EXCLUSIVE: John Force’s life has changed dramatically in last year, but he’s still standing and fighting

(Photo: Richard Shutes/Auto Imagery)

He has a new manufacturer (Chevrolet), new primary sponsor (Peak Antifreeze) and new crew chief (Jon Schaffer) … and in a sense, he’s a new John Force.

The record 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has gone through arguably more changes in the last year than he did in the previous 30 years.

A 30-year relationship with Castrol Oil came to an end, as well as a nearly 20-year deal with Ford. Veteran employees and crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen left to join rival Don Schumacher Racing.

He had to scale back significantly in personnel, as well, forced to part ways with nearly one-quarter of his employees.

But like a Phoenix, Force is rising once again.

“A guy asked me the other day, ‘Why do you do this? What do you have to prove?’” Force said in an exclusive interview with NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk. “I do this so my children can race and that my grandchildren can race. I’m the one that started all this, I’m the one that got them all hooked on it and now I’m going to say, ‘Gee, I don’t have any sponsors, I think I’m going to quit.’ No, that’s not an option.”

As he approaches his 66th birthday next month, Force said that with a whole slew of new, young employees, he feels 30 years younger, as well.

It’s almost as if he is starting over. Wait, scratch that, he IS starting over.

“I’ve had to reinvent myself,” Force said. “I heard (Don) Schumacher talk the other day about life, because of his medical stuff, and how he wanted to be a different type person. I don’t know what exactly he meant by that, but I like hearing that. I thought about it and I need to be different.

“It isn’t because I got older, I’m getting smarter and I’m learning and I’m going to change my way.

“I got hit financially, with major sponsors leaving, with crew chiefs packing up and leaving. I had a year to figure it all out and damn it, if I didn’t put it back together. Everybody said I wasn’t going to make it.

“But I had to reorganize. It was a very humbling experience for me.”


That transformation starts with new crew chief Schaffer. At 27, he’s one of the youngest crew chiefs in the sport.

But at the same time, Schaffer has already acquired a decade of experience working in the sport, including serving as an assistant crew chief to Mike Neff, who calls the shots for Force’s son-in-law and president of John Force Racing, Robert Hight.

(Photo: NHRA/National Dragster)

But the youth movement extends even further. Force has an almost completely new team, most in their 20s or 30s, with just one holdover from last year’s team.

“When you’re financing four race teams and they’re not totally funded, do I build with old guys like me, or do I go with young people who are the future of this sport?” Force said. “I built a whole brand new team from the ground up. There’s a few older ones, but only a couple. I chose young people that will take John Force Racing forward for the next 25-30 years.

“I could go and hire guys that might retire in five or 10 years from now, but what good is that to my daughters and my grandchildren?

“I felt for me personally, I needed to be with these young guys. I needed their energy to draw from. People say I’ve got a lot of energy, I do because I live it, I get wired at the races, it comes on TV and I run like a little kid to watch it because I love it.

“I sat down, I’m no genius, I just took the basics and asked myself how I got here? What did I do? I’m going back 30 years, when I first hired Austin Coil, when he was 29, 30 or 31 years old. That’s what I’m doing now, starting with a group of young kids.”

Force sees a lot of two of his most successful crew chiefs – Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly – in Schaffer.

“I lost Austin Coil and we went on to win,” Force said. “I lost Bernie Fedderly and we went on to win. I lost my whole team. I kept just one guy that stayed with me.”


With so many changes within his four-car organization this season – and in particular on his own team – Force knew it might be a slow start this season, and admittedly it has been.

Just four races into the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national schedule, Force enters this weekend’s NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas ranked 13th in the Funny Car standings, 136 points behind series leader Del Worsham.

While Hight is fifth in the standings, Force’s daughter Courtney is ranked ninth.

And in Top Fuel, Force’s other racing daughter, Brittany, is ranked eighth. That’s quite an achievement since Force is still seeking sponsorship for his daughter’s dragster. To keep Brittany on the racetrack, the elder Force is essentially bankrolling her efforts out of his own pocket, along with the help of some smaller sponsors.


“I always say I love what I do, which I do, but if you don’t live it, you don’t survive it, you just exist,” John Force said. “I want to be a winner.

