The following are excerpts from a teleconference featuring Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and John Force (Funny Car).
THE MODERATOR: Joining us first is Erica Enders-Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, who regained the Pro Stock points lead following her dominating performance at Las Vegas. She powered to her sixth No. 1 qualifying position and raced to her fifth win of the season at that event. Her five wins in a single season is the most she has had in one year so far in her career. In the Countdown to the Championship races she’s powered to one win, two semifinal round appearances and two quarterfinal round appearances. She’ll attempt to be the first woman in the history of Pro Stock to win a world championship. In that Las Vegas race, were you guys looking to make a pretty strong statement with that performance?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: We came into the race trailing Jason Line by 35 and we knew we had our work cut out for us and just needed to go out there and capitalize on all the bonus points during qualifying, which we did some of them but not all of them, and that put us within striking distance on Sunday. Of course to be able to run him in the semifinals in that round determined who would leave there with the points lead was definitely one of the biggest rounds of my career and just a really fun, awesome weekend, and I could not be more proud of my team.
THE MODERATOR: A lot of times you hear athletes talk about if they’re going to be No. 1 they’ve got to either beat No. 1 or beat their nearest competitor, and not a lot of times does it ever work out to have a head to head like you and Jason did. What were your thoughts going into that round?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, I didn’t want to be nervous. I wanted to have the right mindset and just go up there and focus on what I had to do, and I just kind of like wanted the mentality of it’s just another qualifying pass, do not get ahead of yourself, take my deep breaths, go through the same neuro program and visualize everything that I want to happen, so it was the same as any other round, but afterwards, of course it wasn’t, it was probably the biggest round of my career. But really awesome to come out on top. It’s a surreal position to be in, so I feel really blessed.
Q. Erica, congratulations on the win. What’s it like for you and your team to do so well in 2014 and maybe make history, as well, rolling into Pomona?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: It’s awesome, I’ll tell you that. I’ve spoken so highly of my team from day one. This is the first time in my professional career that I have had such a solid group of guys that stands behind me and takes my back. That makes my job as a driver a lot easier that there’s not a whole lot of ego over there and nobody is pointing fingers, whether we shake or we lose on a holeshot or a red light or whatever, it’s a team deal, and it’s just a really unique atmosphere, and I’m really proud and honored to be their driver. But they have shown exactly what they are made of this year, and when it comes down to crunch time, everybody pulls their weight, and it’s an awesome environment to work in.
Q. And as far as the gender factor here, being the first woman to maybe win the Pro Stock championship, how are you going to share that with your fellow female fans? Obviously they’re going to be excited about that.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Yeah, it’s certainly a huge feat to accomplish. I would have my name on a list with just Shirley Muldowney and Angelle (Sampey), so those are two of my heroes, so to be able to have the opportunity to get it done is awesome in itself. At the same time I think any female racer will tell you that we just want to be looked at as a driver. The car doesn’t know the difference in gender, and it certainly doesn’t matter to me. But at the end of the day, I guess it would be very awesome to be able to make history and just show any other females that maybe even had a little bit of doubt that they weren’t capable or whatever that I’m a perfect example of a normal kid through hard work and certainly surrounding myself with the right people and having such a solid support group that anything is possible, and I hope that’s the message that comes across to them.
Q. You’ve got so much going on; you’re trying to accomplish so much here in this final event. Is it hard at all to get your head around what you’re going after because this is obviously monstrous personal professional history for you, but it’s also gender history and crossover sports history. Are there moments where you forget how big this could be, and how do you separate that?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: It’s an interesting separation because you can’t I mentioned earlier, get too ahead of yourself and dwell on what’s at stake, but at the same time, I mean, I’ve never been in this position in Pro Stock, and neither have any of the guys on my team. It’s definitely an interesting and awesome position to be in. But I try to just like stay calm about it and focus on just one round, one at a time, and just going after it and doing our best and having fun most importantly. Last week I was having dinner with a couple of the guys on my team and my team owner looked over at me and said, do you realize what we can possibly accomplish in the next eight days? It kind of like takes your breath away a little bit. It’s a cool position to be in, but at the same time, like you said, I don’t want to focus on it and get too ahead of myself, just go out there and do the best that we possibly can.
Q. From talking to Shirley Muldowney a couple times, she seems to admire what you’ve done. She mentions your name a lot. Have you had a chance to have much personal time with her other than just press events and stuff you do at the NHRA? Do you see any similarities between you guys? Do you have sort of a common bond or anything?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, yeah, Shirley has been very supportive of me, and I’m really appreciative of that because as a kid, and still now at my age and where I’m at, I admire the heck out of her and what she’s accomplished in the time period that she accomplished it in. It wasn’t necessarily heard of before for a female to compete with or even be dominant in a male dominated profession, so I admire her very, very much and to have her support means a lot to me. But to answer your question, yeah, we do press events and whatnot together, but she’s also a friend of mine. She comes by the pit and we talk on the phone occasionally. It always seems that when I need some advice, my phone rings, and it’s like she knew I was thinking about her or something. But she spells it out for you and she’s very straightforward, and that’s what I need to hear, and she’s been awesome. I hope to be half as successful as she was.
