn't be any good if we didn't have anybody to race. But we've got plenty. The NHRA numbers are strong on the race track. We are going to entertain the fans this year. I am just excited that I am going to be a part of it. I want to thank all my sponsors, and General Motors is the one that put us over the top. So, thank you again Mr. Campbell."
Q: SO YOUR PAST IS YOUR FUTURE THEN?
JOHN FORCE: "Isn't it funny? You know it is just funny how the world. They always watch what you pray for. It is not just what you do today, it's what you do now that will in 10 years, I think I saw it in a movie-you know I am a movie buff – I go to the movies to get my mind right. It's about what you do to today, when you say wonder if this is really going to work? It is like right now; we took Brittany to Indy and suited her in a funny car. She wondered what was going on Dad, she didn't understand, I thought I was driving top fuel. I said 'Well you are Baby, but right now I've got Ashley as a backup, and our contract with GM , just like with Auto Club and Peak, if someone gets hurt, they want that Force name. And I have girls that can back me up. If something was to go wrong, or one of the girls decided to step out in the future like Ashley did to start a family. Heck they have to do that, when they have to do that when it is time. I have to have Brittany ready to backup. It isn't what we do today it is what do now that makes a big difference years from now. That is the way I believe and sometimes things totally make sense to me, and then all of a sudden it makes total sense.
"But this GM program, this is not only my past. It is a Detroit brand. It is where I come from and it is where I need to be. I'm one of the good ole boys. I'm a truck driver. You know what I am saying.
"Try to put (Dale, Sr.) Earnhardt in another brand. You know what is amazing, those good ole boys on the Internet asking what is John Force doing? He says it is American made. Is he going over to the other side? Those brands aren't the other side. The truth is they build in America. They all give jobs to Americans. But General Motors fits John Force Racing and it fits where we need to be. That is the image I want."
Q: HOW MUCH TIME HAS THERE BEEN TO DO ANY WIND TUNNEL OR AERO TESTING ON THIS NEW CAMARO BODY WORK?
ROBERT HIGHT: "There hasn't been at all. We are going to hit the track next week in Phoenix. So we will probably see you out there Michael (Knight), that is where you are from, right? It is going to be all at-track testing. All of this took place at such a late time. But we're going to be fine. We have smart people that have worked on these bodies and have made these styling changes. They are no dummies. They know the changes we made aren't going to hurt us aerodynamically."
Q: WITH NO DISRESPECT TO ROBERT, JOHN OR BRITTANY, WHEN YOU ASSESS THE OVERALL VALUE OF THE PROGRAM GOING FORWARD, AND NOT FROM A RACING STANDPOINT, BUT FROM STRICTLY STANDPOINT, HOW MUCH OF A FACTOR WAS COURTNEY'S STAR APPEAL THAT EXTENDS BEYOND TYPICAL NHRA MEDIA AND FANS? HOW BIG OF A FACTOR WAS THAT IN THIS DEAL AND DECISION FROM A CHEVROLET STANDPOINT?
JIM CAMPBELL: "Clearly when you look at the track record of John Force Racing, they know how to prepare to win. Certainly it is a great history, but what I love about the whole organization is the focus forward. Let's take that momentum going forward because it is hyper competitive on the track. As I said, we are involved in five different major series, and we won 11 championships last year across those between driver and manufacturer. We know that is all history now. It is all about 2015 and what it is going to take to win. With that said, it is an amazing lineup at John Force Racing. So, we have to have the ability to work together with individual races on the track, score high in the points and get an opportunity to win a championship. John Force Racing efforts combined with what we do in Pro Stock and Stock Eliminator and Super Stock, will enable us to vie for the manufacturers championship. We won it last year on the back of Stock Eliminator, Super Stock and Pro Stock. And now to think about this year with John Force Racing, the opportunity to go up against all the other competitors, I know them all well because I race against them in all the other series that we do at Chevrolet. We need John Force Racing…every single person in their organization working with us to focus on winning races to give us our best chance to win at the track with championships and bring home another NHRA championship. So, it is important. So John, Robert, Courtney, Brittany, Ashley, Adrian…everyone plus all the men and women that work at John Force Racing…it is an amazing shop. It is a forward focus to prepare and compete on the track to win."
