John Force Press Conference Transcript About Jeff Gordon Tribute Car
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
JOHN FORCE, JEFF GORDON TRIBUTE CHEVROLET CAMARO SS, MET WITH MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA AT ZMAX DRAGWAY TO DISCUSS THE REASON BEHIND THE JEFF GORDON TRIBUTE CHEVROLET CAMARO SS.:
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THE JEFF GORDON TRIBUTE CAR CAME ABOUT AND WHAT YOUR IDEAS WERE WITH IT: "Well I've known Jeff (Gordon) since he was a young kid. I met him when he was 16/17 years old and he still looks 16 or 17. Hell, I've had so many interviews this week, radio and TV shows and stuff I'm just saying the same thing over and over. I was actually out at a race. I'm not trying to say we are not close buddies, we don't hang out. I've never been to dinner with him unless it was a function. Did the AARWBA Banquet with him and a number of banquets when we were on the All-American team and that's where I kind of got to know him. We worked with the Action collectible group, which is now Lionel. It kind of evolved from that. Dale Earnhardt, Sr., (Dale Earnhardt) Junior, we did autograph sessions when those kids were starting. When I go to NASCAR races and that is about what I know. You can love somebody and you can respect somebody and you don't have to be their friend. I mean I guess we are friends. We are racers in that deal. He is on his schedule and does what he does and I do what I do. This was, to me, more of one legend to another to say, man, thank you. Thank you for what you've done to our sport. If you haven't seen him he has been coming the last two or three years, maybe longer, he always shows up here on Sunday, dressed in a little hat and a shirt, you wouldn't know it was Jeff Gordon. He's got his two kids with him and he's up and down… loves this place.
"Mr. Hendrick was over yesterday, his partner there at the team looking at the car and getting pictures sending them to Jeff. The way it came about and I'll answer your question was I was out at Fontana with Auto Club and Chevrolet and Peak and everybody meeting all the drivers and I saw these signs in the infield that said 'Thanks Jeff'. It was that simple. He really is going to retire. Now, he will move on to the announcer's box and of course he is partners with Hendrick however all that works and the teams, but that really was what it was all about. Just to say thank you.
"The reason I picked this race, y'all know, that I have so many races that Peak Antifreeze bought and I had races, like next week I will be running the Lucas Slick Mist car and then I will be running the Traxxas car in Dallas. I have to sell those races to finance me, but this race I saved for him myself. To take a moment for the fans that are here… we are in NASCAR country guys. This would be the place to unveil it, the start of the Countdown for him and the Countdown for me. That really is my reason. Do I know Jeff? You bet. But I don't want to make a statement where he goes 'hell I don't even hardly know that guy'. But I know he said to me once the reason we flamed it was 'he goes you are always on fire, you are going to kill yourself.' I thought about that because there was a year I had a couple of bad years on fire and he commented on that. I flamed it in his colors for him. That's the reason."
DID YOU TAKE THE FLAME THING KIND OF PERSONAL THAT YOUR CAR WAS ALWAYS ON FIRE AND HE NOTICED IT? "Nah, he's really a good guy. If you knew him the time I spent with him … I've told so many stories over the years about him and (Dale) Earnhardt, Sr. and Rusty Wallace those were guys that Fred Wagenhal with Action got me involved with and took me to my first race in Daytona. That was first time I met Richard Petty. I've drag raced my whole life. I don't go to very many races. I go to some now because of appearances and IndyCar races because of Graham Rahal. He still thinks he getting married (laughs). I actually told him, Rahal, if you don't finish in the top five you are not marrying my kid. I was joking. He finished fourth. I said 'okay'. He had a run at the title. You get to know these guys, but Jeff was a guy, all of them different animals, (Darrell) Waltrip, Rusty, Earnhardt (Sr.) different people, but Jeff was just some young kid with a dream that could drive a racecar. I followed him. We started winning.
"We were at the AARWBA Banquet we made the first team. The place was packed and he (Jeff Gordon) was sitting right next to me and he goes 'man look at this crowd. How do you get up there in front of them?' He was scared. I joked, I said I always get up there and pretend everybody is naked. I don't anymore so you are dressed here, especially because it's mostly men (laughs). But, there were different ways that I got through crowds. I had a lot of fears in the beginning that is why I used to go on stage screaming. People go 'why do you start yelling from backstage and run out on the stage?' Get rid of that fear. I told him that and he didn't listen. He went up on the stage and they just loved him because here is this young kid winning races and driving fearless and respectful.
