John Force Presented Spirit of Ford Award
John Force Presented Spirit of Ford Award
Ford Racing conducted a Q&A session this morning with Tanner Foust (X Games Champion), Vaughn Gittin, Jr. (Formula Drift Champion), John Force (NHRA Funny Car Champion) and Ken Block (Rally America/World Rally Driver) in the Homestead-Miami Speedway infield media center to talk about their respective seasons. A transcript of that session follows:
JAMIE ALLISON, Director, North America Motorsports -- “We at Ford Motor Company are very, very blessed. We have the greatest fans in the world and a lot of passionate fans here in NASCAR. One of the things we’re doing as a company is we’re going through a transformation of a company that sells great trucks and Mustangs to a company that sells exciting, fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient, high quality cars. Today, we’re going to bask in the sunshine over the weekend of Fusion competing in NASCAR, but I’d also like to recognize the new entry of Ford – Fiesta – competing in Rallycross, and Mustang competing in Drifting and NHRA.”
VAUGHN GITTIN, JR. – YOU ARE THE FIRST DRIFTING CHAMPION IN FORD HISTORY. HOW DOES THAT FEEL? “In 2005, I decided to bring some American muscle into drifting, which is predominantly an Asian car dominated sport. All of my competitors thought I was pretty crazy for doing this, but here we are in 2010 having just won the Formula D championship. It’s pretty amazing how far the sport has come. Never did I think I would be here at Ford Championship Weekend, a guest of Ford having just won a championship in a Mustang in drifting, so it’s just been an incredible year, an incredible ride and I’m looking forward to doing it some more. It’s pretty funny that we’re here in Homestead because in 2003 I got my license here at this track. This is where I got my first professional drifting license, so it’s kind of reminiscent and cool how it’s come full circle.”
KEN BLOCK – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PROGRAMS AND GETTING FORD INVOLVED? “It’s been very cool to be involved with Ford, being able to sit here with guys like Vaughn and Tanner, that are taking a very proactive approach into the younger generation and sort of newer type of motorsports here in America. It’s been very rewarding for me to be with a manufacturer that is so involved from World Rally in Europe to Driving and Rallycross and, just in general, Rally with small cars. I’m really looking forward to continuing the progress and everything that we do with the Fiesta and hopefully expanding our program even more with the Focus and those types of things next year. But I really need to thank Ford. They’ve been a great sponsor for me and supporting everything that I do, so with these guys it’s been great to see Ford leading and doing things that no other U.S. car manufacturers can even touch.”
TANNER FOUST – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF FIESTA? “I’m lucky I get to drive a lot of things, whether it’s for TV or different kinds of motorsport. In 2009, we went out to Pikes Peak and tested when (Marcus) Gronholm and Andreas (Eriksson) were making an assault on Pikes Peak for the record. That was the first time driving anything like the Rallycross Fiesta. It was hyper-active. It’s almost a square car. It’s so wide and so short. It makes it so nimble that it’s kind of like a little fighter jet and I had never experienced anything quite that mean. I kind of got addicted a little bit, really, to the acceleration. These cars go 0-60 in 2.2 seconds. It’s really an amazing feeling, so, essentially, anything I could do to get into that car I’ve worked towards it. I did X Games that year and we had a first and third. Kenny Brack won it that year and then followed it up the next year with two golds and I think it’s a real move in the States. These smaller cars in Europe, and when you travel around the rest of the world, these are the performance cars – the two-liter model is the performance motor, whereas in the States here, you can get six liters – you can get huge engines – 6.2 liters in trucks and the two-liter isn’t necessarily seen as that, but I think that’s changing. I think when people realize how fast these platforms can go and the type of racing you can do with these Fiestas, it really changes the image of these cars to be kind of cool performance cars here in the States as well, just like it is everywhere else.”