Q. That’s not a bad person to be able to ask a question of when you need it I imagine.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Absolutely not. She’s done it all. She’s been through it all, and I could sit there for hours and listen to her stories. But she’s got 18 national event wins and world championships, and so she’s been there and she’s done that, and she can help me with my mindset and what to focus on and what to not dwell on. She’s just been a huge help and a huge inspiration.
Q. Erica, when you do take a moment to look at what you could accomplish or even just come close to accomplishing this next weekend, because the future is never known, how does that rank in your life? Not just in racing but in accomplishing things in your life.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: It’s definitely at the top of the list. I mean, as a kid, as a junior drag racer, moving up to Super Comp and Super Gas and racing Sportsman for five years, it’s every driver’s dream to be in this position. It’s huge. It’s a huge deal, absolutely, but having said that, if we don’t get it done, I mean, what a tremendous season we’ve had, and how blessed am I to be able to work with such a class act group of guys. This is only our first year together, so I think the sky’s the limit, and we have nothing but optimism for the future. I’m really proud to be a part of it, and Richard Freeman giving me this opportunity was a dream come true, and we’re going to be together for a long time, and hopefully accomplish a lot of really great things.
But it’s certainly at the top of our list, and it ain’t over until it’s over, and we’re going to fight tooth and nail for it.
Q. I won’t tell your husband it’s even bigger than your marriage.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, I didn’t say that, so don’t put words in my mouth, but it’s definitely a big deal for sure.
Q. Obviously whatever happens in Pomona could potentially trump your answer to this question right now, but when you look back over the races up until this point, what’s been the high point of the season for you?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: We’ve had a number of them, but I guess the spring Vegas race to be able to double up, win the K&N Horsepower Challenge and then go on to win the national event on Sunday was a huge deal. Winning at my home racetrack in Houston 10 years after my first national event win in Super Gas was awesome, and then setting both ends of the world record. Those are the top three for sure, but I guess if I had to pick one of those three, it would be the spring Vegas race.
Q. With all the pressure that you’re undoubtedly feeling being in the position you’re in going into the final race and all the hype that surrounds the possibility of being the first woman to win Pro Stock, are you guys really having as much fun as it looks like you’re having on TV?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: We absolutely are, no question about it. It’s such an awesome environment to work in, and Richard Freeman is just an awesome guy to work for. I mean, he’s really great at managing people and making everyone feel important, and I mean, he’s great at communication. We have team meetings, and we all always just stay on the same page, and I think that’s how you make any relationship work, whether it be business or marriage or whatever. He’s done a really great job with that, and he’s made it very evident that if we’re not having fun, we’re not going to do it. We can spend our money elsewhere and do something different.
We have a blast together. People are the most important part of the puzzle, and Richard has certainly organized an elite group of people, and Rick and Ricky Jones as my crew chiefs and all of the guys that work on my car, it’s just awesome, and we do have a blast, whether we’re out to eat or at the racetrack winning and losing together. It’s always a fun time.
Q. You talked about your hard work and being able to be surrounded by the right people at the right time. I think one thing you left off your list that you have accomplished is your perseverance to get to this point because you definitely have gone through some lean times, and now that you’re at this point, has it paid off?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, thank you. I appreciate you noticing. But yeah, I’ve been trying to make this Pro Stock deal work for 10 years now, and I’m not shy about my faith, and I believe in my heart that God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle, but he also doesn’t put things in front of you if the time is not right. It’s always in his time. I’ve trusted that, and it hasn’t been an easy road by any means. I’ve gone through not qualifying and driving a car that’s not competitive to being on the sidelines because of lack of sponsorship. I guess it would be easy to quit. But that’s not part of my vocabulary. I don’t know how to do that, and I have my dad to thank for that for instilling that in my sister and I. Yeah, it’s been definitely a roller coaster ride these last 10 years, but to be at this point with the people that I’m with, it makes all of the bad times worth it because just to be so happy and having so much fun and being able to do what I love for a living with people I love the most is a pretty awesome deal. I’ve never been happier.
Q. Erica, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions here. One, what kind of support are you getting from other females? You’re on the threshold of history here, and just want to know what the female fans are saying to you. And also, too, what’s the reaction of your competitors? They’ve not been in this situation, either.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, as far as the females go, I mean, there are a lot of people who are super supportive. I thoroughly enjoy getting the fan mail and emails and Facebook messages and all the social media stuff. So the fans have been wonderful, and they, I guess, associate with it because we’re the same. But as far as like female competitors, I mean, Angelle being back, she’s a friend of mine, she lives 20 minutes from where I live, and she really helped me in Reading, and we text back and forth pretty frequently. Everybody has been super supportive, and I’m so appreciative of that. As far as my competitors go, I mean, everybody has been great. Like last week in the finals when we beat Jeg (Coughlin), he came over, and dumped Mello Yello on me and gave me a big hug and texted me later that I did a great driving job, and to have a compliment like that from the caliber of driver and person that Jeg Coughlin is means a lot to me. I had dinner with Allen Johnson and his wife last night, and they’re super supportive. Nobody wants to get beat, ever, but everybody has been super kind and awesome to me. Even Jason Line, who we’re going to battle it out until the end, we’ve communicated back and forth, and he’s been supportive. Of course we talk crap like I’m going to kick your butt and whatnot, but it’s all in good fun, and I just feel really blessed to be in the position that we’re in.
