September 29, 2023


Only Automotive

Interview With an NHRA Legend

10 min read

John Drive is the winningest driver in Nationwide Sizzling Rod Affiliation (NHRA) historical past in any class. However in contrast to the quarter-mile tracks he dominated on his method 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 continuously and survived a childhood bout with polio earlier than occurring to play quarterback on his highschool soccer staff. Then, in 1971, Drive made his skilled racing debut within the humorous automotive division, which he would persist with for his complete profession.

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

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

In actual fact, it wasn’t till 13 years after his doubtful debut that he would win his first drag racing title – the 1984 American Sizzling Rod Affiliation (AHRA) championship. Drive received his first NHRA occasion in 1987 in Montreal and at last, 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 received 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 staff, in addition to to the subsequent technology of Forces. John’s daughters Ashley Hood Drive, Courtney Drive, and Brittany Drive all competed within the NHRA. Brittany received the NHRA High Gasoline championship in 2017 and 2022, and continues to be a daily contender every year in one of many sport’s premier divisions.

Nonetheless, neither the success of his staff and progeny or the years and miles of racing have slowed John Drive down. At 74 years outdated, 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 somewhat about your path to the place you at the moment are and the way you bought into racing?

I got here from taking part in soccer at school. I used to be a quarterback. I nonetheless maintain the report at Bell Gardens Excessive Faculty. We misplaced each recreation 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 school, 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 relations have been, too. That ultimately led me to racing.

Once you develop up in somewhat trailer park with 5 brothers and sisters, you wish to escape from it. You wish to get in your bike while you get one or while you get a automotive, you wish to get as distant as you may. So I bought a race automotive to do the working 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 expertise has modified, however I’ve watched the older technology that developed into the humorous automobiles and prime gas, the type of automobiles they drove in these days again within the 50s.

It was within the outdated days, in the event you wished to drive a race automotive, you needed to personal it, and also you chased the cash, you probably did all of it. Now it’s developed to the place they’re employed weapons. It’s modified the evolution of the motive force. You’re up in opposition to a child that’s younger, that’s sturdy. He can stay within the health club day-after-day. 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 robust 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 attempting to deliver 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. Lately, there are a variety of wealthy folks on this sport. I’m not one in all them, however there are a variety of wealthy folks on this sport.

How have the automobiles and expertise 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 bought into that years in the past once we misplaced Eric Medland in a automotive crash. I didn’t know something about security on the time. Then lots of people bought concerned. The army bought concerned. We went to them asking, “How can we construct higher helmets? How can we construct higher race automobiles?

The expertise within the automobiles has additionally developed. Alongside comes these computer systems with expertise the place a automotive tries to do the considering for you. That don’t work so good for me.

It’s solely 4 seconds, however boy, so much goes on in 4 seconds. Half the time, I can’t even take into consideration what happened. 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 all the time a automotive man. And rising up, I used to be all the time a Chevy man. However once I was at school, I had a front-engine dragster. I drove a variety of stuff. 

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

I assume I simply all the time preferred them. They referred to as them “plastic incredible automobiles.” They have been simply attractive to me. I like to get in them and drive them and do the massive outdated smokey burnouts. I really like seeing the header fireplace and flames belching out of the pipes and all of the noise. 

I used to be all the time a Humorous Automobile man, however I really like High Gasoline too. Hell, I really like Professional Inventory bikes. After I get beat, I’m 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 could have a favourite win out of your profession?

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

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

However I did that as a result of it was a method to make some cash to feed the crew and it was a method 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 stated, ‘Have any person write this factor that may spell.’ So, my spouse wrote the contract and I bought 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 staff past your individual particular person success?

Effectively, it had all the time been principally me by myself 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 outdated days and drag it out to a racetrack. But it surely’s additionally modified as a result of you may’t do it with out the best folks and with out coaching folks for the longer term. You’re not simply working the 18 wheelers down the highway or simply the machine retailers. 

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 it’s important to have cash, that’s the important thing. It’s unhappy, however you’ve bought to have cash. And while you get the cash, you set collectively the best staff and that’s the key. Then you determine a method to win and that’s what I’ve been capable of do.

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

Effectively, there’s nothing in comparison with driving. However your youngsters, I imply, I’ve bought 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 remaining.’ However, it was my child, you realize? 

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’m 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 any person assist me?’

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

brittany force holds a trophy following a victory
Brittany Drive received the NHRA High 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 all the time does. I watched it undergo once they took away the nitro and we couldn’t run nitro 40 years in the past. We bought by that brief time frame. I’ve watched adjustments. I’ve watched the expertise change, the security they needed to construct to guard the drivers. 

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

However what I’m saying is drag racing will survive. I generally go all the way down to somewhat monitor down right here in the direction of San Diego to look at my grandkids race of their little junior dragsters. And once I roll in there, there are massive outdated buses and 18 wheelers. It’s like Little League Baseball, besides the mother and father may 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 bought to get our crowds again from what we misplaced in the course of the pandemic. Lately, folks can get every thing on their cellphone. However they will’t get the actual scent of nitro. They will’t really feel what it’s wish to be there. They’ve bought 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.

Anything you’d like so as to add?

Sure: I provide you with my phrase. The game of NHRA drag racing won’t fail. 

As a bonus, we’re together with a video which will simply be essentially the most John Drive second ever. Really one in all 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 High Gasoline title. John Drive Racing driver Robert Hight can also be inside attain for the 2023 NHRA Humorous Automobile championship as properly.

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