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2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference
Posted by: newsla on Jan 23, 2014 - 04:02 AM
NHRA
2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference


The following are excerpts from a teleconference featuring 2013 Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin; 2013 Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon; and 2013 Funny Car world champion John Force.

 

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THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today on our conference call to kick off the start of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. The season kicks off February 6-9 at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at the famed Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. In a very short and brief off season, our teams have been busy preparing testing, refining, and working on their machines leading up to the start of the season. We're going to be joined today by three defending champions, Jeg Coughlin in Pro Stock, Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, and John Force in Funny Car. We'll start today with our defending and most recent Pro Stock world champion, Jeg Coughlin. Jeg's championship season saw him win four times with four runner-up finishes, two number one qualifying positions and 48-round wins. He also has an impressive 533-round wins in his racing career. Jeg, the off-season is always a short one. I think more than people even realize. Did you and your team have a chance to celebrate this championship or kind of talk us through when you pulled out of Pomona to today?

JEG COUGHLIN: I think when we pulled out of Pomona we definitely were very excited and coming off the heels of quite a celebration there at the famed fair grounds outside Pomona there. Then carrying over into Monday night's festivities at the Mello Yello NHRA championship banquet. So we've celebrated in grand style. Couldn't have been happier to bring home the second championship in a row for Mopar and for J&J Horsepower with Allen and Roy Johnson. So that was probably the pinnacle of it. But for JEGS and everyone here and for everyone on the JEGS Team and everyone here at JEGS for a season long effort like that to come to a conclusion in the fashion it did, it was probably one of the more trying or hard fought battles that we've had in the championship runs in our careers. So, it was very gratifying, very satisfying and very rewarding all wrapped up in one. As you mentioned the off season, it's a term that's used very loosely. Just two weeks after Thanksgiving, mid-December Allen and I and several other teams were down in Bradenton, Florida, doing some testing and really just trying to prove out some things that we learned throughout the 2013 season. When you enter the countdown, you enter a little bit different competitive mode. We've really made some great headway in that first test session, and then we just completed another three days of testing in Bradenton this past week. So for us it was a very short off season. From my understanding, Roy and the engineers at J&J have been working extremely hard on horsepower and have done a great job with that. Based on some of our testing results, even with our testing motors, we were extremely quick. So we look forward to that as we move into the season. We've had some transitions within the team that we look forward to seeing play out as we've gotten our feet on the ground and ready to hit the Winternationals.

Q. Jeg, how does a five time NHRA Pro Stock champion transition into a new season after winning championship and if you could along the way mention a little about the phenomenal year the Coughlin’s and Team JEGS had last year too?

JEG COUGHLIN: I think you how you transition into a new season is you look at the past season you just had. In our case we couldn't have been much happier with myself finishing number one and Allen finishing number two. So we do look at our successes. We look how we can capitalize on those a little bit better and strengthen those, but also look at some of the pitfalls that we felt like we struggled with throughout the years, throughout the countdown, and that's what we've worked really hard with in our testing in Bradenton the first session. The second session we kind of picked up where we left off in mid-December and just continued to fine tune on that. I think in our case we've had a couple of transitions within the team with the exit of Vincent Nobile joining forces with the KB Team and Jim Yates no longer with the program. My lead crew chief and car chief, Dave (Yediny) ended up wanting to stay more back on the east coast and racing in the Comp Eliminator ranks, which is great. He was fantastic for our program, but we were able to add Adam Hornberger who came out of Mike Edwards' program, and individually worked with and Mark Ingersoll's worked a lot with over the years as Adam was with Penske Racing Shocks. So I think those were the transitions we were faced with coming out of Pomona and with the personnel changes and the team changes we were able to kind of fine tune some things in testing and really painted one heck of a picture. But I've got to say when you look at the lineup of Pro Stock cars that we're faced with this year it's going to be an exciting year without question. The resurgence with Dave Connolly back behind the wheel and partnered up with Shane Gray in that program, they're going to be tough. KB with three cars, the list just goes on and on. It's not going to be dull to say the least. To your second point, you know, the Coughlin’s had one heck of a season in 2013 starting with the youngest member, Clay Coughlin. I call him Cecil. He won his first championship in the Junior Dragster ranks here at our home track of National Trail Raceway. Cody Coughlin, my oldest brother's son won the CRA championship in the asphalt circle track rank, which is something I'd love to hop in and do. It just looks like a ton of fun. Troy Jr., my brother Troy's son, won his first championship in the Division 3 ranks in Super Gas, and my son Jeggy, who has not hit the pavement just yet, but he won the Ohio high school golf championship in boys high school golf. So one heck of a year for us. To add a Pro Stock championship to those four certainly made us a banner year for all of us here.

Q. Jeg, I was just wondering this is going to sound like a weird question, but lately where are the biggest gains being made in a Pro Stock drag racer from the standpoint of performance? I know it's always a combination, but where have you noticed where the biggest gains have been made in the last couple years?