Q. You can talk crap back, huh?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Oh, I had to learn that for sure. It’s been fun, though.
Q. I know things are flying high right now and you mentioned your faith getting you through. How did you get through the two weeks that you had to sit out? What did you and your team do to keep your support up and keep looking forward?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, we just got to work at the shop, and the big reason why we took those couple races off was just to get everything ready for the Countdown, and that’s why we did that. You know, it wasn’t easy by any means. I didn’t want to. We didn’t want to take it off. But with the lead that we had and the way the points system works, I mean, it was a business decision that had to be made. We just wanted to get as much work done at the shop as we could, and I flew up to Oklahoma, and my team owner and I worked on sponsorship stuff for 2015 and also securing some stuff for the final six races in the Countdown. So that’s what we did in our time off. It certainly wasn’t time off by any means. We just wanted to position ourselves the best that we could, and that’s why we did it. Yeah, but faith has a lot to do with it.
Q. Faith gets you through a lot of things, doesn’t it?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: It absolutely does. I’ll never be shy about that.
Q. And what you said you did all that stuff, it certainly has paid off because look where you are right now, poised on possible victory.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Well, thank you. It’s been a fun road, and it makes it all worth it, that’s for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Next up we are joined by Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Rocky Boots Dodge Charger. Hagan is the 2011 Funny Car champion and is currently our Funny Car points leader. Hagan has three wins, two runner-up finishes and one No. 1 qualifying position so far this season. He was as low as 10th in points early in the year but took over the points lead after the Reading event. Matt, you’ve talked all season long how strong you believe your team was, and now it seems like they’re peaking at the right time. What is the mindset of not only yourself but your entire team going into this last race?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, I mean, I think our team is very strong. We are still a very, very hungry team. This is a team that’s only been assembled for two years, last year leading the points all the way pretty much most of the Countdown, up until my crew chief got sick, and John came in and ran really hard, but Dickie (Venables, crew chief) has put a great race car under me this year, as well, and we’re really battling it out. Now it’s going to come down to the wire here in Pomona. I think we’re very hungry is the word that would best describe my team. I think that we’ve grown together a little bit, and we’re driven to go out and get this thing done.
Q. You did mention Dickie, and he has led teams to the championship in the past. Does he have a calming influence on the team for the guys that haven’t been through it before? And can he really steady the ship in this stretch run?
MATT HAGAN: Well, what Dickie has is a confidence influence. He’s very, very confident about the decisions that he makes. He doesn’t second guess himself. He’s not up there worried about anything. I mean, hell, I worry about it more than he does. You know, it’s just one of those deals where the decisions that he makes, he believes in them, and it trickles down to our team and our core guys that are also making decisions on the car. You know, it definitely keeps my morale up, as well, so I think Dickie, yes, is a great leader, but I think it’s not so much of a calming thing, it’s more of just a confidence thing. It’s just kind of one of them deals everybody is kind of silently brewing, hungry, ready to go race this last race.
Q. Matt, you’re poised to get perhaps your second championship. Do you think the second one is more difficult than the first one? And what’s your game plan knowing that you’ve got the experience and you’ve got the team?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, I don’t agree with that. I think they’re all hard, the first one and your last one that you ever get. It’s just going to be one of those deals where there’s never any of them that are the same. They all have different circumstances, they all have different situations, and a lot of times you race a lot of different people. Unfortunately me and John have been battling it out the last four years out of the last five of my career, and John has won two, I’ve won one, and I’m planning on winning this one. Yeah, it definitely they’re tough, but I think that they’re all tough.
Q. And are you doing anything differently this time do you think?
MATT HAGAN: No, just laid back a little bit more. You know, I’ve been there now. The excitement, the uncontrolled adrenaline is not predictable, so you’ve got to be kind of cool, calm and collected with your emotions, and also just your whole team and keep them cool, calm and collected because you make better decisions, you leave the starting line better, everything just kind of comes together when you’re not up on the chips and unpredictable.
Q. You’ve pretty much answered my question already, but you’ve been there, you’ve won a championship, but you talk about the fact that your team is still new and fresh, and they’re looking for their first championship. How much pressure is that on you as a driver to give them what they’re looking for beyond giving yourself what you’re hoping for?
MATT HAGAN: Well, I’ll put it in perspective like this: I had a guy that never even won a race on our team, and we go to a semifinal and he was like, oh, man, I’m going to win my first semifinal, and then we finally went to a final and then we finally won a race, and now instead of just being happy with the race, he’s like, man, I want to win a championship. We all rise to that next level of where we want to be. Absolutely, do I want to give our team a championship. But a lot of it is not on me. A lot of it is our crew chiefs. Crew chiefs make win championships. Drivers, I can help with leaving on time and giving us some EP on the start line, but a lot of it has to do with our setups and the crew chiefs and assistant crew chiefs, the calls that they make on the racetrack. We went into Sunday last weekend and the semifinals and we had to change blowers and run into some, I guess, untested variables there. It bit us. We’re kind of like, man, let’s try to keep more of the same parts on the car. Yeah, a lot of the crew chiefs, what they it really is their championship to win. I’m just trying not to mess it up.