“My daughter Courtney, who is so much like me, said to me the other night that ‘I’m not here to be competitive, I’m here to win.’ I told her, ‘No, you have to be competitive,’ but she was right. I don’t want to be just one of the top 10, I want to be the champion.”

With Ford and Castrol leaving as Force’s primary sponsors at the end of last season, Force’s identity of sorts to fans in 2015 has been replaced by Chevrolet and Peak.

It’s likely been an adjustment for some fans that have watched Force in Castrol green-and-white and in a Ford Mustang body for so many years.

To their credit, Chevy and Peak have stepped up their recognition emphasis.

Force is now driving a primarily blue-and-white Peak-sponsored Camaro in most races, while Chevy will be primary sponsor for several races this season – including this weekend at Las Vegas – with a special white paint scheme (see photo at top).



Force is eager for this weekend’s race in Las Vegas. Not only is The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway one of his favorites on the NHRA circuit, it marks the first race for Force after a recent catharsis.

After the Four-Wide Nationals two weeks ago at Charlotte, Force underwent a metamorphosis of sorts. Part of it may be due to the slow start. But another part is Force doing what he has done so many times in the past: he knows that when he needs a kick in the butt, he’s the best man for the job.

“I’m thinking, what can I do to fix it? Can I drive any faster? Can I do anything?” Force said.

Then the light bulb went on. He’s been working so hard the last year to gain new sponsorships and keep his organization afloat financially that he kind of put his racing on autopilot.

(Photo: NHRA/National Dragster)

But after Charlotte, Force decided to make a significant change.

“All I needed to do was stop chasing money and get my head in the game,” Force said.  “That’s what happened to me at Charlotte after the race. I told myself I’m not in the game. I’m chasing money, chasing hospitality, new teams.

“But we’re not really in the game because we love to be out there on that start line, the cheers of the crowd, you forgot why you came. That’s what I did. I took a little time off to really think about all this. I took old photographs with me to Maui to look at my teams in the early days to reinvent John Force. The only way I’m going to make it back to a championship is to lead these young kids and I’m excited about it.

“It’s like how you used to buy your wife flowers every week when you were dating her. When was the last time you bought them for her after being married so long? You get stupid. It’s like that in drag racing.

“I looked at myself and said what do I need? I need to lead my life, to spend my time like I always have.”

Force even had a team meeting, where he pointed out to his staffers that it’s far too early in the season to worry about such a slow start.

Among the examples Force cited:

* In 2014, Matt Hagan was 10th leaving Epping (after 11 races), yet he went on to win the championship – defeating Force in the final race of the season.

* In 2013, Force was 12th leaving Atlanta (after 7 races), was 10th after leaving Englishtown (after 9 races), and then went on to win the championship.

* In 2009, Hight was never higher than 10th in the standings from St. Louis to the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, only to rally in the six-race Countdown to the Championship to win the Funny Car championship. In addition, Hight also lost the first 18 races of that season with two DNQs and seven first round losses, yet still won the title.



Force has spent so much time on the road over the last three-plus decades that his new look, feel and experience in 2015 is allowing him to get to know his family all over again.

“I’ve run for so long that you almost don’t know your family,” Force said. “I’m trying to get to know my wife once again. I never understood, I never listened. I’m trying to get to know my kids. I know how much I love the sport. I just came off a family vacation to Maui and my wife said, ‘I haven’t seen you smile since we left.’ And when we got on the plane to come back, she could see I changed.”

Family has become a key component of Force’s resurgence. He’s now a grandfather several times over and knows that while he’s the foundation of John Force Racing, his daughters and Hight are JFR’s future.

John Force family more than 20 years ago. Who knew what would evolve from there. Can you guess who is the baby of the family with the pacifier? Yes, it’s Courtney Force. (Photo courtesy MooreGoodInk.com)

“I want to watch my grandchildren grow up,” he said. “Financially, if it was just me and my wife, we have plenty of money in the bank. We could do anything we want, travel the world, never have to work again.”

In a very real sense, Force is balancing his entire racing operation on his shoulders. He knows that if he doesn’t keep running, keep hustling for sponsorship and keep working at developing his daughters and Hight into champions, the future of John Force Racing might be short-lived.