JEG COUGHLIN: That's a great question. Thanks for being on the call today, too. I'd say the Pro Stock cars are always looking for horsepower. The engineers are looking for more refinement within the engines. The suppliers we're working with are looking for better tooling, better materials to work with. We're able to be more efficient with the engines, so I'd say that's one area that we're focused on. I think chassis management is a huge area that I don't want to say has been untapped for years in Pro Stock, but we've all been running a very similar platform as far as the chassis design goes. I think we've seen a lot of new ideas coming in on the way we're running the chassis themselves. Then, of course, clutch management is always extremely important in Pro Stock. Unlike the Top Fuel and Funny Cars where they're a one speed we've got five forward gears, so we've got a lot to manage between our gearing packages and the manipulation of our clutch. I think better products within the clutch world and better splits that we can mathematically figure with our gear boxes. That is a big area we've improved on here in the last six or seven days of testing.

Q. You just went over those personnel changes, but it sounded like fairly key personnel. I guess anybody on a drag racing team is a key person. But how do you go about finding those new guys to bring in or upgrade? Is it a major vetting process from the standpoint of you want something new but you also want to carry on what you were doing at the end of the year last year, right?

JEG COUGHLIN: Exactly. When it all boils down, it's a really small world whether you're in professional football or baseball or any of the sports. Drag racing is no different. You always know the key players in all the areas that need to be accomplished on the car or back in the shop. I think when you hear rumblings that teams may be dismantling or transitioning in some fashion, you kind of just work your way through it and see what's going to be the best fit for where you feel your opportunities are. In our case, I think we've added a great person in Adam. Obviously, Mike Edwards, aside from the J&J team of myself, Vincent and Allen, had one heck of a year with all his number one qualifying efforts and race wins. Obviously, just didn't shine in the countdown like he planned on. I think we're going to have one heck of a program.

Q. Pro Stock has been so competitive the last few years, and the rules package really hasn't changed that much. Yet it seems as though every team goes about the car a different way. I know you ran GM products and now you're in Dodge. But how do you come out to the same place to be so competitive with so many different you know, everybody taking a different angle to it?

JEG COUGHLIN: That's a tough question to answer, honestly. But I think you've got a lot of extremely bright, intelligent people behind either running the cars or building the horsepower. There are some commonalities in there too. As I mentioned, the chassis, they're all pretty similar. Horsepower wise though it amazes me that there are probably six or seven main engine builders out there that build all the power for the Pro Stock group. Maybe a few more. On any given day you can send 20 cars down the track and we'll be within four hundredths of a second. And we've seen that window improve over the last couple of years because there's been a couple fewer less engine builders out there. Plus I think we've seen key members of different teams go to this team or go to that team or even on their second or third team in the last say ten years. I think a little cross pollinating of information and tactfulness, if you will, kind of spreads itself out a little bit that way. Like I mentioned earlier, it's going to be a banner year for Pro Stock and something we're looking forward to. We've talked about it as a team what our preparation is, what our mental side of things is going to be going into Pomona, and now it's time to get out and execute. It's that time of year already.

Q. When you're coming off a championship like you are does it make how short the off season is, does it make it shorter? Or is the anticipation killing you to get back into competition?

JEG COUGHLIN: We're always ready to get back at it. You know, driving a Pro Stock car is something I've always enjoyed as much as anything in my life, so it feels right at home. This year we've done a little testing earlier than we typically would, so it didn't feel like I was out of the car very long, and I felt very, very good. I think it just made it sweeter, quite frankly, coming off being a champion in the '13 season. It always makes the off-season feel more special.

Q. My question might be a little complicated, if you will. How much time during the off season did you spend thinking about the 20 losses throughout your season last year, and ascertain how many might have been your issue and how many were the car’s issue? What do you do to eliminate the ones that you think were your personal issue?

JEG COUGHLIN: Very interesting way of looking at it. Quite frankly, one that we have scheduled out from the first race of 2013 through the finale in Pomona. We've looked at where we can improve. Me, myself, behind the wheel, I can see where maybe I wasn't as focused as I needed to be and what the distractions were within the team or within my life. You always try to improve on those. The races where we struggled more with set up things and we go back to the drawing board and say how can we do a more efficient job? Our goal has always been, yes, we want to be the fastest car, but if that tips over that edge and puts me, the driver, in a position to not complete a run because it shakes real hard and need to abort the run, then we didn't accomplish anything. We'd much rather have a car that was slower than everybody out there but gets down the racetrack and at least gives me the opportunity to get out and do what I love to do and that is will the machine. But we've looked at all of the positives and all the opportunities from '13 and kind of underscored a few of them that we'll work on both personally and as a group.

Q. How much more confident do you feel as yourself as a person and a leader of your team having looked at those issues?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, I think any time that you're aware of your issues and you can address them personally and as a group, I think it gives you much more confidence. We approach our businesses here at JEGS much the same way. We do the racing. So for me it feels more like a natural. We've been doing it for many, many years, so it's common practice and something probably we don't need all of our competitors to do.