Q. When you look at the time between your first championship and where you are today, what is the greatest thing you’ve learned as a driver that makes you better prepared for next week?
MATT HAGAN: I think confidence in myself, knowing that I can do it, knowing that I’ve been there and I’ve done it, knowing that my team can do it. A lot of stuff that holds people back is their confidence in their self. You’ve got to go out there and trust yourself, know that you’ve done everything to prepare to go out here and win this championship and you’re going to race the hell out of the race car. If it doesn’t work out you go over there and you shake the man’s hand and say, man, good on you. You just did a little better than I did this weekend. But the fact of the matter is that you’ve got to go up there believing that you can do it and knowing in your heart that you can win it because if there’s any doubt, that’s when those negative thoughts will creep in there and you’ll make mistakes mentally and that’ll cause you to make physical mistakes out there on the racetrack.
Q. I don’t know how your weather was back at home, but if it was anywhere close to the snow and everything, how intense has it been taking care of your farm versus your championship next weekend?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, well, I’m growing a beard, man, but I might save it for the final. I don’t know, it’s getting chilly back here, the wind is blowing, and we’ve got a pile of cattle to feed. We definitely did a lot of work this summer. I sat on the tractor for a long time, put up a lot of feed, so we’re ready for the winter. Nobody ever wants to see the cold come around here because the grass goes brown and the cows start eating hay, so it just costs you money.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Dickie last year and you had such a strong season and he had some health problems. Does that kind of do you look at that and think, man, that slipped away, or is it just all part of the learning process and all the pieces have to be there to try to win one of these championships?
MATT HAGAN: Well, you know, I mean, obviously we want Dickie in our corner there the whole time. That was just an unfortunate situation that nobody could control, and I’m glad he came out of it very healthy now and he’s hungry and he’s ready to battle for this championship down to the wire. But yeah, like I said before, crew chiefs are where it’s at, and you’ve got to have a strong crew chief in your corner, but hats off to Mike Knudsen. He went out there and never tuned a race car and we still won the race in Pomona. Pomona has been really good to me. I’ve been able to win it several times, and I really look forward to getting out there and crawling in this race car. We can talk about it until I’m blue in the face, but when push comes to shove, it’s crawling in the race car and making it happen.
Q. I was cracking up when you said about the snow. Didn’t you tell us that cattle don’t eat snow?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, it’s hard to feed cows snow. You’ve got to have hay to feed them.
Q. The year that you won your championship and then the next year you didn’t qualify for the Countdown, is that something that’s been driving you ever since to just I’m sure that bummed you out, but has that played a role in how you guys have approached your season and your quest for a title?
MATT HAGAN: Well, you know, obviously it makes you hungry because you’ve had that experience of not being able to go out there and get it done. But that was some unfortunate situation there where Tommy DeLago, he had already decided he was going to make a change to go over to the Kalitta camp. I wish him all the best, but our team suffered because of it. The guy is a phenomenal crew chief. His and mine focus just wasn’t in the right direction that year, and it showed it on the racetrack. That’s where that came from. But on the flipside, Dickie came in here and did great job to get the ground running with it, and we’re excited to have him at the DSR camp.
Q. I’ve talked to you several times and interviewed you at the races several times, but you seem to have a calm confidence in your voice that I’ve never heard before. Are you really as relaxed going into the finals as you sound?
MATT HAGAN: I really am, and you know why, because like I said, with my team, I believe in my team, and I know that we’ve got the stuff and what it takes to get it done. We’re going to have a battle on our hands with John, but we’re not racing John, we’re racing the racetrack and we’re racing our race car. As long as we go out there and race as hard as we can and get as much ET on that racetrack as we can, it’s going to take care of itself. Like I said, the calmness, it comes from confidence, and the confidence comes from Dickie Venables and knowing that he’s up there making the right calls. He’s not second guessing anything that he’s doing. The radio is pretty much silent up there. We go up there and make a couple clutch calls and he turns some fuel knobs and he says let’s go. There’s not a lot of back and forth, not a lot of chatter and just a lot of confidence in the whole team itself. That gives me confidence, as well, but also, like I said before, you have to trust in yourself and what took you and got you to this point, and I know I can go up there and leave it on the starting line, keep it in the groove and turn the win light on, and we’ve just got to put times in Pomona.
THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by John Force. John, thank you for joining us, as always, and I’ll ask one question for the both of you and Matt can go first. I think somebody hit upon it. We’ve kind of seen you two have come down to the end of the season, and I think a lot of people have likened it to a heavyweight championship bout, and here we are in the final round and the bell is getting ready to ring, and Matt, kind of take it from there. What do you guys have left in the tank going into Pomona?