"I have never heard him ever raise his voice. Maybe he does get mad and raise his voice, but I never heard him raise his voice even when they bumped him out of a race. He would just say 'well that guy is kind of impolite' or something. I've never seen him mad. I've seen Earnhardt (Sr.) mad; I've seen them all mad; never him. He is just the same guy and then to watch him out here with his kids watching – there is John Force. I'm sitting in my car last year and he is going 'there is John Force'. His daughter looking like God he is so old they let him drive… I made that up, but she was probably thinking it. Just an amazing guy and it was just a way to say thank you from NHRA, from all the fans that cross over NASCAR, IndyCar, and drag racing. Our teams, our families, the race team guys are coming up to me – awesome Force! They know Jeff they run into him; he is really a good guy."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU FOR SOMEONE ON THE NASCAR SIDE TO RUN A TRIBUTE TO YOU? "Well that isn't why I did it, but they are going to have to wait a long time. I ain't going anywhere. I'm going to be stubborn; I'm going to fight this thing out. I still love what I do. I can still drive a racecar. I keep coming up with good ideas. I love that, but I don't want to put that out there. They've got races to run, sponsors to carry, if somebody says something nice about me along the way, naturally (Jeff) Gordon and he already did. They had five top questions for each of the drivers in the Countdown the fact that they put that car in their show to me is an honor to me. I'm out here driving it. I've got people calling me Jeff. We are having so much fun with it. The media really opened their arms to it in town. In the end I really want Jeff's children to know how we feel about him. That was really the key.
"My kids didn't know what I did and as they evolved and started being with me and my wife and our family I wanted them to know what I did that I loved so much. They never really understood it. Once they started driving they started understanding it. I really want my grandkids to see it too. That's why I've got to hang around here awhile, build some safety, try to help grow the sport, but that is what I thought about Jeff when I saw his kids. Do they really know him? Yeah, he's a great father and for us all to say how great it is who their Dad is that would mean something to those two little kids to know how we feel about him. He's already great all you've got to do is go to the races. I don't want to put that out there I don't want anybody to feel obligated. Elon's got a plan for me. I'm never going to retire. I'm not going to do a final tour. I won't do that. When I leave I'm going to get out of that car at the other end and I'm going to jump that fence. I don't have to make no excuses and I'm going to walk away. When everybody understands it's all gone and it's really over I will come back and run my teams for my family and take another role. I'm just not ready yet. My final tour they will stuff me like Trigger and take me to all the events and sell some t-shirts."
AT THE TIME DID YOU KNOW THAT LITTLE KID FROM CALIFORNIA WAS GOING TO BE A LEGEND IN MOTORSPORTS? "I really didn't. When I met him the first time I told this story – Fred Wagenhal had called from Action and said we are out here at the opening of the new NASCAR track at Fontana. He said all the drivers are here and they all want to go to In and Out. He said Jeff Gordon does, he said Earnhardt (Sr.) that is how Fred would con me to get me to do stuff. I had this old beater limo and he said bring the limo we will take them through In and Out. My guy that worked for me would drive the limo if we had to take a sponsor to the airport. He had quit the day before so I drove the limo and the first thing Fred said was you show up here, John Force, the champ, driving the limo. Yeah, I ain't going to pay for no driver, I'll drive them down. Well they got one of the bus drivers off one of the teams to take us. I swear to God to this day I got in that car and this little kid was sitting next to me, young kid, looked like he was 16, 18, maybe 20 I don't know. But he looked like a kid. I've told this story a million times. We ran out of gas in the limo I didn't look at the gas tank they had to come get us. It was a terrible day. They all got hamburgers, but I've told this story for years on stage. This little kid next to me introduced himself at Jeff Gordon. I didn't know this kid.
"Bickford said the other day when I told that story, he said Force I was in the limo. The kid wasn't in the limo you've got to quit telling that story. I think I told it so many times I started believing it. But I do remember a kid there next to me. I can't figure out who it was. But Bickford said, no they were out on the track running that race and by the way Gordon won that race I think that opening race. Anyway in the process I met him along the way and he was always friendly to me. Most of them guys know us. They know what we do. They watch us on TV, we watch them. That is how I kind of got to know him. This was just a chance to do something with my car that was available to mean something. Not about money. It's just about putting the car out here for everybody to see on TV. I want his two kids to know how much their Dad is loved. That is the real reason."
DID YOU THINK BACK IN THE DAY HE WAS GOING TO BE AS DOMINANT A CHAMPION AS HE WAS? "You don't think about none of that. I was lucky to win a championship or two. I thought it would be over. I never thought I would go to 16 heading toward 17. It's going to be a little tough, but we are fighting it. That was probably my biggest fear. Please Lord this was a deal to put together and please let this body stay on this car. Let's get some TV let's get some pictures. We had a picture with the fans today. It was unbelievable. There were hundreds of them all around that car. They just love Jeff Gordon. It's kind of cool to cross over, put a little NASCAR out here in NHRA drag racing here at Charlotte. He likes it. Jeff he is not like me. He's not a big old bull jive talker, but he said thank you. But he made a deal on TV last night he said what do you think about John Force doing the tribute to you? The first thing his hand went was like this (makes a motion) meaning they go straight. The first motion he made you can see it. But it's kind of cool. So if I don't catch it on fire and I can win a race I can do him tribute and if not I'll sneak out of Dodge."
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.