Force’s career reached a turning point when his uncle Gene convinced him to enlist Austin Coil as his crew chief. It took Force and Coil a few years to get the program in the fast lane, but once all the pieces were in place, they changed funny car racing forever.
In 1990, Force won his first funny car championship. During the next 14 seasons, Force won 12 more funny car titles. In the history of drag racing, only Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits have achieved the status enjoyed by John Force.
As drag racing’s most popular personality, Force sells more die-cast cars, conducts more interviews and signs more autographs than any other driver. “The first time I was exposed to fan support was at a NASCAR race. I saw Richard Petty at the pit gate signing autographs while so many of the other drivers were walking by not having time. At that time I was young and thought, if I ever make it, don’t forget the fans,'” Force recalls. Over the years, despite all his victories, he has never forgotten fans are the key to success. “It’s what got me here today. It’s the fans that buy the Ford products, the Castrol oil and the die-cast cars. That’s what it’s all about. When you’re down, it’s the fans that carry ya.”
Fans have always taken to Force. His working-class demeanor and welcoming personality draws people in. “In the beginning I was losing, but the fans liked me because I hung around. The champions took their trophies and went home. I hung around to work on the car and talk to the fans. I’m just a good ol’ boy, ex-truck driver that went racing. They relate to that.” Indeed, it is as much with a Sharpie as it is with a supercharger that Force has become a force. “I spend more time at the ropes than anybody. That’s my trademark that’s my legacy. More than the championships, my legacy will be that I was one of the top fan favorites.”
In the world of die-cast, Force has an exclusive deal with Action to produce his latest Castrol-sponsored Ford Mustang funny cars. At all NHRA events, the souvenir trailers have a carnival atmosphere. “Action does the high-end for me. They do a great job.” Over the years, Action has worked a number of marketing deals with Force, including arranging for a Force funny car to be on display at Graceland. “My daughter, Ashley, works with Mattel to make Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels to go with her racing program.”
Force works directly with Action to create his die-cast racers. “This car [the 2005 Mustang] is designed right off the wind tunnel. These cars are built right to scale.”
During his remarkable career, Force has earned the respect of racers in all forms of motorsports. He is the only drag racer to be named National Motorsports Driver of the Year. NASCAR’s Rusty Wallace seems to be a favorite of drag racers. Force and Prudhomme pal around with the stock car legend, but Force has no soft spot for the roundy-rounds and its nation of fans. When asked about the eroding and aging fan base of drag racing, Force’s eye turned to steel. “Our fans are packed [into the stands at] every race. It’s that goddamn NASCAR that’s the monster. They make Formula 1 look like it’s out of business. Indy Car looks out of business. It’s not that we’re [NHRA] eroding; it’s that them sons of bitches took off so big it made everyone look like they were standing still. This year, I’m going after NASCAR. It’s becoming personal. I want those USA Today interviews. I want everything to be about us. I want the national magazine stories. That’s my passion; it’s this series that we’re on.”
Taking a bold stance is nothing new for Force. He has always been a man who would rather lead than follow. Within a few minutes his tone and his words tempered. “What they [NASCAR] have done is open the door to us [NHRA]. You can make a real buy in drag racing. God bless, NASCAR; I love ’em and ain’t going to say nothing against them. But, I’m talkin’ about Take a look at us.’ Drag racing is the [best] buy in motorsports.”
Spend a few minutes with John Force and his two most endearing qualities come shining through: loyalty and passion. Force is fiercely loyal to drag racing, Ford and Castrol. Before the beginning of the 2005 season, Castrol locked up a deal to continue with the Force family, even when John retires. Popular speculation is that daughter Ashley will inherit that seat. “Castrol told me I’m not running off with my name like Earnhardt did with Budweiser: You’re not leaving; your kid’s staying right here.'”
John Force’s effect on drag racing is undeniable. He is the face of the sportmuch like “TV” Tommy Ivo was in the ’60s and “Snake” and “Mongoose” were in the ’70s. The sport needed a new brash superstar, and John Force was the right guy at the right time. Just a good ol’ boy from Southern California that combines a blue-collar appeal with a quick wit and a fast carthe perfect formula for racing success.