MATT HAGAN: Well, I mean, I guess to answer your question, I have a lot left in the tank. I have a lot to prove. I mean, John has got 16 and he can hang it up any time he wants to and walk away with a very successful career. I don’t plan on walking away with one championship. I plan on having multiple. So I have to dig deep and work hard and do whatever it takes to do that. John brings the best out of me. I want to go up there and I want to cut 30 lights, but right now I’m cutting 50 lights. It makes me want to do more. But yeah, I think I definitely have a lot left in the tank. I’ve got a lot to show and a lot to give and a lot to prove. But I think it’s just good racing for the fans. It all comes down to the fans. We’re showmen and we’re here to put on a show. Them fans, they go out there and spend their hard earned money to come watch a battle, and that’s what they’re getting. It’s coming right down to Pomona. They’re getting what they paid for, and it’s going to be one hell of a show, and I’m excited to see it myself.
Q. And John, what are your thoughts on that coming into this last race with Matt?
JOHN FORCE: I want you to know when we were on the stage with the NHRA breakfast, (Gary) Scelzi and (Tony) Schumacher was there, Tony and Antron (Brown), Tony was talking about the fight and coming down to the wire, and I made a joke about, not me. If Hagan had a heart attack, they’d be doing me a favor. You know that’s a joke. A few people took it wrong, and I just wanted to clarify it for you. I’ll race you and it’s going to be exciting. I will tell you I read your article about getting on a tractor and out there working the fields. I went home last night, got on my John Deere and drove it around until midnight. It’s pretty cool, pretty good feeling to relax. What was the question?
Q. Just your thoughts going into it. It’s been a long season and you and Matt the past couple of years, it’s come down to this last event, and just kind of your thoughts with Matt here coming into Pomona.
JOHN FORCE: Well, I’m excited about it, but I don’t want to think about it. I want to get my head out of it. I’m back home here right now doing construction. If you wrap your head up in it, all the things that could go wrong or go right will go through your head, and none of that does any good. What I’m going to do is enjoy this weekend with my grandchildren and my daughters. Everybody is coming for dinner, keep racing out of my head, keep chasing corporate America every day of the week, and just look forward to it, to going to Pomona. I’ve got a good race car, and we’re going to give the fans what they want, and that’s a race, and we’re going to entertain them, and at the end the champ will walk away. Whoever that is, I know we’ll congratulate one or the other, and that’s how I’m going to race it. If I start thinking, I’ve got to beat this kid, you know what I’m saying, then it starts getting mental. I’ll wait until race morning, Sunday morning, and that’s when I’ll put on game face and I’ll go after Matt Hagan, because I am chasing him.
Q. John, going into Pomona at a racetrack where you’ve had such success, 15 career Funny Car victories, does that give you guys a little bit of added confidence, a little bit of spring in your step going into the race?
JOHN FORCE: I know the Auto Club Raceway like the back of my hand. We’ve won it, we’ve lost there. When you lose, you learn. Hell, you learn more than when you win because you know what you can’t do. We’re excited about it because we’ve had a rough month and a half. My problems started before St. Louis, and I knew it. I didn’t know I said on TV that I should have more faith in my team around me, that no man is an island, not even me, and that the fact that we came back, I was in the cockpit of the race car, John Medlen was in the hot seat, but he had the brain trust headed by Mike Neff that worked with him, and they gave us a good race car.
Mentally, I was mentally wrong going into Las Vegas. I had a press conference with Peak that I had to do. I’m saying goodbye to old partners, saying hello to new ones and taking care of the ones like Auto Club and Traxxas and Mac Tools that have been with me for years. But I was upside down. When I got there, I faked it for the first three days, and then we got past the press conference, we got into the battle, we got into the zone, and boy, I am clear as I’ve ever been. I’m excited to go to Pomona because I’ve got to race team, and everything I created, more than winning championships, what I created was a concept like any great football team. If you stay together, you might lose a few from injuries or somebody, whatever, can happen, but in the end, you can still prevail. And if you don’t win the championship, the other guy was just better or luckier on that day. But if you do win, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
Q. How many autographs did you sign at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show (SEMA) this week?
JOHN FORCE: We ran from show to show. We had a great morning, the NHRA breakfast, I’ll tell you was hilarious. Watching Scelzi, he’s unbelievable. I love the kid, his humor. He can drive a race car, had his boys there. Antron, I know Schumacher sometimes, Tony, misunderstands where I come from, but I really respect Tony Schumacher. The kid can drive a race car. He can interview, and he promotes our Army, which I really love, because like my car said, American Made, and there ain’t nothing better than the United States Army and all of the armed services that we have out there, National Guard, all of them. But we had a ball, and it was just fun to be at SEMA and take care of the fans.
Q. Now that you’ve started announcing things for next year, does that take a little bit of stress off these last two weeks or this race?