JOHN FORCE – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR ROAD BACK TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “First of all, you did my whole script. I have nothing left to say. It’s really a part about being like Ford says, One Ford, and taking our sponsors and putting everybody together on our team and forming multiple teams. The crew chiefs that work together and Bobby Tasca, even though he’s with Motorcraft he’s his own team and I drive the Castrol Ford, and we have Auto Club and my daughter Ashley and Robert drive the Mustangs, but, at the end of the day, there is a lot of money – not just financial backing, but the money that goes into safety – and that all comes from the Ford engineers in Detroit. In all these years we’ve addressed stuff, but not in the way when we lost Eric Medlen. In ’07 it was the Ford guys that came in and said, ‘We’ve got to fix this car.’ Of course all of that data goes to the cars that we drive on the streets -- the Ford trucks or the Fiesta or whatever. At the end of the day, they really made all of that possible. They built me a race car with the new three-rail chassis. They changed the history and direction of the sport as far as safety. I don’t want to get back in a car that could hurt me and tore my arms and legs off. We lost Eric and my kid was out there driving, so after all the work that was put into that, no one thought it was gonna work. That car was heavier, but yet Robert delivered the NHRA Full Throttle championship in ’09. He was here last year and I sat here crushed. I had to wear his jacket that he won because I wanted so bad to get back, but I just wasn’t there yet. It was all of that and the fans stand by you. It’s easy to love you when you’re winning championships, but when you’re in the bottom, they really stood by me, so I fought hard for my family to get back, the sponsors, and a little bit of a push by Ford. I’ll kind of put it this way (Mark) Fields, (Jim) Farley, (Ken) Czubay stood me by the bus and said, ‘No only are you 61 years old, older than anybody at this race track, but we have a job to do – all of us – and we need to hear from you that you can fight back. We’ll give you the dollars, the safety that you need.’ We built the Boss 500. Bobby Tasca took out Hagan in the first round and, let me tell you something, that was the shot heard round the world. That kid in that Motorcraft car, the Tasca family introduced me to Ford 14-15 years ago. I was winning and then I was struck down and the Good Lord willing, I got back, but it was Bobby Tasca. Hagan is a great racer, that kid with Schumacher, and it was right there on the wire that I had to set the national record. I knew I could win the race. We set our goals. We had the lead all year and lost it at Reading, a clutch part fell off of our hot rod – the clutch pedal. I couldn’t get in reverse and couldn’t get it to the start line. We had to win every race. We won every round at Vegas. We won every round at Pomona. When we got to Pomona eating up the points in qualifying to stay ahead of the kid, but I needed some damage done and it was Bobby Tasca. One Ford stood up and, let me tell you something, my sponsors at Castrol for 25 years said, ‘We never thought we’d see the day that you would stand on the hood of a Motorcraft car.’ But they were honored to have that association to fight together and win together and, let me tell you, that kid was jacked up. I thought he was gonna have a heart-attack before that first round, but he did his job. He was calm and cool. We’re not loved right now by the competition. They don’t love us, but we’re paid to win and he fought a fair fight and he opened that door for me to win.”
CAN YOU SHARE THE STORY ABOUT HALLOWEEN? “At the banquet, going into the final my grandbaby, my oldest daughter is married to Robert Hight, who drives the Auto Club Ford. She said to me, ‘You can win this grandpa. You’re not as good as my dad.’ Little kids speak the truth. They love their daddys and she’s just like my little kids were, but we were in Vegas. It was on Saturday and the next day was Sunday and Halloween. Ashley, my girls, even though they’re 21, 22 – Ashley is 25-26 – they still do Halloween. They dressed up with the grandbaby – Queen of Hearts – and they were all running around and this little kid came up and I said, ‘Hey, what are you gonna be for Halloween?’ He said, ‘I’m gonna be a boat captain. He had this little hat on with whatever they put on the front of their hats – a life preserver or something.’ And he goes, ‘What are you gonna be?’ And without thinking I just said, ‘I’m gonna be the points leader on Sunday,’ and he goes, ‘You’re gonna dress up like Hagan?’ I just stood there and thought, ‘Little kids,’ because he knew that Hagan was in the lead and it was almost impossible to catch him.”
