Interview With an NHRA Legend

John Drive is the winningest driver in Nationwide Scorching Rod Affiliation (NHRA) historical past in any class. However in contrast to the quarter-mile tracks he dominated on his strategy to incomes that distinction, his path to racing greatness has been something however a straight line. Automoblog was lucky sufficient to meet up with Drive and converse to him about his life, his profession, and the place he thinks the NHRA and the game of drag racing are heading.

Tour de Drive: Life and Profession of an Icon

Drive was born simply outdoors of Los Angeles in Bell Gardens, California in 1949. Rising up, he moved round continually and survived a childhood bout with polio earlier than happening to play quarterback on his highschool soccer group. Then, in 1971, Drive made his skilled racing debut within the humorous automobile division, which he would keep on with for his whole profession.

Nonetheless, Drive didn’t discover success on the monitor straight away. Fairly the other, in keeping with his personal web site.

“John Drive was so unhealthy within the early years that Larry Sutton, the official starter at Irwindale Raceway, as soon as banned him from the monitor as a security threat to each himself and everybody else,” the location says. “Drive’s lower than stellar fame was prevalent among the many established Humorous Automobile racers of the late Seventies and early Nineteen Eighties.” 

The truth is, it wasn’t till 13 years after his doubtful debut that he would win his first drag racing title – the 1984 American Scorching Rod Affiliation (AHRA) championship. Drive gained his first NHRA occasion in 1987 in Montreal and eventually, his first NHRA championship in 1990 on the age of 41.

Following his first championship, the California native amassed a report that stands among the many most unbeatable in any sport in historical past. Drive gained 11 straight NHRA Humorous Automobile championships as a part of a run that included 16 titles in 23 seasons 1993 and 2004. 

john force celebrates a victory with his team in front of his funny car
Photograph courtesy of John Force Racing.

That success has carried over to John Drive Racing (JFR), the motive force’s drag racing group, in addition to to the following technology of Forces. John’s daughters Ashley Hood Drive, Courtney Drive, and Brittany Drive all competed within the NHRA. Brittany gained the NHRA Prime Gasoline championship in 2017 and 2022, and continues to be an everyday contender every year in one of many sport’s premier divisions.

Nonetheless, neither the success of his group and progeny or the years and miles of racing have slowed John Drive down. At 74 years previous, Drive nonetheless competes within the NHRA Humorous Automobile division and nonetheless has his eyes set on yet one more championship for his jam-packed trophy case.

John Drive: The Interview

May you speak slightly about your path to the place you are actually and the way you bought into racing?

I got here from enjoying soccer at school. I used to be a quarterback. I nonetheless maintain the report at Bell Gardens Excessive College. We misplaced each sport for 3 years straight, in order that’s a report they’ll by no means break. I’m pleased with it. However I had polio as a child, and I knew that I wasn’t going to make it. I wasn’t going to play for the LA Rams – wasn’t going to occur.

I used to be going to go to varsity, however simply couldn’t do it. I had no cash in these days, regardless of the excuse. I began driving a truck as a result of my dad was a truck driver and a few of my members of the family had been, too. That ultimately led me to racing.

While you develop up in slightly trailer park with 5 brothers and sisters, you wish to escape from it. You wish to get in your motorbike while you get one or while you get a automobile, you wish to get as distant as you’ll be able to. So I acquired a race automobile to do the operating for me.

How have you ever seen the game change over the course of your profession?

I’ve seen all of it. It’s modified as a result of the know-how has modified, however I’ve watched the older technology that advanced into the humorous automobiles and prime gas, the type of automobiles they drove in these days again within the 50s.

It was within the previous days, in case you wished to drive a race automobile, you needed to personal it, and also you chased the cash, you probably did all of it. Now it’s advanced to the place they’re employed weapons. It’s modified the evolution of the motive force. You’re up towards a child that’s younger, that’s robust. He can stay within the fitness center on daily basis. I’ve to do it at my age simply to remain up with these children, so I name them employed weapons. They’re doing their job and so they’re powerful and so they’re actually good at it.

However the sport has modified. The cash’s modified, and it’s getting loopy. The NHRA is preventing each week. They’re making an attempt to carry us offers, just like the races inside races. They’re doing every thing to assist as a result of they know what it takes to run it. Nowadays, there are a whole lot of wealthy individuals on this sport. I’m not certainly one of them, however there are a whole lot of wealthy individuals on this sport.

How have the automobiles and know-how modified because you began racing?

It’s so totally different, as a result of we’re going so quick and fast and the security of all of it needed to evolve. I acquired into that years in the past once we misplaced Eric Medland in a automobile crash. I didn’t know something about security on the time. Then lots of people acquired concerned. The navy acquired concerned. We went to them asking, “How can we construct higher helmets? How can we construct higher race automobiles?

The know-how within the automobiles has additionally advanced. Alongside comes these computer systems with know-how the place a automobile tries to do the pondering for you. That don’t work so good for me.

It’s solely 4 seconds, however boy, lots goes on in 4 seconds. Half the time, I can’t even take into consideration what befell. I simply react to it. Folks go, “How do you try this?” I don’t even know the way, I simply do it.

john force sitting in a dragster with his american flag helmet on
Photograph courtesy of John Force Racing.

What made you select Humorous Automobile as your division?

I used to be simply at all times a automobile man. And rising up, I used to be at all times a Chevy man. However once I was at school, I had a front-engine dragster. I drove a whole lot of stuff. 

However I had kin that drove Humorous Automobiles. My cousin gained the Tremendous Nationals driving for Plugger. That’s my function mannequin. He’s been within the sport for years. 

I assume I simply at all times appreciated them. They known as them “plastic incredible automobiles.” They had been simply horny to me. I like to get in them and drive them and do the massive previous smokey burnouts. I like seeing the header fireplace and flames belching out of the pipes and all of the noise. 