“They’re not ready yet,” Force said of Brittany and Courtney. “I call it leaving the nest. I’ve got to teach them before I step down. I won’t use the word ‘scared,’ I use the word ‘terrified.’ Coming up, I lost Coca-Cola and Jolly Rancher (as sponsors), but I continued. I was 26, 28, 30 and then I got Castrol and went on a 30-year run. In the last 30 years, I never thought – ever – about being out of business.

“Now, I need to get my stuff right about why did we really come? We came to win. That’s what I have to get back to. Nobody knows winning better than I do because I’ve won the most. That’s the way it is.

“I’m not saying my grandchildren are going to want to race, but I want to have them have that opportunity. … If I live to be 85 or 90, my grandchildren, if they wish, will be driving.

“That fear I had up to the age of 30 or so, then after that I had a pretty good ride for 30 years or more after that, now that fear is back and it’s real. When I sit down at night to go to bed, there’s a feeling that comes over me that I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

“That fear is what’s kept me a champion, that will make my daughters and son-in-law become champions and myself again. I believe that in my heart and that’s what keeps me going.”



Force, who did some amateur boxing in his youth, has been in so many fights in his career for survival that he could be heavyweight champ of the world. Has invented himself more times than George Foreman did.

Elton John’s song, “I’m Still Standing,” could very well be Force’s anthem.

“I like a good fight. Every day, when I get to the end of the day and I feel beat up and say, ‘Enough of this, it’s just not working,’ what’s the option? Are you going to quit? How am I going to look at my grandson in the eye and say, ‘No, this isn’t how grandpa said it was going to be in the future’ and I’m just going to belly up?

“Well then, it doesn’t matter how many championships I’ve got. I’m worth nothing.

“I’m adapting. I’m going to survive this thing, I’m going to make it and I’m going to be here just like drag racing’s going to be and the NHRA is going to be here. We’re all going to survive.

“Our job is to race, win and entertain. That’s what we do.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Motocross 2023: Results and points after season opener at Fox Raceway


It was not the first time it has been done, but a rider winning in his Motocross debut is rare as the results show Jett Lawrence swept the motos at Fox Raceway in Pala, California and took the early points lead.

Dylan Ferrandis may not be quite 100 percent yet, but he was good enough to finish on the podium at Fox Raceway – Align Media

Lawrence became the 16th rider to win in his Motocross debut and was the 10th rider to do so in the season opener, At 19, he wasn’t the youngest to perform the feat; Rick Johnson was 17 in 1982 when he won the lidlifter at Hangtown, the site of next week’s race, but Lawrence’s inaugural win bodes well. The last time a rider performed this feat, Dylan Ferrandis went on to win the 2021 Motocross championship as a rookie in 2021.

Ferrandis did not sweep the motos that season while Lawrence’s performance on Saturday was perfect. He paced both practice sessions, earned the holeshot in each race and finished first in both motos after leading every lap to score maximum points. Lawrence started the weekend needing 85 points to climb into 20th in the combined SuperMotocross standings for the 450 class. Earning 50 with his perfect Motocross results at Fox Raceway, he is nearly 60 percent of the way to his goal.

RESULTS: Click here for full 450 Results; Click here for 250 Results

Chase Sexton was second across the board. He qualified in the second position and finished 2-2 in his motos. In the first race, he was a relatively distant runner-up behind Lawrence, crossing the finish line a little more than 10 seconds ahead. He got a great start in Moto 2 and pushed Lawrence for the entire race, never getting further back than three seconds. He tried to pressure Lawrence into making a mistake, but both riders hardly put a wheel wrong and they finished within a second of one another.

Returning from a concussion suffered in the Houston Supercross race earlier this season and exacerbated at Daytona, Ferrandis finished third in both motos to take third overall. His most important task at hand this week was to avoid trouble and start the Motocross season healthy at Fox Raceway so he can begin to accumulate strong results and move up in SuperMotocross points.

Ferrandis entered this round 25th in the standings and left Pala in 19th. With that position, he has an automatic invitation to the feature starting grid in the SuperMotocross World Championship as long as he does not fall back.