CAN YOU COMPARE THIS CHAMPIONSHIP TO YOUR FIRST AND WHICH ONE IS MOST SPECIAL? “The first one because you never know you’re ever gonna get it. That’s what I told Robert. Once you win a championship, and he took it hard not winning this year, and I helped him by getting that win, just like he helped me. To come back from the crash was big, but when you’re 61 years old, when you’re young kids like this, the whole world – that’s what I told Hagan, he took it pretty hard. I said, ‘You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.’ I just signed with Ford. They gave me a five-year deal and at my age and in this economy, that was a miracle. I started to say, and I’m gonna get in trouble, but Fields, Farley and Czubay stood me at the coach and said, ‘Can you get back in the game? Can you fight this fight? We know what you did in the past and that’s great. We’ve already sold those cars.’ I needed to deliver and the bottom line was to keep my job because I love racing. I’m not a good team owner. I’m not good at that. I can run teams, but that’s not what makes me tick. It’s watching the fire in those kids’ eyes, those crew chiefs that fight together. Hearing Tasca scream about what he was gonna do before he did it, and it is the power of believing. When I got in his car one day (Vaughn Gittin’s) at Phoenix believing – I just wanted to survive. He took me out on that road course and I thought I was gonna die. I crash at 330 (mph), but I know what I’m doing. I got in his car and I was lost. He said, ‘I’m gonna show you how to scare you,’ and he really scared me. I don’t like being in something where I’m not in control. I hide in the seat of an airplane, but, at the end of the day, it was to deliver and to show Ford because if I can’t deliver, I’ve got to get out of the seat and put a kid in. Luckily, the training in the gym and living in the gym gave me my body strength. I always knew how to drive a race car, and when I forget how to drive a race car – when I get older – it’s gonna be real ugly for the competition because they know I’m kind of a wild man in the seat and I do what I’ve got to do to win. But it was getting back to deliver, to look at people that were bringing Ford back. I mean, we didn’t take the stimulus package. Ford Motor Company didn’t take that stimulus. Not taking anything away from GM, Chrysler, Toyota or anybody, they did it with what they had to do and they said, ‘We’ve got to do it as a team and the ones that stick together will be with us for a long time.’ I won’t live forever, but my kids will. I gave the trophy when we won to Henry Ford III – Edsel’s kid. I’m so dumb about people that I didn’t even know it was Edsel’s kid. I’m telling him about the first time I didn’t know anybody and I was terrified at Ford when Edsel took me out and said, ‘Go for a ride with me.’ He asked me, ‘What kind of car do you drive?’ Well, Ford had given me a Jaguar for my 10th championship because they owned Jaguar, so I went and bought the four-door just out of respect to have a driver. So I’m going out with Edsel and I’m like, ‘Oh man, even though they own Jaguar with me driving a Jaguar I’m gonna look like an idiot,’ but he was so good to me. He talked to me. I’m telling this story to this kid and I said, ‘He really made me feel like, it’s OK, we’re just people because I’m up with people that in my world they’re icons. Some people are terrified to go into the glass house at Ford and meeting all these people and it’s like you don’t know your place. You all go through it. I’m an old truck driver, that’s where I come from, and I’m still an old truck driver, but he just made me feel so good. Then I met his boy and it was like, ‘Wow.’ His kid was so excited he jumped five feet off the ground when we won. We’ve got pictures. So I said, ‘Take this trophy. It’s for you. Take it home to Ford.’ He said, ‘That’s my dad, Edsel’ I was like, ‘Boy, I’ve got to get to know the players here.’ Anyway, I rode around in a car for three hours with Jeff Gordon and he finally said, ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ That was 10 years ago when he started, but I said, ‘Yeah,’ but I didn’t know him out of his uniform. I’m just guilty. Him I know, he’s in uniform. But take me out of uniform and nobody knows me, either.”