Q. A lot of times in sports you hear about how hand eye coordination deteriorates over the years as they get older. Yet in drag racing you see where reaction time is so critical. You see guys competitive well into their 60s. John Force being the latest and most obvious example. That kind of flies in the face of logic. How do you explain that in drag racing guys or gals can have careers with such longevity?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, I think physically it's a sport that doesn't dictate a whole lot of physical nature, so to speak. We can see the Top Fuel and Funny Car guys get out of their car and they're gasping for breath and it is an exhilarating rite. I can only imagine. And same thing on the Pro Stock ride and the bikes. I think as we get older, you know, like I mentioned earlier, the machines are getting more efficient. The pieces we're working with are getting more efficient that helps the driver be more coherent and more alert, and/or allow a slower reacting person to be very competitive because we've been able to improve the cars quite a bit. I think, honestly, that's probably one of the bigger things. Me, personally, I try to stay in somewhat decent shape with running and stretching and exercises and whatnot. Also, I like to play video games and things of that nature that just kind of helped that hand foot eye coordination stay acute. Certainly, like we say here at JEGS, many of the practice devices that simulate the perfect start of an NHRA drag race is something you can find right here on my desk while I'm on the phone or have a few seconds of idle time. You practice on the street for a few hits, doesn't seem like much, but it does keep it fresh in the mind so that under the pressures of drag racing you can perform in that subconscious manner.

Q. As you know, Mike Edwards decided to sell his equipment to Chris McGaha back, I think it was last month. I'm wondering, can a guy like Chris become a player by buying equipment from a World Champion like Mike? Secondly, how will Mike's exit impact the whole class?

JEG COUGHLIN: I think Mike was just a fantastic individual and one that a lot of us looked up to for many years. I recall seeing him race with David Nickens in the late '80s in their GTX Mobile and just killing them in comp. Always enjoyed watching him. He was such a smooth operator. Everywhere he went that I got to watch him after that he was always very successful, and of course he got back behind the wheel after several tens of years off from winning his Modified World Championship earlier in his career to race in Pro Stock again.
He was always a very aggressive driver and very good driver. As he built his latest team, obviously he had the total package and they won a world championship in, I believe, '09 and were a threat each and every year. So Mike will be missed on the track without question. I'd be surprised if we didn't see him surface and be a part of the racing world, because it's been such a big part of his life and career for both he and Lisa. So I guess that is yet to be seen. On the first question with the McGaha's purchasing Mike's transporter and car and engines and spare parts and whatnot, can they be an instant success? I certainly think they can be, yes. I think Mike obviously had pretty much the best of everything. But Mike was very crafty as a crew chief himself. So that is the one thing that didn't completely come with the package from what I read and what I hear. But them adding Jim Yates as their leader and crew chief I think certainly brings that back into a position that would be surprising if they didn't come out in Pomona and be in the top five and challenge to win the race.

Q. You said you analyzed your performance on all your runs in 2013, whether you looked at the car, your performance, every driver seems to have one or more tracks that they don't do well at. Did you look at that at a particular track that may be a problem for you and try to figure out what it is about that track that you can change to improve?

JEG COUGHLIN: Fortunately, we've had great success at just about every track on the circuit. I was beginning to wonder that very thing since the creation of Charlotte there. One of the finest facilities we were able to race on the NHRA Tour and haven't quite had the success there, which is certainly nothing to complain about, but it was one track I really wanted to do well at because it was such the pinnacle. I was fortunate enough it was in 2007-2008 championship era where I had a lot of activity with the track prior to its opening and always held it very closely. I wanted to do well there. To be able to breakthrough and win the first Countdown race there in the fall, I think kind of pushed Charlotte out of the back of my mind as being a problem track for me.
Fortunately, the only new track on the circuit to us was New Hampshire this year, and I think that's going to be a really fun venue to go back to this summer. Because we've had a year under our belt now. When the weather was cool, the track was cooler, and we flew. The atmospheric conditions there can be just right. Then on Sunday as the 90° heat and sun was doing its thing, it challenged us a little differently. I think we'll approach that race just slightly differently given those conditions again. So that's probably looking at the past from a preparation standpoint. Probably one of the more fun opportunities that we look forward to is the New Hampshire race.

THE MODERATOR: We have with us Shawn Langdon, who in his Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel dragster, rocketed to his first World Championship with seven wins, three runner-up finishes, and seven No. 1 qualifying positions. He book ended the season with wins at Pomona, his home track and secured the championship at Pomona. Shawn, you've had quite a whirlwind experience since the final event, including taking the championship trophy all the way over to the Sheikh. Can you tell us a little bit about that trip going over there?

SHAWN LANGDON: Yeah, it was actually a great experience going over to Qatar for the first time. I've never actually been out of the country, so to take a 14 hour plane ride and to go somewhere, it was a very neat experience. Obviously, Sheikh Khalid and everybody over there took very good care of us. But our main thing not only of presenting the trophy to everybody in Qatar was also to go over there for the Doha Goals. It was a very important event that they were putting on to try to raise awareness for getting kids places to play sports and to have opportunities as a kid to have dreams and to have goals. It was a neat experience to not only go over there and see the country, but also to be a part of the Doha Goals.

Q. Shawn, you're on this teleconference with two guys that have 21 championships. What is your take and your first championship and the new season? How will you approach 2014 and what do you expect?

SHAWN LANGDON: Well, obviously, we're going to approach 2014 the same way that we have the last two years. We're just very excited to get back out there and get running again. We feel very confident; the whole Al-Anabi team has done a lot of homework in the off-season. We went testing last week and had a successful test session. I don't think there are going to be too many things that we want to change. We just kind of want to stay in the same attack mode as we have in the last two years. Obviously, the 2012 season we struggled a little bit throughout the year, but we also gained a lot of information that we were able to use this last year with winning the championship. So we're hoping to just further that along for the 2014 season. Just all that more information and data that we have at all the tracks with all the new parts and pieces that we've been using. So we're just very excited to get back out there and get racing at Pomona.

