A Sports Hero That Is More

As chairman, I’ve had the opportunity to do some special things and to meet some special people. As a speaker at a regional trade show recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with a featured guest, John Force. In case you don’t know, he is a professional drag racer. He has amassed a record that is second to none, winning 16 nitro funny car world championships. He is a successful team owner, fielding two other funny cars and a nitro dragster. Two of his daughters are drivers and the fourth car is driven by his son-in-law. It is truly a family business.

At 65 years old he is still winning races. As I write this he is leading in points for another championship. John started from humble beginnings, but has developed a mega team that competes with other mega teams.

As a former drag racer, including four years in nitro funny cars in the 1980s, I can appreciate and respect his accomplishments. John became dominant in the ’80s, evolved with changing times, and continues to be dominant.

Today’s funny cars cover a 1,000-foot-long track from a standing start in just over four seconds and cross the finish line at more than 300 mph. Horsepower is estimated at 10,000. Television does not do them justice. To comprehend the noise and violent acceleration you must see them in person.

As John and I talked about “old times” in drag racing and our current collision repair industry, we hit it off. He invited me to be his guest at the national event in Brainerd, Minn. It was a thrill for me to attend and I was flattered to be treated like an honored guest as well as one of the team. I was amazed at the level of sophistication. The team travels with 12 semi-trailers. Each car has a team of 8-10 people.

After each run they can service the cars in less than an hour, which includes an engine overhaul or replacement, clutch overhaul, refueling, tuning, supercharger overhaul and more. It was like watching a ballet. Tools and equipment were carefully placed. People work calmly, but with purpose, and don’t bump in to each other. Crew chiefs carefully analyze computer data and periodically offer comment or instruction to crewmen. As I interviewed the young crewmembers I was impressed with their education, commitment and work habits. Each has specified duties and requirements. All are required to have the ability to TIG weld. They exhibited the kind of qualities we all like to see in our own staff.

Later I had the chance to tour the John Force Racing shop in Indianapolis. (Again, I have been blessed with opportunities that I never anticipated when entering our industry. When you give of yourself, including through volunteer efforts within ASA, it is amazing what can happen.) The size, sophistication and operating expenses are staggering. Components such as engine blocks, cylinder heads, intake manifolds and superchargers are machined in-house, including such complex machining as the supercharger helical rotors. Chassis design and fabrication are done there. Graphic design and production of decals and wraps, even for the semi-trailers, are done in-house. Inventories are incredible, including more than 3,000 clutch discs and over 20 funny car bodies in various states of preparation. John Force Racing employs about 150 people.

When watching John Force interviews on TV it is obvious that he is colorful, direct, emotional, driven and unpredictable. Yet in person there is more to him. There is an element of being down to earth, caring, considerate and humble. When some young men in military uniforms approached him in excitement, one stated to John that he is his hero. John replied, “I’m no hero. I’m just a traveling entertainer. You guys are the heroes!” He thanked them for their service.

I was struck by a sign at the shop. It says a lot about what John and his teams represent. It states: “Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.”

Let us learn from this hero and all strive for excellence.

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