Click here for 450 Moto 1 [Lap Chart] | Moto 2 [Lap Chart] | Consolation Race

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb both ended the race with 34 points, but Plessinger had the tiebreaker with a better finish in the second race. Notably, both riders sustained injury sometime during the season, but Plessinger had an advantage by coming back a week sooner in Salt Lak City for the Supercross finale. He finished second in that race.

Webb was cleared late in the week by doctors after being on concussion protocol from a vicious strike to his helmet in a Nashville Supercross heat race late in the season. He made a beeline to the track to run the Motocross opener. After missing last year’s outdoor season, he wanted to make certain that did not happen again. He still has a solid opportunity to catch Sexton for the No. 1 overall seed in the SuperMotocross standings., but he will need to make up 78 points.

Click here for 450 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

For the first time in history, Pro Motocross results from Fox Raceway show brothers as winners on the same day.

Battling a rib injury suffered practicing earlier in the week, Hunter Lawrence got a poor start to Moto 1 and had to overcome his 10th-place standing at the end of Lap 1. He methodically worked his way toward the front but might have settled for a position off the podium if not for heavy traffic in the closing laps. Lawrence was able to get through the field quicker than Justin Cooper and Jo Shimoda to finish third.

Hunter Lawrence overcame sore ribs to score the overall 250 win at Fox Raceway – Align Media

Lawrence’s second moto was much stronger. He earned the holeshot and led all 15 laps of the race to win by a more than eight seconds.

Haiden Deegan didn’t feel any pressure heading into this round. No one expected much in his third Motocross National and he would have been happy with anything in the top five. At least that’s what he said in the post-race news conference. Deegan said similar things after finishing fourth in his first Supercross race this season. In a stacked field of 40 riders at Fox Raceway, “Danger Boy” finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2 for the second-place finish overall.

Click here for 250 Moto 1 [Lap Chart] | Moto 2 [Lap Chart] | Consolation Race

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan finished second overall. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire had an eventful weekend. He dominated Moto 1 and won by a healthy margin, making a statement about how he will race now that Jett Lawrence is no longer in the field. He was a victim of mayhem in Turn 2 of Moto 2, which forced him to the ground. Another crash on an uphill portion of the track later that same lap put him in 39th. Hampshire salvaged as many points as he could and finished 11th in the second race to stand on the final box of the podium.

Tom Vialle came within a lap of scoring his first career podium. He had the position based on a tiebreaker over Justin Cooper and Maximus Vohland until Hampshire passed two riders on the final lap and earned one point more than that threesome. Instead, Vialle settled for his first podium in an individual moto with a 7-3 in the two races. More accustomed to this style of racing, Vialle will be a factor in the coming rounds.

Click here for 250 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

Cooper finished with a 5-4 in the two motos to sweep the top five and take fourth-place overall. Cooper started five rounds in the 450 class in Supercross this season and none on a 250, so he is starting with zero points in the SuperMotocross seeding, but with runs like this it won’t take long to make up the 89 he needs to climb to 20th.

One of the best performances of the weekend was put in by Vohland. He finished second in Moto 1 and had to withstand pressure from Lawrence in the closing lap. A poor start of 16th in the second race forced him to play catchup and he could only climb to ninth at the checkers.

2023 Supercross Results

Round 17: Chase Sexton, Jett Lawrence win
Round 16: Chase Sexton, RJ Hampshire win
Round 15: Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence win
Round 14: Justin Barcia, Max Anstie win
Round 13: Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence win
Round 12: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 11: Eli Tomac bounces back with sixth win
Round 10: Chace Sexton wins, penalized
Round 9: Ken Roczen wins
Round 8: Eli Tomac wins 7th Daytona
Round 7: Cooper Webb wins second race
Race 6: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Race 5: Webb, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 4: Eli Tomac, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 16: Chase Sexton takes SX title
Week 15: Eli Tomac is back on top
Week 14: Justin Barcia, most of top 20, hold steady
Week 13: Barcia leapfrogs the Big Three
Week 12: Eli Tomac gains momentum
Week 11: Cooper Webb, Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
Week 10: Sexton leads with consistency
Week 8: Sexton unseats Tomac
Week 7: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
Week 6: Perfect Oakland night keeps Tomac first
Week 5: Webb, Sexton close gap
Week 4: Tomac retakes lead
Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Sexton falls
Week 1: Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s