Q. Do you think that second championship is going to be a little tougher?

SHAWN LANGDON: Any championship is going to be tough. The competition level is so tough these days. There's just so many good running cars it's not going to be easy. We know we're going to have to fight for it. We're going to have to dig deep just like we did last year, but we're up for the challenge.

Q. You've kind of touched on my question already. But when you look back at last year was that the easiest or less stressful season you've had and there goes resulting in a championship? How does that affect how you approach this year?

SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I definitely think it was more stressful to me as a driver, in a good way though. You can get yourself stressed out as a driver when you're not performing and your car isn't running well and you're kind of fighting against yourself and your team. The car isn't consistent and you're not consistent as a driver. Just things aren't gelling well together. Last year I think it was just a I think it was a thing where me as a driver, I had a great team, the Al-Anabi team provided me with a great car, and we had a dominant car at times. So it was the pressure of me as a driver to have to perform because basically you're looked at as you're with the best team out there, and if you don't win races, a lot of that comes down to you as the driver. So I think there were a couple races with me as a driver entering the Countdown in the number one spot, losing that first race on the holeshot. I think I put a lot on myself. The team did a great job of calming me down and trying to get my mind off it and motivating me. But I look a lot of that to heart. I have a lot of passion for the sport, and I don't want to be the weak link for the team. So I think it was a lot of pressure on me that I put on myself to perform. I think now having experienced that this last year, I think it's going to help me be better this year because I know what to expect. I know what it's like to be in these huge pressure situations, racing against the best, all eyes on you and you're racing for the championship. I think just being in that position now, this team knows how to do it. They've done it in the past with Alan (Johnson) and Brian Husen as the crew chief. They've done it in the past with a bunch of different drivers, and me, that was my first time being in that position. I think all of us having gone through that, I think we can relax a lot more this year.

Q. So when you look back at your entire season, your entire career, if you will, was last year your hardest year ever?

SHAWN LANGDON: I would say I don't say it would have been my hardest year in the sense of it was tough growing up, having to race to keep food on the table, and that was pretty difficult to me where if you didn't win a race, you didn't have money to pay bills for the next month. So in that situation it was a lot harder on me back then six, seven years ago. Now I think the hardest part about running for a championship is how to separate your time and how to separate time for media and for fans. I've always kind of grown up going to the racetrack to race. I've never been really involved racing in the sports categories with a lot of TV cameras, lot of fans, a lot of attention with everything and a lot of eyes are on you. I think I was exposed to that last year, which takes a little bit of time to just adjust as a fairly new driver.

Q. I know you were testing just last week down in Florida, and I was hearing the track there wasn't optimal. I'm sure you guys got some good data and everything. But as a driver is it just good to get back in the car and get the feel for it again? Give you a chance to just get the sensation before you go racing again in Pomona?

SHAWN LANGDON: Oh, absolutely. I love this sport. I love drag racing, so the two months that we have off, it eats at me. It's tough. I'm champing at the bit to get back out there. So I was definitely excited to get back out there to South Florida and we were able to make some good runs. The track was tricky at times. The first day we had to work on it a little bit, but as the weekend progressed, the track progressed as well, and the track got to be really good. So we were able to throw down a 372, which, obviously, it just goes to show that we still have a good handle on the car with even having a couple months off. But, yeah, it's not easy sitting around when you're used to racing 20 weeks in a row during the middle of the summer and then you have two months off in the off season, you kind of get to twiddling your thumbs a lot.

Q. I'm guessing it feels a lot different this year going in as the champion now. You've got the big number one on your back and all that kind of thing and people gunning for you, but how do you feel this year going into it as opposed to last year? Even though you had a good car last year, obviously, but how does this feel?

SHAWN LANGDON: It feels great, obviously. Just to win that Mello Yello Top Fuel Championship was a dream of mine since I was a kid. I'll definitely wear that number one proud on the side of our car. I don't think it's going to be too different. I think last year we had the hopes of contending for a world championship. We knew we had a great car and we still feel that way. So we're just going to basically keep doing what we're doing. We're obviously proud of what this Al-Anabi Team accomplished last year, but we don't want to sit on it for too long. We need to keep progressing. All these other teams are playing pretty good catch up. They're making good runs as well. So we can't sit around and pat ourselves on the back too much or these guys are going to pass us up. So we have to keep working hard, keep at it, and keep trying to keep this team at the top.

Q. Being a champion, going into the testing and coming out of the testing, how do you feel as a driver and a team after you're testing going into Pomona defending your championship?

SHAWN LANGDON: We feel pretty good about everything, really. We didn't make too many changes in the off season. We had a couple small personnel changes within the crew and adding another crew chief over to (Khalid) alBalooshi car or assistant crew chief, and adding Brandon on as manager out here at our shop in Brownsburg. So we've made a couple small changes only for the betterment of the team, obviously trying to keep Sheikh Khalid happy and proud.
But we're trying to keep progressing. We're excited to get into Pomona. We definitely want to get going being the defending World Champion and also the event champion. Obviously, there are a lot of great memories out at Pomona. Pomona is always a fun race. First race of the year, a track that I grew up at. So we're definitely counting down the minutes to get there.

