- Published on Wednesday, 31 July 2013 15:13
Funny Car Champion John Force tells why he likes Norwalk!
NORWALK, Ohio – They call him, “The Man.”
When fan favorite John Force bedazzles the Golden Anniversary celebration of Summit Motorsports Park with his special edition Funny Car and showmanship on August 10, 2013, he recalls early impressions of the Auto Plus Night Under Fire presented by Kelly Services.
“The size of the crowd is what was always amazing,” said John Force, a National Hot Rod Association 15-time Funny Car World Champion. “It was probably the biggest I have ever seen. The fireworks were unbelievable. They always had a little bit of something for everybody – Jet Cars, wheelstanders like my brother Louie raced here. He had a wheelstanding truck. They had motorcycles and fuel bikes and every category you could think of.
“They had Jet Trucks and they were unbelievable,” John Force said. “Then you top it off with a Funny Car show. All of that put together makes us as racers want to put on a show and run big numbers.
“Winning the Night Under Fire is the icing on top of the cake in front of a packed house.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as John Force chased his racing dream, Bill Bader Sr., then president and owner of Norwalk Raceway Park, developed the foundation for the young track to become an industry presence.
“I met the Bader family years ago,” John Force said. “They are a great family, with Bill Jr. and Bobbie and Bill Bader Sr.
“Understand that I raced in the early days with some of the best promoters – the people I called the P.T. Barnums: Vinnie Knapp, Bill Donner, Steve Evans, and Jim Rockstead – People that put on races with 64 Funny Cars, and the rock shows.
“That era has gone away, and yet Bader passed that passion on to his kids,” John Force said. “They stayed true to that promoter mentality. This is footbacll country, and yet they could get these people to love drag racing. That is what fascinated me.”
In a thrilling, high-speed occupation, sometimes John Force met danger on the way to the track.
“I remember flying into another track, maybe Lebanon Valley, and the pilot was looking out the window,” John Force said. “He asked if those were high power lines in front of us. It turned out he had never landed there, and we had to turn around and land a different direction to get me to the track.
“I thought I would never top that, as far as a crazy deal to get to a race,” John Force said, “but a few years later I was on my Nightmare Continues Tour, since I was winning a lot of championships.”
When John Force's rig pulled into what is now Summit Motorsports Park, he wore a Nightmare Continues T-shirt.
“Bill Bader says he has an idea about how he wants to introduce me,” John Force said. “I say, 'I'll do whatever you want, since you are paying me.' Before they take me out to the starting line, they put me in a coffin with a big old rat's head on the front of it. They are playing Michael Jackson's “Thriller,” I think, and they pull me out on the starting line.
“It kind of shook me inside that coffin,” John Force said. “When I jumped out of the coffin on the starting line with the shirt on, the fans went nuts. My little kids loved seeing it. They thought it was cool.
“That was the kind of stuff Bader did,” John Force said. “They never stopped improving and thinking outside of the box. They just keep coming up with new ideas.
“I remember one year I did a burnout in the final and they turned out all the lights in the stadium,” John Force said. “It was header fire and the fans were screaming. You couldn't see where you were at when you were backing up. I went on down the track and won.”
The partnership between John Force Racing and the track expanded to include a special edition Funny Car raced only at the Night Under Fire, and repeated in 1/24 scale collector grade cars.
“He always did tributes to the military,” John Force said. The eleventh car in the series celebrates 50 Years of Norwalk. “It has gone on for years and years. The 50th Anniversary is something special for me to be a part of and to honor them with that. That is pretty cool. I am honored to be driving that 50th Anniversary Funny Car.”
John Force Racing returns to Summit Motorsports Park twice a year – especially to Night Under Fire which is on August 10, 2013 – with fond memories of racing and family.
“We were here on the Fourth of July and it was an opportunity for my kids to see fireworks,” John Force said. “Ashley has raced me here in the final and beat me once. I raced Courtney in the final last year. Robert has won here. We have all won here.
“They are celebrating 50 years of racing here, so I am honored to be a small part of the event,” John Force said. “What they built, John Force didn't build. I am proud to be a part of it.”