John Force: His formative years – Part 2

by Titus Bloom

If you missed the first part of this story, click here.

Castrol-Team“I turned professional racing driver in 1975 and was terrible for the next ten years!”

“I was never a very good mechanic; I had people to help me. I could take a blower apart and put it together with help but I was never a tuner.

“When I returned from Australia and turned professional I used to sleep in my crew cab in my brother’s driveway. Walker was an LA sheriff and later joined the FBI National Academy. He helped raise me. When he retired he came to work for me, helping me with legal contracts and security. He has been very important in my life.

“Then in 1986, I got my Castrol sponsorship and I’ve been with them for every win since. They have a great company and they’ve been good to me. Although they have chosen to leave at the end of 2014, I want the fans to know Castrol made me what I am today.”

When did things get better?

“Austin Coil joined me when I had Coca Cola and Wendy’s in 1985. In 1986, Castrol, who were known for their motorcycle oils, announced they were creating a racing team to promote their new motor oils. Company representatives Jim Gardella and John Howell were committed to establishing a super team and engaged Gary Ormsby in Top Fuel; me in FC; Larry Morgan in Pro Stock, Bill Barney in Alcohol Dragster, and David Nickens among others. After 6 or 7 years most of the guys were gone; I was the only one left.

John-and-Ashley-234064

John and daughter Ashley

“We won a race in 1988. And then in 1990 we started winning and won ten consecutive championships from 1993 to 2002. Coil stayed with me through all my championship-winning years including 2010 and then he retired.”

How did you become so dominant?

“Number one, you need money to race and I’ve chased money since day one. Without money you cannot buy the good parts, but most of all you cannot surround yourself with good people.

“I teamed up with a number of good people over the years, including Steve Plueger, Larry Frazier and Austin Coil, who was known for his successes with the Chi-town Hustler from Chicago. We raced for four years before we won a race—it took years to build it right. I told him one day: ‘Coil, you lied to me: you told me we would win!’ And Coil fired back: ‘And you told me we would have a million dollars’! But once we got on a winning roll, he was a great crew chief if not the greatest of all time. As a crew chief, he’s got more championships than me; remember he won two championships with Frank Hawley.”

Best lesson learned?

Goosein71HW-FCcockpit

Tom “Mongoose” McEwen in his 1971 Funny Car cockpit

“My favorite lesson involved my old pal Mongoose McEwen who taught me an unforgettable lesson. One time at Orange Co when I was driving my Leo’s Stereo car in a match race and I got to the final and I had to race McEwen. Snake and the Blue Max and all the big names were out and I had to race Mongoose in the final. McEwen, who was real good friends with my “rellys” [relatives], comes over and says, ‘Force I broke the crankshaft so I’m only going to start it up on the sideline because I can’t make the run. You go ahead and do your burnout and do your stuff and don’t worry because my money is guaranteed.’ Obviously, this was my chance to make money.

“So I went out there and did a big ole’ burnout from the lights and I’m backing up almost to the starting line and to my amazement McEwen does a burnout past me. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I thought he was out. I knew he didn’t have time to change the crank or the motor. And then to make it worse I had to wait on him and I ran out of gas and blew up my motor…I was madder than hell when he came around later. I asked what happened? He said, ‘Your Uncle Beav’ says the first lesson in drag racing is never trust a guy you’ve got to race!”

Big Ideas

“Years ago I won Driver of the Year award or similar and Castrol invited me to a big F1 banquet in England. While there I visited the Castrol plants and their technology centers and I went to Oxfordshire to see the Williams F1 factory, which were also sponsored by Castrol at the time. It was there that I got the idea for my museum. Its purpose is to inform. We document all the events not only the highs but also the lows. We reveal the problems and the solutions and how we make the cars safer. The museum chronicles not only an interesting historical record but also it enlightens the fans.”

John Force claimed his first NHRA Funny Car championship in 1990 by winning seven of 19 races en-route to a 43-point advantage over fellow Californian Ed “The Ace” McCulloch. He repeated the feat in 1991. More remarkably still, in 1993 he and his team strung together a 10-year stretch of titles: 0121993-2002. Since then he has posted separate titles in 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2013. Now 64 years of age, when people ask him what he’ll do when he retires, “I tell them I’ll get a race car and go race.”

Larry Morgan’s recollections:

“I was with Castrol in 1984 and they were enthralled when we won a first national event for them in NHRA. Then in 1986 Castrol’s Vice President of Operations, John Gardella, decided they no longer wanted to race in partnership with Nationwise Auto Parts and instead create their own team.

“Gardella already had me driving in Super Stock and Comp, so I moved into Pro Stock and he put Gary Ormsby in Top Fuel. He asked me to recommend a Funny Car driver and I suggested John Force. He said, ‘Why would you have John? He hasn’t done anything over at NHRA.’ I told him he’s the guy you need. He’s charismatic and can talk-the-talk with money and could walk-the-walk with results. So they made a deal with Force. Gardella called me later and said, ‘You better have told me the right guy!’ I hoped that I had, too. Also, he knew we needed wider exposure. So I sLarry-Morganuggested getting a couple good Sportsman racers who were already winning national events until Ormsby, Force, and I could start winning.

“So nominating Pat Austin was a no-brainer and Ormsby got Bill Barney while I recruited David Nickens. They covered our butts until we were able to win and when that happened we were propelled to the forefront. In 10 years we won 200 races. Then in 1997 all the Castrol money went to John, but he has done an awesome job for them. Without John Force I’m not sure where our sport would be.”

1 Comment

  1. John Force is a class act, enjoy the stories from hishumble start !

    Reply

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