Q. We've had the countdown format in place for several years now, and as a driver it can help or hurt you. You saw what happened to Antron (Brown) last year. Kind of dug himself a hole with the DNQ. How do you feel about the countdown format now that you've raced it for a few years? Are you happy there is a playoff format or are you a traditionalist that likes to see the whole season go equal points?

SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I definitely think that the Countdown is great for the fans. Obviously when you look at it last year it didn't really change anything in the championship. I think if I calculated the points out correctly we would have won the championship whether there was a Countdown or not. In the years previously, obviously, it helped our cause to gain points back on the leader. But I think it's good for the sport though because that way it doesn't just give somebody obviously, you want to reward someone that has a great season. But it doesn't really bring that much excitement at the last couple races if somebody clinches a championship with six or seven races to go. I think it's great. I think that it's good. The last couple seasons everything has come down to Pomona. It keeps the excitement level up for all the fans, for all the sponsors, for all the drivers and crew guys as well. You know, it definitely is all about bringing excitement over to the Mello Yello Series.

THE MODERATOR: We have John Force who won his 16th Funny Car World Championship last season with four wins, five runner up finishes and six No. 1 qualifying positions. John, with all the champions talking about their season last year and you know more than anybody how hard it is to repeat as champion going forward. What have you told your crew guys to make sure that they stay hungry going into this 2014 season?

JOHN FORCE: First, I'd like to congratulate Jeg Coughlin for winning the championship in Pro Stock, and naturally Shawn Langdon. Getting to know the kid, he's a lot of fun. He worked really hard for the Al-Anabi team, and he took that win home. So just congratulations to them.
John Force Racing, we do it the same. We evaluate over the winter. If we've lost any people, especially key people, clutch men, engine builders, we evaluate the crew chiefs, if anybody's leaving, we go through a lot just to make sure that we're stable in our approach. Then the approach is give everybody a couple of weeks to rest. Let's not talk racing, even though Robert (Hight) and I, we've been on the road all over the country and we're beat up and tired. We just got back from testing a week, like everybody, but we were gone two weeks. We live on the road. That's what we do. There's not much downtime, a little downtime at Christmas. But the mindset is the same. If you don't focus, if you take winning for granted, you go back to the same process and mindset you had last year and go after it. Only difference is now because of the economy and where we're looking at the future of chasing corporate America, we've got to find some major sponsorship, and that's why we've been living on the road, working with Just Marketing and trying to replace sponsorships that are going to be leaving.

Q. John, NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson mentioned that he lost a lot when he was racing motorcycles and off road cars when he first started. I told him you lost a lot at first too. He acted a little surprised. But he said John has more championships than I've got and I want to chase him down. My question to you is do you feel that fellow champions always go into the next season, any season, with a special attitude and confidence like that that lifts them up to the top again?

JOHN FORCE: I think he's being respectful. It would be like me saying I'm chasing Richard Petty and he's chasing me. NASCAR is a different animal. They run 42 races and we run 25, hard to make a comparison. But you always want to set your goals, and Jimmie Johnson is obviously a winner. You know what I mean? To accomplish what he's done in NASCAR as well as me in drag racing. But if you ever just, I still set my goals after Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme, and he doesn't even race anymore. I do it because that keeps you motivated. Every day you get out of bed, every meal you eat. You know, I put on some weight over the winter and I dropped ten pounds in the last four weeks trying to get back to where I was. I got a little lazy. Still in the gym, but not where I needed to be. So you do want to set goals. I set my goals to continue to win. Hardest thing for me is I have drivers like Robert Hight with Auto Club, and my girls Courtney and Brittany with Traxxas, they want to win too. But if I'm going to sell myself, I've got to continue to win to dominate. At my age, I'm no spring chicken. If I'm going to stay in the fight with these guys and that's what I do. So God bless him, if he said he was chasing me, I thought that's what he said. I don't think he is. I think he's got enough guys to chase over there.

Q. When I look at your 16 championships, from my standpoint I can say this one was hard, this one was easy, whatever. Where does last year's championship rate in difficulty to achieve versus all that came before it?

