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January 27, 2016

John Force

SCOTT SPEED: Thank you, John, for being patient this afternoon. John Force will enter this season as obviously the winningest Funny Car racer in history, and that'll be pretty exciting for job as the NHRA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car category. We'll have season‑long activities with fan favorite cars. We'll talk about the category during the course of the year, look back at rivalries, and put the spotlights on the legends of the sport.
John, you have been involved in many different battles on the track with Prudhomme and Tony Pedregon and his brother Cruz through the years. In your experience what is the draw for Funny Car? Why do some people love this sport, the category, so much?
JOHN FORCE: Well, first let me say, I enjoyed the wait. I got to listen, and I want to say to Leah Pritchett, congratulations on bringing a new sponsor, a brand into our sport. The growth, we need it at this time, and I want to wish Tony Pedregon good luck. He won't need any. He'll do fine. He'll say what he wants to say, what he's feeling, and I think that's exciting.
To the Funny Car category, it was always unique to me. It was these high‑speed street cars, even though they've evolved to where they are today, the excitement of the plastic fantastic car they called it, and just something about it. It's what you drive on the street and everybody can relate to it, not taking anything away from Pro Stock or Top Fuel, just a little bit different, but it always did it for me.
The Prudhommes in the early days, McEwen, Beadle, Bernstein, that's where I came from. Still love it, always will.

Q. The relationship with Alan Johnson in Top Fuel, the idea that you'll be using AJ parts and you guys are really doing everything you have to do to try to put that Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster in the winner's circle, can you take us through that process, that procedure and how it came together and your initial impressions to working with Alan and what it's been like so far?
JOHN FORCE: Well, first of all, I'm excited about it. Austin Coil mentioned to me in a luncheon that Funny Cars are where you came from, Force, and Mike Neff and you and this brain trust, you ought to focus, focus on the Funny Cars, and Mike Neff made a call to AJ and said, hey, you know, getting someone that's run dragsters, that's lived it, and that's delivered in the Top Fuel category, and AJ has.
So in the process, so far me and AJ has got a relationship like me and my wife. She don't talk to me very much and he doesn't talk to me at all. I really kind of leave it with Robert Hight. They've been putting it together, and Mike Neff, and it's working really well. They're set up in house over here, and I'm excited about it.
But understand, I guess Brian Husen explained it the best. He says, I run this Top Fuel car for you, and he said, it kind of makes me the quarterback, if you look at Alan Johnson, it makes him the coach, and that's kind of‑‑ I'm a football buff, so that works for me, so we're going to go down this road and see what happens.

Q. Also regarding your Funny Car program, I know you've got new bodies coming at some point. Can you give us an idea of the time horizon when we might see new bodies on the JFR Chevrolets?
JOHN FORCE: They started almost a year ago working with Chevrolet, working with our people, to build the new 2016 Camaro SS. Excited about it. We were able to shed some weight. We were able to have a little bit narrower car, a few changes. It's going to be better. You always want to take it to the next level. I'm excited about it. I want to get out there in front of the fans with it.
But we're talking, we were trying Gainesville, we may unveil it at Las Vegas, which that's a town that could be a big unveiling there for Chevrolet.

Q. Last week as you all appeared at the media tour in Charlotte, North Carolina, you seemed more enthusiastic than you have in four or five years. Is that an accurate assessment of how you feel right now?
JOHN FORCE: Well, first of all, I was‑‑ I love racing. The paperwork, the boardrooms, it kills me. I love the displays, I love being with the fans. But we've had so much work going on over here. You know, Mike Neff leads the charge in Funny Car. My son‑in‑law, Ashley's husband, Daniel Hood, will be running Courtney's Traxxas car. John Schaffer, great season last year running the PEAK car. He'll be running it. Of course they bought the complete race car along with Auto Club as a secondary and other sponsors like Lucas and Mac Tools. Alan Johnson coming in with Brian Husen, that's going to lead that charge on the car. So we're really, really excited about that.
Financially, I finally got that monkey off my back and I'm back in business with Monster coming in with the Top Fuel car. We expanded our hospitality. It's going to be bigger this year, adding another trailer to it. So there was a lot on my plate, and just to get there with Antron, get back on the stage with Tony and get in front of a crowd, it was good for me.
I've been in Indy ever since I left y'all, and now I'm heading with Chevrolet to Barrett Jackson. They're going to pitch that COPO Camaro to raise money. I think it's for the Amway Charities. I'll be there with Courtney.
I'm excited about it. Steve Cole come back to work with us to get back in our marketing team. I've just got a lot of new stuff, cleaned up a lot of old stuff. It was great to be back with Tony Pedregon, even though we fight and we'll be fighting this year. I don't know who's the good or bad, but in the end we always say what we feel, and I'm just excited to get back in business. I'm no‑‑ I'm not new at this, but I'm excited to get moving ahead.
Love the changes that Peter Clifford has made. That's exciting stuff.

