September 22, 2023


Only Auto

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 approach 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 exterior of Los Angeles in Bell Gardens, California in 1949. Rising up, he moved round always and survived a childhood bout with polio earlier than occurring to seek out success on the soccer area in highschool. 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 alternative, in accordance 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 location says. “Drive’s lower than stellar popularity was prevalent among the many established Humorous Automobile racers of the late Nineteen Seventies and early Eighties.” 

In reality, 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 gained 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 document that stands among the many most unbeatable in any sport in historical past. Drive gained 16 NHRA Humorous Automobile championships in 23 seasons, together with 11 straight victories between 1993 and 2004. 

john force celebrates a victory with his team in front of his funny car
Picture 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 outdated, Drive nonetheless competes within the NHRA Humorous Automobile division and nonetheless has his eyes set on one more championship for his jam-packed trophy case.

John Drive: The Interview

May you discuss just a little about your path to the place you are actually and the way you bought into racing?

I got here from enjoying soccer in class. I used to be a quarterback. I nonetheless maintain the document at Bell Gardens Excessive Faculty. We misplaced each recreation for 3 years straight, in order that’s a document 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 relations had been, too. That finally led me to racing.

If you develop up in just a little trailer park with 5 brothers and sisters, you need to escape from it. You need to get in your bike whenever you get one or whenever you get a automobile, you need to get as distant as you’ll be able to. So I obtained 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 developed into the humorous vehicles and high gasoline, the sort of vehicles they drove in these days again within the 50s.

It was within the outdated days, if you happen to 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 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 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 youngsters, 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 combating each week. They’re attempting to carry us offers, just like the races inside races. They’re doing every part 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 one in all them, however there are a whole lot of wealthy individuals on this sport.

How have the vehicles 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 obtained 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 obtained concerned. The army obtained concerned. We went to them asking, “How can we construct higher helmets? How can we construct higher race vehicles?

The know-how within the vehicles has additionally developed. 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, quite a bit goes on in 4 seconds. Half the time, I can’t even take into consideration what happened. I simply react to it. Individuals go, “How do you do this?” I don’t even understand how, I simply do it.

john force sitting in a dragster with his american flag helmet on
Picture 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 in class, I had a front-engine dragster. I drove a whole lot of stuff. 

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

I assume I simply at all times appreciated them. They referred to as them “plastic incredible vehicles.” They had been simply attractive to me. I like to get in them and drive them and do the large 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 at all times a Humorous Automobile man, however I really like Prime Gasoline too. Hell, I really like Professional Inventory bikes. After I get beat, I am going into the stands to look at the opposite races. I’m a fan. Individuals don’t get it, like, what are you doing up right here? I need 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. Picture courtesy of John Force Racing.

Do you might have 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 obtained free meals. All of us jumped up and down after they obtained a salad bar. I bear in mind we confirmed as much as a Wendy’s retailer in Montreal and the lady that was speculated 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 exterior. All people was throughout it. My outdated furry legs and stuff. All people thought it was humorous, however it 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 approach to make some cash to feed the crew and it was a approach 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 any individual write this factor that may spell.’ So, my spouse wrote the contract and I obtained 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 personal particular person success?

Nicely, it had at all times been largely 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’ll be able to’t do it with out the correct individuals and with out coaching individuals for the longer term. You’re not simply operating the 18 wheelers down the highway or simply the machine outlets. 

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

So the large factor that’s modified is that it’s a must to have cash, that’s the important thing. It’s unhappy, however you’ve obtained to have cash. And whenever you get the cash, you place collectively the correct group and that’s the key. Then you determine a approach to win and that’s what I’ve been in a position to do.

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

Nicely, there’s nothing in comparison with driving. However your kids, I imply, I’ve obtained 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 last.’ 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 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 any individual assist me?’

All of them attempt to assist me and we’re only a group. I really like watching my youngsters. Courtney drove, Brittany’s driving now, Ashley drove. So no, there’s nothing higher than your youngsters 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. Picture 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 obtained by way of that quick time frame. I’ve watched modifications. I’ve watched the know-how change, the security they needed to construct to guard the drivers. 

In drag racing, all you’ve obtained 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 just a little 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 huge outdated buses and 18 wheelers. It’s like Little League Baseball, besides the mother and father could be a part of it. They go on the market and run these vehicles for his or her little youngsters. So racing will survive as a result of it’s an excellent product. 

The NHRA has been doing this a very long time. We’re going to be okay. We’ve obtained to get our crowds again from what we misplaced throughout the pandemic. Nowadays, individuals can get every part on their cellphone. However they’ll’t get the actual scent of nitro. They’ll’t really feel what it’s prefer to be there. They’ve obtained 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 offer you my phrase. The game of NHRA drag racing won’t fail. 

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

On the time of publishing, the 2023 NHRA Humorous Automobile title remains 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 nicely.

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