JOHN FORCE: First let me say I know I'm wound up here. I've been in with Hot Rod Magazine next door for two hours on topics of a lot of things. The sport, where is it going? What is good? What is bad? What are we doing wrong? Everybody's trying. NHRA is trying, PRO is trying. So I'm a little wound up, so I'm trying to stay on track. But John Force is trying. That's why I'm doing all this other stuff that I'm doing to try to bring my TV show back. Working the John Force Road Show. My car is over at Anaheim Stadium right now at a big music convention. The Elvis car is over there. I'm going over there with my daughter, Adria who is part of that. I'm continually trying to grow the sport. Continually trying to grow the JFR brand as well as NHRA. Last year, the first one was the toughest when you win your first championship because you don't know how to do it and you learn. But I read a letter from a man named Jim Jannard, and he said you've got to continue to reinvent yourself. That is true. That's what I'm trying to do with my business as well as myself. Something new out there to stay up with the Olympics and the X Games, and all the new opportunities that the fan has a chance to go somewhere else instead of NHRA. I'm fighting that just like NHRA in the pro organization. But this last championship we were struggling. We brought in the chassis years ago for safety. They were heavy. We still were able to win with Robert in '09. But we couldn't stay up with them. We made some changes, the new chassis came at the right time. It started with me in the Countdown. And Jimmy (Prock) got hot. And you know, Austin Coil who I believe is still the greatest of all time. Look how many championships he had. Frank Hawley, me, you know what I mean? Add them all up and nobody's even close to Austin Coil. But at the end of the day when you look at it, they're all hard to win. But Jimmy Prock got hot at the right time. Working with the brain trust with Mike Neff, with Dean Antonelli, the whole bunch of guys. John Medlen and Ron Douglas, all the guys. My son in law, and they got together, focused on the car, and we all learned from each other. I don't know how Schumacher runs his operation. Doesn't matter, he wins too, but so do we. But to us it's really camaraderie. Working together. The studies from the engineers at Ford, our motor programs that we build in house. We got hot and it worked. Lucky. Luck's a big part of it in the Countdown. I used to have the championship locked up before we even got there. By the time we left it was done. At Indy one year I won it with a bunch of races left to go. Countdown gives everybody a chance, and it puts fans in the seats, like Langdon said. Lot of people don't like it, some do. I don't make the rules. I just figure out how to win based on the rules they've got out there.

Q. If you look at most other forms of racing, I would be talking to a retired driver. What is the single thing you think was in you that says, you know what, I'm not interested in retiring. I just want to keep on racing?

JOHN FORCE: I thought about Bernstein and Prudhomme. I've talked to them and why they did what they did. For me, like Prudhomme said, you've got all those girls out there. You stay there to be with them. I guess I do. Kenny Bernstein had his reasons. I don't know their reasons. They won't tell me. But I respect those guys so much because they're the ones that really like (Don) Garlits and Shirley (Muldowney), they opened the doors. Snake and the Mongoose, hell, they've got a movie about him. You look at Kenny Bernstein, and he's the one that went to the Budweiser bottlers and that's why I went to the Coca-Cola bottlers. To get a deal with Wendy's, I learned from the guys that were the best. Why they did what they did. I'd love to have them here today, we're losing too many of our stars. You know, it's sad. We've got to get Brandon Bernstein back to keep that name in here. Great driver, great talent, we've got to get him back. He's out because of a lack of a ride. Things happen. Nobody likes the multi car teams in the beginning. It gave them too much of an advantage. Now that they look at Don Schumacher Racing and us, if they didn't have us, we'd be an eight car field. NHRA would have to go from 16 car to 18 car. I know I'm wound up here today. There are a lot of things I'd like to talk about, can't. But I love this sport with a passion. Different from NASCAR and IndyCar, don't have to drive around for three hours. You know what I mean? If I get tired during the day, my days are just as long. I start at 6:00 a.m., and come out of the hotel and go back in at 8:00 at night. That's every day. NASCAR and IndyCar don't spend any more hours, but the time in the seat. And you know one of those football players said that Jimmie Johnson wasn't an athlete. I don't know who the player was. Don't really care. But he's wrong in my opinion, my opinion. He's wrong because you've got to be in shape, and I know because when I was young and running down the road. I could party all night and go out there with three hours of sleep and drive the race car. But now I've got to have my eight hours every day. I've got to be in the gym. I was in the gym at 6 a.m. every other day I'm in the gym where there is no way I can compete and win a championship. It wouldn't have happened. We are athletes. At my age, I do it. A guy said if you quit racing, what would you do? I'd go get a race car and go racing, because I used to drive a truck. I worked all week, did my 40, 50 hour week, when I was done I got in my race car and went to the racetrack. Cars are all I know. I love them. I've got a romance with the highway, trucks and cars. It's just what I do. I have no reason to quit. Health may take me some day, and I'm going to race as long as I can do the job, and when I can't do the job, I'm going to figure out how to get in the race car, test them, and at least learn how to make them safer. The sport that made me financially stable in life that I could send my kids to college and I can retire right now, I owe the sport of NHRA. I owe the fans, and I owe it to protect these kids. I lived through a crash. I witnessed it. I saw firsthand what happens to a race car. For me to walk away, I ain't saying I'm a smart guy, but I can get with these engineers, manufacturers and talk to them and tell them what I know what happened, and they can figure out along with my team how to build a better race car, and that's what we do. I've got to say while the media is here, my Christmas presents haven't gone out yet. I was in Indy. They were there. Every year I send a present to 40 media people, they're going out. They should be going out in the week. There are some we're waiting on that we had custom built for you. Nothing spectacular, just to say thank you to all of you.

Q. I wanted to touch on your racing against Brittany down in Florida there and remembering that you won the big Funny Car versus Top Fuel thing at Bristol a few years back, so I guess you've got the most experience right now of any current driver racing dragster with the Funny Car. What was that like? You just mentioned NHRA is in danger of losing cars do you think we'll ever see the day that these two kinds of cars could race together or is it just they're too different to get on the track together in a competitive way?