Q: WILL CHEVROLET BE BRANDED ON THE CAR FOR RACES THAT ONE OF YOUR OTHER PARTNERS HASN'T CLAIMED AS PRIMARY?
JOHN FORCE: "Right now the money is in a pool, and we are financing to run all the NHRA – the 24 events. Of course I have match races with Bill Bader at Norwalk Ohio. I've got work, I'm going back into Canada. I was in Montreal last year. I'll be going back. With Peak on board, they were actually with my in 2014, I had a contract with them as an associate sponsor, and the opportunity came and I became available, the stepped right up. Old World Industries is a big company. They offered to fund the majority of the races. Yes, I do have other offers. I have a lot of groups interested. Where I stand with Chevrolet, we haven't had a chance to discuss that, but that door is open. But right now it is about getting this season kicked off and getting started.
"Let me tell you something. Where I come from and what I look at is in the early days, I knew Dale Earnhardt. He was like Don Prudhomme in drag racing. Dale Earnhardt was my hero. Prudhomme was in drag racing, I chased him in a funny car for years. Dale Earnhardt, I watched his style, I was with the Action Group in the beginning. I did some show with him. I didn't really know the man, but he was a legend. You know what I mean…driving for General Motors in a Chevrolet. It was just awesome to watch him. I was younger then and he was young, but he was still that legend long before they called me a legend. But, I have this opportunity. Nobody is ever going to replace Dale Earnhardt. His son is out there racing in NASCAR, doing a great job for GM. But I have an opportunity in drag racing. I am an older guy now. I feel like I am falling into that category. I want to do the job like Dale Earnhardt did. I don't want to fail them at my age, and that is my word – I will not fail. I never guarantee a championship, but I will guarantee you that I will be in the hunt, and I will be setting records with this new Camaro. This is a big opportunity for me. Who knows where we are going to go. That is up to Mr. Campbell and his group. But right now they have John Force where he needs to be, back on the race track, and along with my partners, and we will see what the future holds.
Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO NHRA THAT JOHN FORCE RACING IS OUT THERE WITH A FULL TEAM?
TOM COMPTON: "That is an understatement how important John Force is. John Force, I think everyone would agree is synonymous with NHRA drag racing. He is NHRA drag racing. He transcends all the other motor sports as well. I've been with him to an IndyCar race, to NASCAR races and he is mobbed even there in those series. He is probably arguably, probably not even arguably, the greatest ambassador our sport has ever known. Not just for NHRA but for his sponsors and for JFR. I can't say enough about John. He is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. He mentioned earlier he was in Detroit last week, then in Florida doing things. He never stops – never. He is a pleasure to work with as well."
Q: HAVING A TEAM PICKUP A MAJOR SPONSORSHIP FROM A MANUFACTURER, THAT HAS TO BE CONSIDERED AN ENDORSEMENT FOR NHRA AS WELL, DON'T YOU AGREE?
TOM COMPTON: "Absolutely. A company like GM was forced to step out of it a few years back. But there is a long, rich history with NHRA and General Motors, as well as some of the teams. To have them coming back into the sport – every year there are more and more announcements because they do seem to value NHRA. It is great to have them back."
WHO CAME TO WHOM FIRST, AND ABOUT WHAT TIME FRAME ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
JIM CAMPBELL: "What I mentioned earlier is we have a long history with NHRA. Most recently we have been deeply focused on racing with our COPO Camaro in Stock Eliminators. And obviously Pro Stock with our exciting year with what Erica (Enders Stevens) did there with Chevrolet, then the U.S. Nationals with Shane Grey and Bruno Massel. So promote in the NHRA throughout the season. We have displays in the Midway. I mentioned we have the title sponsorship for the U.S. Nationals with our Chevrolet Performance Brand. And this will be the third year we are the official truck of NHRA. So we are at the track. We had an opportunity to visit with John and Robert at different points along the way. So without putting a specific time frame on it, we just had a chance to see him at the track. We travel every weekend to various venues around the country. I'm not at every race, but I'm at quite a few of them. So we had a chance to get to know one another, and it started to get more formal and got serious as we went along. We are at the track, and we see the guys all the time."