Q. I asked Tony about this, and I'm curious because I know you care about the success of the NHRA. What do you think about the new emphasis on live TV coverage events this year? They're going up to 17 live events. Is this in your opinion the next step for the NHRA to become more popular?
JOHN FORCE: I've been with Robert Hight for a few days here in Indy, and he's back in Charlotte with Auto Club. I go by what sponsors like. They pay the bills. Auto Club, they're really excited about this, and so is Robert.
That Peter has stepped up to the plate, he's making change, he's bringing in some new people to work with the others. Live TV is what it's all about. We always had a great product. I've said it before. But if that product can't be found at set times on TV, it ain't going to happen.
Now, the racers have to take some responsibility that we have to stop the oil downs. We've got to make the show move ahead, and they're putting time levels on it, but we're working on the race cars to stop the things that we're doing in the chassis to maintain the oil if you have a motor explosion.
But it's where we've got to do. We've got to put this live TV, our product into a time frame, and that makes sense.
No matter how great you are, if you've got to wait up until midnight to see you, you lose a big chunk of your crowd right there. Our loyal fans might stay but the average American would go to sleep. Peter has made change. I met with a lot of the people from FOX, and Eric Shanks walked in, I was impressed right out of the box, here's a man, suit and tie, one of the number one guys at FOX and he's standing there in tennis shoes, and I asked him why, and he said, I move continually, and this is how I get my work done, and I've seen a lot of that in Hollywood TV producers and stuff.
He loves what we have and he's going to take it to the next level. Some of the stuff that I've seen and the things that Tony Pedregon has told me he's seen, I think Peter has made the right call. Proof is in the pudding, but we had to do something, and I think we've gone the right direction.
I understand it all pretty good.

Q. So do you think racers like yourself are prepared to take steps to move a little bit more quickly or do what they have to do to make this live TV stuff a success for you guys?
JOHN FORCE: We don't like it. We need the time. But it's not our choice what to like. We want the opportunity to tie into new sponsorships. You know what I mean? And like Pritchett did, and it's hard to do with a TV package like we had. Like I say, the product was great, the people putting it on was great, it was just the time frame. I don't understand that, but I know change was needed, and it's done, and we'll see where it goes.
But you bet, the racers are all talking about it, look at what they can do. They understand this 100 percent.

Q. Tony Pedregon mentioned earlier, someone asked him about calling out people. How are you going to handle it with the past history that you and Tony have if he just happens to call you out on TV?
JOHN FORCE: Well, I imagine he will, but the real truth is the truth is the truth, and sometimes you get in trouble. I was fined $10,000 when me and Tony got into it. You know, that's really what it's about. Like Tony, I heard his deal a while ago talking with you, and that he said, if it's real, it's real. We're not the WWF. We're not out there, well, I shouldn't speak for the WWF. I know wrestling in the old days wasn't real. I used to watch it with my grandma.
But what I'm saying is the truth is really the best. If you kind of orchestrate a deal to say certain things, it just don't work. The best thing‑‑ I wrote a whole bunch of notes here of what I wanted to say to make this all perfect, and I haven't used none of it, and maybe I don't always say the right thing, but I always speak from the heart. I think Tony is a good kid. He's honest. He's talented. He knows a race car just like Mike Dunn knew a race car. And Tony‑‑ you ain't going to put a plug in Tony. Tony is going to say what he wants to say, and if you don't like it, well, then get off the air. Nobody tells you you've got to be there.