JOHN FORCE: Yeah, we had another one. Everybody thought I was going to announce a manufacturer. I’m still racing for Ford. I’m still racing for Castrol. I’ve got a job to do. I owe these people a championship. And then we’ll make announcements. Somebody said that I had said that I think sometimes I talk so fast, they can’t understand what I’m saying, but I wasn’t announcing a manufacturer at SEMA. It was never planned. Right now I’m taking care of the people that pay me. I’m doing my job. I’m really excited about it. Peak Antifreeze and Coolant, they didn’t conflict with anybody or BlueDEF, we were able to announce them, show the blue car. You know why I got on my tractor last night? I read Hagan’s story, and I’ve got a John Deere on my hill, and it was just a moment because I’m going to go into the milk business. I’m going into the dairy business. Maybe I’ll be a cattleman someday. I’ll have some announcements. It’s pretty exciting. I’m going to hit you guys with some cool stuff here. It’s been a slow year, but JMI worked with us. I’ve got all kinds of people trying to help me. God bless them all. We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it. I took a big hit, but I’m going to recover.
Q. I know that’s a clue to one of your new sponsors, so are they the ones that gave you the John Deere so you could get practice on it?
JOHN FORCE: No, I actually had a John Deere for my ranch in Indy, and when I sold it, I brought it to California. No, it’s just cool, I got back home last night, and I just sat outside by myself, the wife was sleeping, and sat on that tractor, turned on the keys, and started driving it around. If Hagan can do it, helps relax him, maybe I can calm down. I’ll be the guy that has the heart attack before we get to Pomona, but if I do, so be it, because man, I’m loving life right now, and all of a sudden everything is starting to turn the corner for me, and I just want to stay racing. Scares me to death the thought that I can’t drive a race car anymore or one of my daughters. We’re going to be okay. That’s my promise. We’ll hit Pomona with hell, maybe it’ll be four Funny Cars, I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be two Funny Cars and two dragsters. I’ll be telling you real soon.
Q. I know Matt said he was out there cutting wheat. What are you cutting with your John Deere, asphalt?
JOHN FORCE: No, actually I had some ice in the front bucket with some Miller Lite and Budweiser, too. Let’s mix it up. That way I don’t start no rumors.
Q. With everything that you’ve been through in the last few weeks, all the turmoil that you’ve been through and being able to be in the final round at Vegas, how much more do you appreciate the team that you’ve assembled and how great they really are?
JOHN FORCE: Well, I really do. I was really proud, a load was dumped on John Medlen. You know what I mean? He had worked with Jimmy and Mike Neff, who’s my lead on every car that I own from the Top Fueler to my Funny Cars. He is my Austin Coil now. He’s taken over, and he has for the last two years. We redesigned our compound based around a Mike Neff and Robert Hight concept about hospitality. That’s what the world wants, and I’m going to give it to them. It was just to see them come together, they didn’t seem to break stride. You know, my whole race team showed up, and I know some of those kids are going with Jimmy Prock, but I love them. They all came by to see the whole team came by the booth, and I know some of them are leaving, but they love me, they know we’ve got a fight on our hands. They want to win for Jimmy, they want to win for John Force Racing, and they want to prove their selves, and we did it. We had a tough competitor. Worsham bounced up there. He ran against Hagan and nailed him, and then he nailed me. I could have used that round. Gave it everything I could squeeze out of the Christmas Tree, everything. The motor was right on where we thought we’d be. It actually run a ton quicker. It didn’t really run a 10, probably ran an .05. I put out the top bulb. But man, you’re racing Worsham. He’s hopped up. He’s got the Kalitta team behind him, and the fist fight is getting ready to start, and he come after me and I knew I couldn’t give him anything, and I did. I gave him everything I had, and he pulled it out. I was really proud of the kid because he struggled for a while, and let me tell you, there’s going to be others in this dogfight. It ain’t a race just between me and Hagan. We’ve got to watch anybody he’s got to watch and I’ve got to watch who can take us out. This is great. This is going to pack the seats at the Auto Club Raceway for NHRA and Mello Yello. It’s going to be awesome, and that’s what we owe the fans, especially in this economy. They come out there to get relief, and we’re going to give it to them.
Q. Congratulations to you and Elon Werner, too.
JOHN FORCE: Elon Werner getting that Chapman award, he stands by my side. Even the other day he tried to carry my briefcase in SEMA. Let me help you, John, you’re overloaded. I said, no, I should be carrying your briefcase. You won that Chapman Award, that deal is big, and it’s big for John Force Racing. He got the honor, but we accept him because he’s part of us, but we accepted it for NHRA. Him and (Dave) Densmore winning that thing, for NHRA just to show to put us up against NASCAR and to put us up against IndyCar and F1, dang, NHRA is going to be okay. Anybody that doesn’t believe that needs to get their head fixed.
Q. What I wanted to ask you, this is a side question, and yes, congratulations to Elon. He does a heck of a job. Congratulations to you for pulling through the tough five weeks, six weeks you’ve had and still holding up the order of the whole team and your sponsors. This is a side question. I haven’t heard any more mention about you and Graham Rahal doing the switch. You said at one time you were going to make the announcement at Pomona. Is that still on?