JOHN FORCE: If I remember, and I've done this over the years. I raced Blaine Johnson and Alan Johnson up there at Stanton, Michigan. A dragster against a Funny Car. It was so exciting just because it was different. The fans like it. I think when we did the No Bull for a quarter of a million dollars that I won against (Bob) Vandergriff, it was a pedal fest. He was driving his tail end off and so was I. Luck plays a part and I got the win. But I think they gave us an advantage on the starting line because the dragsters are faster. Try to give the fan a race. I don't know if that's right or not. If I was in junior high and I had to race a guy in high school that was a senior, if I was going to want to beat him, I'd want to prove that I could just outrun him. I wouldn't want them to give me a head start. What do you accomplish if you do beat him, you know what I mean? You know what I'm saying? I'd rather be head's up. What happened down there, we had a lot of teams in there testing. We were trying to put on a race in South Florida for the fans, the PRO organization, all these guarantees to give a show for those two days. Some teams might mess around. Maybe a car wasn't there. But when we went up, because I was so excited they had a great crowd there. PRO did a really good job and they did a good job promoting it. But they said they didn't have enough cars, and I was going to make a single and my daughter was going to make a single. I said this is Saturday night racing. How can you make a single in the final? Let me race my kid? They even said, can you do that? Yeah, she stays in her lane; I stay in mine. So we went up there and put on a race. But, man, it was cool. I saw the video. We both left about the same time. My car did run 4.01. I was low of the day. Robert ran 4.00. I think (Del) Worsham was second with a 4.01, and Robert was a 4.01. He was third. Courtney had run 4.06. Everybody was making pretty good. Track prep was good, conditions were excellent. Pretty cold down there though, the dragsters were flying. To give credit, Ron Capps was really the quickest of the weekend. He ran double O’s on Friday. He ran 4.00, that was the quickest, and that's how we evaluate. Nobody really wins. There is no purse, but Ron Capps in the NAPA car was the fastest, so it was exciting. But I got to race my kid. Boy, she was bubbling over because she always watches me race Courtney in the Funny Car at the races, and she may never get an opportunity. So it was a chance for us. The crew chiefs said we don't care. We're going to run our car to learn. We made a good number. She got 150 feet and smoked the tires. Got a brand new dragster chassis. Todd Smith has joined Dean Antonelli running that car, so the dragster was struggling. We even stayed over for her to run on Sunday. And, anyway, it was a ball. The fans loved it. The people on the starting line said they went crazy because you never see it. Maybe we can address that in the future sometime of every now and then like a four wide race at Charlotte. Maybe they create another race like the No Bull. I don't know. That's not what I do. I drag race, and all we were doing was entertaining the night to make sure the fans got to see side by side racing. It was really kind of weird because I looked over and I couldn't see her, and she looked over and said I couldn't see you because they have this box on the start line and she's real low. She didn't know if I was going on and the bulbs come on, sometimes it can be somebody in the beam. But it was like running Charlotte. It was something different. I know my race cars, and we both agreed, anything goes wrong let's don't get in a big pedal fest and run over each other. But, no, it was great for the fans and always fun. Always proud to race my daughter. She got out at the other end all giggly and laughing I finally got to race dad. So it meant something to me personally.

Q. You mentioned Bernstein being out there and you having to chase sponsors all over the place. How concerned are you about the future of your sport?

JOHN FORCE: Well, I've been sick for months, okay? But sick is what motivates me. The fear of not getting to drive a race car or my daughter not getting to race. I've always said if somebody's got to sit out 2015, it will be me. My daughter, I've set her on fire; I've crashed her. I'm not going to tell Brittany you can't race that dragster. I may have to move her into a Funny Car. That's why we switched around the crew chiefs last year. Jimmy was struggling when I went over there. I didn't think the car was going to get hot. I did it to team up with Jimmy in case I had to go to Top Fuel. Like I said before, to drive a race car, I don't care if it's Pro Stock, Pro Bike, I don't care what it is, a Fuel Dragster, I want to be able to race and be with my family and be with the fans. If corporate America says here's where we want to, I find a way to go there. I moved Jimmy in case we had to go to Top Fuel. He was one of the guys that had run Top Fuel a few years ago and had a lot of experience. So put Robert over with Mike Neff. What I'm looking at now is I hired Just Marketing. We're even working with other agencies. We're chasing manufacturers, we're entertaining them. We're looking at not just trying to find a major sponsor that will buy a whole team, we're going NASCAR has rewritten how it's done. They might have four or five sponsors during the year. You look over at NASCAR and there are only two teams over there that are funded, Jimmie Johnson with Lowe's for the whole season, 24 races, even Jeff Gordon has different sponsors for different races. It used to be Dupont. It's all changed. So they've rewritten the way to go to business, and I'm following it. That's why I'm bringing back the TV show. I want to offer a little more TV than just what ESPN's got. I've got my traveling Road Show that will go around the country. I've got my own show car program that goes around to the national events, my midway. It took a hundred years to get to where we are today. This is a few years ago. It will take us another hundred years to get back. When they all went to the White House over budgets and companies were failing in Detroit. So why would we expect drag racing and the crowds and the economy to be the way it used to be? We're hoping. We're trying. We're sure going to go that way. But, I ain't taking no chances. I'm going to go back and start match racing. I addressed a group out of Canada that want to utilize me. I've got to make money so I can afford to get to those national events. That's what I've got to do. NHRA is my home. It's where I want to race. I know they work hard. They can only do so much, and the rest of us got to work. And buddy, I've been on the road. I took a few days off at Christmas, but Robert and I have been living on the road and meeting with people. We're not going to fail. I will not fail because I've got nowhere to go. This is what I love, and I won't fail my kids. I put them in this business. NHRA has a great product, and we'll fight our way out of this hole. Compton said he's fighting the Pro group. They're fighting, and all we can hope is that everybody does their job, because I'm doing mine.