Q. What if it you don't agree with what he says, and what if you don't see it as fact, what he says? How will you deal with it then?
JOHN FORCE: Well, if you're trying to get an argument out of me‑‑

Q. I'm not.
JOHN FORCE: I'm getting ready to get on an airplane. I don't have a real answer for that. What I'm saying is I'm going to say what I feel, and if Tony says what he feels and I don't agree, maybe we'll argue about it and maybe we won't. At the end of the day we've all got kids to raise, and yeah, things get heated up. I've gotten into it over the years with Lee Beard. I've got into it with Bazemore, and Al Hoffman used to ride my back continually, and it was a full‑blown aggravation that I lived with, and yet I had a lot of respect for the man, for all of them, what they do.
But the real world is best. You know what I'm saying? And Tony is‑‑ no one is going to put Tony in his place. No one put Mike Dunn in his place. So I think it's going to be fine. But I always say what I feel. Sometimes I tone it down. Sometimes I try to be politically correct. It don't work for me.

Q. With the announcement that just came down about the NHRA deciding not to have backup runs for records and then also not to pay any points for ET records now, do you think that's going to change the way you and your teams or any other team races this year when you're not going for those extra points, and will that lead to maybe running the cars maybe not quite as hard sometimes?
JOHN FORCE: Well, no. Drag racers‑‑ first of all, you try to run a car easy, you just hurt it. It doesn't know how to‑‑ it is what it is.
What I'm saying is when they had points for low ET and they had money sometimes for low ET, like the shootouts and all that, and then for top speed they never had it, we still ran top speed. I used to have to take Courtney and set her down, stop driving it out the back door. You know, there's no money in it, there's no points in it. What are you proving except you're going to set yourself on fire. What are you nuts? And she'd tell me, because it's the thrill of it, Dad, it's awesome, because kids are fearless, and after you set them a fire a few times, they straighten up.
So to make the change, I could go either way. I don't make the decisions with NHRA. I'll leave that to NHRA working with the pro organization, whatever they come up with. Whatever they tell me to do at my age, I just go do. I don't have time to argue or fight about what's right or wrong. When they say that's the direction we're going, I'm going after it. But I guarantee you, we'll still be running those big speeds because that's what turns you on. It even does it to me, and I try to hold these girls back. Robert Hight, we all love the thrill of it, and the sponsors and the fans love to see it.
I wish there was a way we could do longer burnouts. It just isn't feasible. You know what I'm saying? There's so many things going to change‑‑ that have changed the sport. I've been with weld wheel over 30 years, and we look at things that we can do, but there's only so much change that you can make. Change is good, and sometimes it's not, but they make the rules and I follow them.

Q. Good luck to you and your whole team this year.
JOHN FORCE: We're going to be okay. I'm ready for testing in Phoenix, and I've got some new sponsors that I'm testing. I'm running all of the PEAK brands, the Old World Industries signs hung everywhere. I'm back in business. Got a lot of people that believed in me, and that's where I'm heading.

Q. John, in the media tour in Charlotte, you mentioned that your grandson wants to race, which is kind of interesting, but I would like one question about that, what's going to be your advice about drag racing for your grandson, and what advice would you give your grandson about talking to the public and media?
JOHN FORCE: First of all, my granddaughter is in a junior dragster, Autumn. Jacob is out back right now learning how to run an airgun. He's only four years old, with his dad, Danny Hood, and working with the team. I went out there and I said, Honey, I promise to take you to the movies and we can go see "Norm of the North." He goes, Grandpa, I'm working on my race car. This comes from a four‑year old. I'll never tell him what to do. He may end up playing hockey. You know what I'm saying? They love that Chicago team up there, the Blackhawks. He might play baseball. You can't tell them what they're going to do. I never thought my girls would ever race. Never even imagined it, and so, you know, I'm excited about it, whatever he wants to do, but we're all just watching him grow up, and that's the best part of life. No real answer there where he's going, we just give him the opportunities if he wants it. That's why I've got to stick around in this game. I just signed E3 Spark Plugs, another deal.
And we just talked about how can we get life out of stuff so we can do long burnouts. You run out of fuel but the fans love the long burnouts. It's the worst question I have to answer to the fans why we can't do that anymore, and I tried talking to Austin, how can we bring that back. Maybe we'll come up with something, but in the process got to keep the parts alive and got to win races, and that wins championships.
We didn't get the job done last year, so I'm going to quit worrying about money and I'm going drag racing, NHRA drag racing.
SCOTT SPEED: John, thank you for your patience and holding on through with us today, and we will see you when the season kicks off in Pomona in a couple weeks.
JOHN FORCE: We'll be there guns a‑blazing. Thank you.

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