JOHN FORCE: Well, when we say switch, I love race cars in general, and I wanted to make some laps in his IndyCar, and his dad Bobby Rahal was there at the races, and we got I mean, at SEMA, looking for deals just like us. He’s just really I didn’t realize his dad was so big. I don’t know why years ago, he’s a big man, and really a nice, soft spoken guy. But I wanted to put the kid in my Funny Car one of these days. I want to give him a shot. Him and my daughter are pretty close, and I want him to experience and know what she does because you know why my wife going into a super car dragster and drove it with Frank Holly? She did it at Frank Holly’s driving school because she always had that fear of what my kids were doing, and I said, you’ll never get rid of that fear until you drive it, and that’s why she went and got her license. I’ve still got her fire suit right here in my museum and her helmet. It’s all pink and white and it’s awesome, but you still have that fear for your children. Let me tell you something: My daughter on Monday crashed her Top Fueler. Motor let go, took the tire off, and before the car was stopped, it destroyed the chassis. It was junk. I mean, I lost a quarter of a million bucks or whatever it all costs right there. That hurt. But my daughter was yelling on the radio before it come to a stop. That’s why I love my kids so much. Tell dad I’m okay, tell dad I’m okay. She was just repeating that to make sure that I got it because, man, I didn’t know if it went airborne. Looked like the cockpit was in the air, way up high, and you know, but it wasn’t. She drove it straight, got out of the car, but she was sending that message to pop, because that was key to her to tell dad I was okay, and she was out of the car. But they put a brand new car together, and she’ll be ready that was her Auto Club Rookie of the Year car. Ruined it. But sometimes when a kid steps out, then you know your safety, and if anything I would thank Don Schumacher for and his people is that cabin on top of that dragster. Makes them a little heavier, but me and Tony Schumacher talked about it, I’m going to stay with it and keep my kid safe because I love this sport and we’re going to keep doing it.
Q. Antron said that’s what saved him when he had his bad crash was the cockpit.
JOHN FORCE: I was there. That’s when we made the decision to put it on our race cars. I had two dragsters already built in our shop and I said stop them because the cabin that was built at Schumacher Racing, I think it was green, their crew chief on that Army car that designed that and put it together with some people, and yeah, so I thank him for that.
Q. Are you and Hagan going to race your tractors, too?
JOHN FORCE: Whatever it takes, but I’m going to get Rahal in that Funny Car. We’ve got to find a time to do it, and there’s cost and there’s expense, and I’ve got financial problems right now and I’m piecing together and making changes, and I’m going to get in that IndyCar one of these days.
Q. What I want to see is you fitting in that IndyCar cockpit because those things are tiny.
JOHN FORCE: Hey, I’ve been starving for a week trying to get 10 pounds off me to stay in this fight. I’ve got one pound to go, and I’m going to stay in this fight and I’ll be ready for Hagan. I’m giving this every time I’ve got. This is the best time of my life, and you know what’s really cool, my grandchildren, Adam, Jacob and now Noah, Noah knows the race car. My littlest one, Ashley and Danny, and Jacob, I wanted my grandchildren to see what I did when I was still there, and they’re going to be able to see grandpa at his greatest at Pomona. I’ve got my heart back. I’m good.
Q. John, obviously there’s probably nobody out there that knows more about winning championships than you, but without giving away too many trade secrets, at least half the NASCAR contending drivers will have never won a championship. Most of the football players that are going to win a championship this year probably haven’t won one before. What’s your best advice for contenders when they’re right on that edge of winning a championship?
JOHN FORCE: You’ve got to race from the heart, because if you get into fight mode and you’ve got to get into fight mode, too. You’ve got to get the energy up and the spark. But if you go in there, if you’re having a bad day, I go out there I told Ashley, I want you to have my grandsons in autumn in the final. Don’t change the ritual because they love to go with Courtney and they love to go with Brittany, but I said, I need them there. Yeah, dad. No, you have them there early before I go in the seat. I want to look at those little faces. I want to look at them smiling because they take my heart where I need to be. You know what I’m saying? It’s a feeling the only way I can explain it that I can be out there in the morning getting ready to go into a race and I’m all sick in my stomach and I’m all screwed up and I’ve got to beat this guy, and all that does is negatively kills you. It kills you. And you’ve got to know how to turn that switch, and some people don’t know how to do it. I do. But it’s like when I’m standing there and I hear the National Anthem. I turn, I look at the American flag, I hear the music, I hear the sounds, and my heart, a feeling comes over my body that it’s like a beautiful song. It’s like an emotional movie, and that’s when I find John Force. That’s when I find it. I look at those little children of mine. I was so happy at SEMA. I worked there for a couple of days, and when I got loose, I got to the Traxxas display and there was Robert, Brittany (Force) and Courtney (Force), and I ran up and started hugging all of them and kissing them, and all of a sudden from all that stress of running, trying to say all the right things politically correct, all in that moment of kissing my kids, and even Robert, he looks at me like I’m nuts, all of a sudden my body got well. I feel like I’m on the verge of a heart attack, and all of a sudden I’m well. It’s called stress, and certain things change that stress, and if you can find that, you’ll be the best on race day, and that’s where I’m going to be. On race day, Sunday morning, win or lose, I’m going to be perfect, okay, and it’s certain things that do it. Loving this country, loving a guy in a marine uniform. You know what I mean? I’ll be running through an airport and I’m having a terrible day, I’m going to miss my plane, and some guy will stop me, a fan, and he’ll say, man, just give me a second. Oh, I’ve got to get to my plane, and there’s a marine standing there in uniform, and I’m thinking, this kid is going to Iraq and I’m going to tell him I’ve got to catch a plane, when he might not even come home? You forget the plane and you hug him, and they’re looking at you like this guy’s nuts. No, they don’t know how they can heal you. Healing is in the heart. I saw a guy last night on TV, an old time movie star that turned 100 years old yesterday, and they said, how did you do it. He said, by not hating anybody. Okay, enough of old John Force whining here. I’m sorry.