VAUGHN GITTIN, JR. CONTINUED – ARE YOU IN DRIFTING BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE YOU WANT TO BE, OR ARE YOU DOING THAT AS A WAY TO GET SOMEWHERE ELSE? “I’m a self-taught drifter. That sport is my passion. It is my heart. It’s all I do. It’s all I think about. It’s what I am. Being a part of a sport that is growing so fast like drifting and to see where it’s come from and where it’s going, that’s my main priority. There is definitely a lot of other things that I want to do. I did some off-road truck racing last year and I’m interested in some of the stuff in rally that’s going on. I just love driving. I just want to be in the seat, but drifting is definitely my passion. There’s a lot going on in the world of drifting and it’s growing very fast. The competition is just insane and the technology of the cars, I’m driving a 2700-pound, 800-horsepower Ford Mustang and it’s a lot of fun. That’s what it comes down to. Everything that we are doing – Tanner, Ken, me – I think we’re just having fun in our cars. Yes, there’s the huge competition aspect to it, but it’s something that we all enjoy doing and I plan on doing it as long as I can.”
SPIRIT OF FORD PRESENTATION
EDSEL B. FORD II, Member of the Board of Directors, Ford Motor Company – “I’m here to make a surprise presentation, and I do so with great pleasure. But first, I want to thank all of the drivers that are here today – Ken, Tanner, Vaughn and John – for joining us here today at Ford Championship Weekend. They are worthy competitors and, with the exception of John, they represent a whole new breed of Ford drivers.
“One of the exciting things I get to do as the Godfather of Ford Racing is to present the Spirit of Ford Award. This is the highest honor Ford Motor Company gives for lifetime achievement in auto racing on and off the track. Today, I am honored to present the 24th Spirit of Ford Award to John Force.
“John joins a notable list of international honorees, including Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Richard Petty, the France and Wood families, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Bud Moore, Ned Jarrett and a fellow drag race, Bob Glidden.
“Why John? Well, his record on the track speaks for itself. A record 15 personal NHRA championships, a record 132 wins, a record 17 team championships in 21 years. John Force has Hall of Fame credentials no one would ever argue with, but we give John Force the Spirit of Ford Award today based on what he’s done off the track and what he’s done for the sport of drag racing.
“John’s incredible personal comeback from his career-threatening injuries suffered in Dallas in 2007 has been an inspiration to us all, culminating with his come-from-behind weekend in Pomona making him the most senior motorsport champion in history at the age of 61.
“He also took the tragic loss of his teammate, Eric Medlen, and turned his grief into something positive. He helped change the sport of drag racing, working with Ford Motor Company and our engineers to help design a safer cockpit, a stronger and safer chassis that is now proven to be championship worthy as well.
“Through all of this he has tirelessly promoted the sport of motor racing far and wide with his entertaining stories and friendship with racers of all forms. In fact, just walk with him through the NASCAR garage and you’ll see drivers, crew members and owners all coming over to see John and hear what he has to say.
“Legend, I think it’s a word that’s been tossed around a lot in sports, but there really are legends in this sport and John Force is one of them. And because of what he has done, and the way he has honored our sport, his fellow competitors, and its fans, it’s my honor to present the Spirit of Ford Award to John Force.”
JOHN FORCE – “I want to clarify that it was Henry Ford III that I gave our trophy to. I still get confused with the names, but I am kind of goofed up here a little bit. I am truly humbled and this really means a lot. I think I’ll just let it go. Kids, this is what you don’t want to do – a perfect example of you get the mike and you can’t talk. To take this home to my family and my team, this is quite an honor. I’ve always said I was going after Richard Petty’s records if I’d live that long. I won’t, but I keep trying – the Good Lord willing – but I want to thank the media because you’ve always been good to me, even when I was stupid and my wife says I’m stupid a lot. This is really something special, so I’ll just let it go at that. Thank you to all my sponsors, but for Ford Motor Company believing in me when I was down and stood by me. I said I would deliver and I hung my neck out, but I did – with the help of my teams and the help of your team – Bobby Tasca and the Motorcraft Ford. I’ll just let it go at that. Thank you.”