I used to be at all times a Humorous Automobile man, however I like Prime Gasoline too. Hell, I like Professional Inventory bikes. After I get beat, I am going into the stands to look at the opposite races. I’m a fan. Folks don’t get it, like, what are you doing up right here? I wish to see what you guys are seeing.

john force mingles with fans at an NHRA event
John Drive stays a fan favourite within the NHRA. Photograph courtesy of John Force Racing.

Do you’ve got a favourite win out of your profession?

My first race I gained in Montreal. I used to be driving the Wendy’s automobile and in these days we didn’t get cash, we acquired free meals. All of us jumped up and down after they acquired a salad bar. I keep in mind we confirmed as much as a Wendy’s retailer in Montreal and the lady that was purported to be Wendy didn’t present up. And I mentioned, what’s the pay? They mentioned, ‘Oh, they gave her like 25 bucks or one thing.’

I went within the retailer, placed on the gown and the wig, and I went outdoors. All people was throughout it. My previous furry legs and stuff. All people thought it was humorous, but it surely was enjoyable to me. And but different drivers had been like, ‘How embarrassing. You’re a driver. You’re on the market in a gown.’

However I did that as a result of it was a strategy to make some cash to feed the crew and it was a strategy to make the sponsor actually like me. I ended up getting a sponsorship. After I despatched the contract to Wendy’s, they despatched it again. I wrote it initially and so they mentioned, ‘Have someone write this factor that may spell.’ So, my spouse wrote the contract and I acquired the deal. 

I’m hoping they’re going to return to Canada as a result of I raced in Edmonton, Ontario, Calgary, Montreal. 

What have been the keys to constructing a profitable racing group past your individual particular person success?

Effectively, it had at all times been principally me alone early on. I by no means had any cash to start with. It’s modified as a result of now, it ain’t such as you put it collectively in your storage like within the previous days and drag it out to a racetrack. But it surely’s additionally modified as a result of you’ll be able to’t do it with out the appropriate individuals and with out coaching individuals for the longer term. You’re not simply operating the 18 wheelers down the street or simply the machine outlets. 

We construct our personal engines. I construct every thing. I imply, I construct blocks, I construct blowers, I construct heads. I don’t construct crank chassis, rods or pistons. However I construct every thing else. We personal the molds of the Chevrolets that we run. 

So the massive factor that’s modified is that you must have cash, that’s the important thing. It’s unhappy, however you’ve acquired to have cash. And while you get the cash, you set collectively the appropriate group and that’s the key. Then you determine a strategy to win and that’s what I’ve been capable of do.

What’s it like watching your kids race within the NHRA? How does it evaluate to driving?

Effectively, there’s nothing in comparison with driving. However your kids, I imply, I’ve acquired to look at myself. 

When my daughter Ashley beat me in Atlanta, that was her first nationwide win. I used to be down there leaping up and down and everybody goes, ‘You misplaced within the closing.’ However, it was my child, ? 

It’s simply wonderful to look at them win, there’s nothing prefer it. I by no means drove the [Top Fuel] dragster, however I am going as much as watch Brittany as a result of she teaches me. Brittany, Robert, [Austin] Prock, they arrive to me and so long as I’ve been doing it, I’ll nonetheless go, ‘One thing is altering right here, I’m getting screwed up. Can someone assist me?’

All of them attempt to assist me and we’re only a group. I like watching my children. Courtney drove, Brittany’s driving now, Ashley drove. So no, there’s nothing higher than your children after they win or after they lose, simply seeing them be part of it.

brittany force holds a trophy following a victory
Brittany Drive gained the NHRA Prime Gasoline championship in 2017 and 2022. Photograph courtesy of John Force Racing.

What do you see for the way forward for the NHRA and drag racing?

The game will survive. It at all times does. I watched it undergo after they took away the nitro and we couldn’t run nitro 40 years in the past. We acquired via that quick time frame. I’ve watched adjustments. I’ve watched the know-how change, the security they needed to construct to guard the drivers. 

In drag racing, all you’ve acquired to do is placed on a helmet and buckle your seatbelt and also you’re a driver. Take grandma’s automobile on the market racing. I can say that, I’m a grandpa.

However what I’m saying is drag racing will survive. I typically go all the way down to slightly monitor down right here in direction of San Diego to look at my grandkids race of their little junior dragsters. And once I roll in there, there are huge previous buses and 18 wheelers. It’s like Little League Baseball, besides the mother and father will be a part of it. They go on the market and run these automobiles for his or her little children. So racing will survive as a result of it’s an awesome product. 

The NHRA has been doing this a very long time. We’re going to be okay. We’ve acquired to get our crowds again from what we misplaced throughout the pandemic. Nowadays, individuals can get every thing on their cellphone. However they will’t get the actual odor of nitro. They’ll’t really feel what it’s wish to be there. They’ve acquired to be on the races. 

So I’m going to pitch the NHRA and drag racing till I drop and I don’t plan on dropping quickly. I’m going to stay to be 110.

The rest you’d like so as to add?

Sure: I offer you my phrase. The game of NHRA drag racing is not going to fail. 

As a bonus, we’re together with a video which will simply be probably the most John Drive second ever. Actually certainly one of a form.

On the time of publishing, the 2023 NHRA Humorous Automobile title continues to be inside attain for John Drive heading into the DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals. With simply 9 races left on the 2023 NHRA schedule, Drive’s John Drive Racing teammates Brittany Drive and Austin Prock are additionally in competition for the 2023 NHRA Prime Gasoline title. John Drive Racing driver Robert Hight can be inside attain for the 2023 NHRA Humorous Automobile championship as properly.