Q. What do you like best, chasing corporate America or chasing the win lights?
JOHN FORCE: I’ve got two NHRA Mello Yello championships. I said this the other day at the press conference. One is to win the championship, the Countdown started. Well, there’s another Countdown, and that’s when you close corporate America, and it started about a month ago, and stuff is starting to happen. Some good people that I’m going to tell you about has come forth to me and said, John Force, it’s time for you to join us and bring your daughter with you, and man, it was like I sat down on a curb, I’m going to tell you, I was embarrassing. I sat down on a curb when I hung my phone up and I cried. I’m a full grown man, 65 years old, and you know what I thought? It ain’t the end of your career. It’s just started. People really believe in you. You know, it ain’t just about driving a race car. You’ve got to look at that age limit that I’m at. I should be with AARP. I ought to be out there selling medical supplies. No, some people put a value on me, and maybe I didn’t have enough faith in myself, but boy, there’s sure I’ve always been a positive guy and a fighter, but boy, what’s happened in the last couple weeks has given me more spirit, more heart. You’ve got a new John Force at Las Vegas. Oh, he was sniveling going in, but boy, when he come out of there, he’s a tiger. It’s all about the people. It’s all about love, and boy, I’m in the middle of it, and I feel really loved and blessed right now.
Q. You pretty much touched every single base of the question I’m going to ask you, but I look back at you from the days when you ran IROC. I look back at you also from the day you had that horrible accident that almost took your life. What I see, and please, please tell me if I’m wrong, you suddenly realized that family was the most important thing in your entire life, and you are strong young man now because of family; am I correct?
JOHN FORCE: I ran around thinking I was James Dean, Elvis and Superman rolled into one. When I got in that fire suit and when I got out of it, I thought I could kill the world by myself with a great team around me. I never realized that there’s two teams: There’s the family and then there’s the race team. But they’re both family. When my guys walked into that SEMA show and stood there, I knew that I had their support. They supported me at Vegas, and whether they leave or not, they showed loyalty to me that we’re going to fight for this championship, and it was the greatest feeling. Robert was standing there, Brittany and Courtney, and it was like, wow, there’s your team with all their overload, they come to SEMA to say hi. Yeah, they’ll probably be gone, but God bless them, they’re with us now. Like I said about Jimmy Prock. Jimmy Prock is gone. Not to my team. He’s in our heart. No matter what anybody thinks, if you change on an individual for whatever reason, then you’re not worth a hoot. I don’t change. Still love the people I love, but people has got to make changes for their selves and for their families, and we’ve got to respect it. Sometimes people read me wrong, but what I’m telling you is when I laid in that hospital, it wasn’t there was no party. There was no hotrod girl standing at the ropes telling you how cute you were, lying to you. There was no beer at the end of the day, getting wild and crazy. It all changed in that hospital bed. When I was being put in a helicopter, they were trying to shove the bone back in my knee, and it was like, what the I didn’t even know what it was, and they were trying to I was in shock is what it was, but I’ll never forget seeing that sticking out. Didn’t even know what it was. It was like, it’s over? It can’t be over, not this great life that I had, and the fight started right there, but who rallied, my beautiful wife Laurie, my kids lived with me when I was nuts. I didn’t have to confess anything I ever did wrong. I said it all in the hospital in six weeks on medication. They know everything, and I am free. I’m reborn. I’m starting my life again, and I fought the fight. It ain’t just about winning. It’s about giving your heart every day. I don’t party no more. I ain’t saying I don’t have a glass of wine, but my focus is God gave me a second chance, and I ain’t going to screw it up, and I’m going to watch my grandchildren understand, Daniel Hood’s dad is a drag racer. John Force, we’re his grandkids. We’re drag racers. We’re all going to watch these children. Maybe some of them, maybe they’ll all run off and play hockey. Maybe they’ll be president someday like Hillary maybe. That ain’t a political thing. Didn’t mean to say that. What I’m saying is we’re going to give them those opportunities within NHRA. It’s a great show, and I show a bill to NHRA, so does Hagan, so does Schumacher, and let me tell you, Tony sat there the other day, somebody thinks you say something about Tony and someone said I looked at my watch. I was looking at my watch because it was time for my medication if you want to know the truth. I could sit and listen to Tony Schumacher all day because he loves what he does. I’m just a different style. I talk as much as him. He says it his way, I say mine. I really respect the kid. I wish I could get him to drive for me.
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The post NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS, MATT HAGAN AND JOHN FORCE appeared first on Drag List.