Q. To make sure I got this right. Are you saying that if you don't have a corporate sponsor next year for yourself, you would sit out so that Brittany could run a Funny Car? Is that what you're saying?

JOHN FORCE: Or a dragster. Look, John Force Racing, the problem you have is if you lose a major sponsor, you can drop a team. You don't lose nothing. A little G&A for overhead. But when you lose two sponsors, you've got to replace two cars and let two teams fall, then you lose the manufacturer. That hurts because I've got shops at Indy with a hundred employees. So we're working hard. We're having meetings. I've got to bring a manufacturer back. But I've got to look can I ever get my funding back where it was? I was a $24 million program, $24 million. I can't count on the world to come save me. Right now my guys in the room next door are budgeting. I said very simple, if my budget has been cut 45%, let's pretend I don't get any of it back. Go back to when my budget was at that amount of money, how did I make it? Well, they went back to that budget, and I had less than half of the employees that I've got now. That was 15 years, 16 years ago I had a budget like that. So if I don't get it all back, I go out of business, and I will not go out of business. I have too much invested. Just purchased all of Prudhomme's land in Indy. Thank God I have renters. I'm growing. You've got to spend to make money, but you can't spend it foolishly and spend it all and go broke. I don't gamble. Everything I do is around racing. I have opportunities to go other places. I am addressing, if I take my motor program, and I sell to Funny Car teams and I sell to dragster teams, that's a no brainer. I can stay in business. But then they all come back and beat me with my technology. So I have to be careful who I sell to. I look at IndyCar and NASCAR, is there anywhere I can do any business over there to float my machine at Indy? I own the buildings; I own the equipment. I did it by doing shows and entertaining to get it up to where it is. The only I have there is payroll and buying materials. But it's still a nut, and I'm looking to find it. I'm going to make money in TV and in racing and with my endorsements, I can afford to pay for one car. I can spend $3.5 to $4 million for my daughter's car. But I have to find a sponsor for me. I've got money in the bank, but in three years, I'd be flat broke. So, nope. I'm chasing it. That's why I met with the group out of Canada because Corporate America Global says do you race in Canada? Do you race in Mexico? Do you race in England? Do you race in Dubai? Well, I will, if that's what it takes. I'm setting up to build cars. The trouble with flying cars back and forth. We've got NHRA tracks in those countries. It's the cost of getting them there. The cost of getting them back where you can get them back and run Pomona. Yeah, you give up your Christmas and Thanksgiving. You can do it. I can put cars in those countries and leave them. I know they want me. They've been trying to get me back for years. So going to have to stay in business. If I'm going to race NHRA, and that's who I race for, then I've got to do a lot of work to make it happen. Then throw in a TV show, it's a heart attack in the making. But I've got no choice. It's where I'm going.

Q. Is there any chance are you looking at corporate or manufacturers like Kia and Hyundai as possible first timers in NHRA with Funny Car?

JOHN FORCE: I'm talking to companies that are global companies. I stood at the PRI show, and I had a group of fans and a guy in the audience said, you know, you're one of the good old boys, John Force. You know NASCAR did it. They brought in these other brands, and I said, wait a minute, sir. I know where you're going. I said let me clarify something. Number one, if I bring in a company, a manufacturer, or any company, I support the men and women in our military, our police and fire department, our American flag. That is what I believe in. I don't try to get into politics, because I'm not that smart. Okay? I don't get into religion. But I know one thing. Those men come home and we have an unemployment rate that our men in the military deserve jobs. They're going over. They've been injured. That's why I love (Jack) Beckman that goes out there and the Schumacher group that promotes those guys and tries to give them a better life and get mail to them overseas. I believe in that. I believe, and I made this statement, any company that's going to join John Force, I don't care where you're from, who you are, unless you're a real bad guy out there, okay, I'm going to let you come with me, and I'm proud to be with you. But you've got to sell, and you've got to manufacture in the U.S. You've got to give jobs. I'm not going to take a company over here that makes it over there and sends it over here. Now they might make one of their brands and bring it over here, but they better have plants in America that are manufacturing. Because when other companies came over here and went into NASCAR, a lot of people were upset and they didn't realize they were giving jobs to the American people. They had plants around. I'm not talking about any one manufacturer. I know you're thinking I'm going to say Toyota. No. But other manufacturers are going all around the country, and hell, I didn't even know it was going on, giving jobs to the American people. I want to race. I've got to take a sponsor. If he builds products overseas, I'm okay with that, as long as he builds some stuff over here and he gives the American people jobs, I will promote the heck out of him. The fans need to look. We've got to stay in business. Even the Qatar team, the Sheikh gives jobs to our people here in America. You see them at the race team. Every week, those kids or Langdon probably wouldn't have a job. I will support anybody, okay. So when I say anybody, I'm not saying anybody. If there is some guy out there or some country doing bad, well, I'm not going to support it. You know what I mean? Our soldiers fight too hard. Okay. How the heck did I get into that?



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