That Time When Force Was At A Super Bowl…

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February 10th, 2021

Hello blog faithful. Here we go again with more great John Force stories courtesy of Elon Werner. I’ll admit, I had no idea Elon and Force had gone to Miami to represent Castrol during a Super Bowl. This is priceless stuff that makes you feel like you were there with them.

And I’ll also have to admit that I never rooted for Tom Brady. Being with the Patriots, I saw him as the quarterback for The Evil Empire, and before you get mad at me for that just realize that any franchise or company referred to as The Evil Empire must be extraordinarily successful. Other Evil Empires include Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Amazon, the New York Yankees, and whatever team LeBron James happens to be on. Nobody calls the Colorado Rockies, the Minnesota Wild, or the Los Angeles Clippers The Evil Empire. That’s how it works. I’m a Vikings fan and my team has never won a Super Bowl, nor have they even been in one since 1977, which was 25 years before we moved to Minnesota, when I was a junior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. They are 0-4 in their appearances in the championship game.

This year, as much as I like and respect Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, I just had to give it up for Brady. Maybe because he is with the Buccaneers now, but the fact is he signed with a mediocre team and immediately took them to the Super Bowl, and won it, at the age of 43. That’s pretty amazing.

Speaking of sports, the Twins start Spring Training in a couple weeks, but we’ll just have to see how that goes in this Covid environment. Our hockey team, the Minnesota Wild, currently have about half their squad in Covid protocols, and some of them are symptomatic. The NHL has postponed their games for a week and might do that for at least another week. Then what? They’ve been pounded. Our basketball team, the Timberwolves, are just plain bad and have a bunch of players hurt or in Covid protocols. On top of all that, we’ve been below zero for most of the last week. Baby, it’s cold outside.

So we got all that going for us up here.

Let’s just let Elon bestow some more classic John Force tales upon you. Enjoy, and give Elon that blog love by clicking on the “Like” button at the bottom.

Thanks Elon. You’re the best, my friend.

See you all next week!

Bob

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As I watched the hype build following Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl title, that hype created endless conversations about whether he is the greatest football player or athlete of all-time, and that got my blog-writing juices flowing. I think Brady is the most successful quarterback to play in the NFL, obviously with seven Super Bowl wins, but in addition to his on-field skills he has created an aura of success. He proved that this year when he took over a 7-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team and led them to Super Bowl victory. From reports throughout the season he showed how champions practice and prepare, and he expected his teammates to follow his lead. It did not happen overnight but by the back half of the season you could tell there was 100 percent buy-in and the team rolled through the play-offs.

Another hour, another interview. Does he ever get tired?

I know another athlete who has that kind of aura and he brought his magic to the Super Bowl in Miami in 2007. John Force was introducing Castrol Edge motor oil as a new sponsor for his NHRA team that year and Castrol also had a big investment in the NFL. To get the season started Castrol built a full-size garage at one of the Super Bowl interactive zones and filled it with all sorts of racing memorabilia, as well as Force’s newly branded Castrol Edge Funny Car. We were invited to Miami for the weekend to do appearances at the booth and media interviews.

One of the major tie-ins was connecting Force with Jason Campbell, the Washington Football Team’s quarterback. Prior to one of the autograph signings we were scheduled to have Force talk with Campbell in the booth and it was going to be recorded for Castrol to use promotionally. I gave Force some background on Campbell and we had some talking points from Castrol to work into the conversation, too. Force and I arrived about 15 minutes early so we were hanging out, and of course Force started talking to fans and signing autographs and posing for photos. He quickly built up a nice gathering of fans around himself and he was content to just sign and talk, to kill time.

About 10 minutes later a huge mass of people approached the booth. There were three or four security guards, a couple of marketing/PR handlers, some of Campbell’s friends, a TV production crew, and of course Jason Campbell. It was almost comical how big Campbell’s entourage was compared to Forces, which consisted of just me. At that time Force had 14 NHRA World Championships and Campbell was looking to try and make the play-offs. They got settled in the booth and I went to go get Force.

Force and the Washington QB.

I let Force know that there was someone there to meet him and he needed to break away from the fans. He gave me a hard time about leaving the fans, which was one of his favorite bits. He always made me or whoever was trying to pull him away look like the bad guy. He would push back about leaving his fans but eventually he would tell them he was sorry and he had to go to work, but he would be right back. We walked over to Campbell and Force immediately started talking a mile a minute. He didn’t even give me a chance to introduce him. Campbell asked about his race car and Force went into great detail about Castrol Edge and racing and being at the Super Bowl. Campbell mentioned that he played football and Force immediately started talking about his own football career which peaked in high school and was not nearly as successful as his racing career. The whole reason Force got into racing, he said, was because he liked to wear a helmet. He knew football was not going to be a long-term career but he could race and let the race car do the running for him.

Force and Campbell stood in the middle of the display talking for about 20 minutes and then Campbell had to leave for another engagement. A few fans came up and asked him for his autograph and he signed for maybe 3-4 people before letting his entourage engulf him in a protective bubble as he worked his way out of the venue. Force gladly went back to the group of fans he was chatting with earlier. About ten minutes later Force asked me when he was going to meet Washington’s quarterback. I kind of laughed and told him he had already met him. He immediately turned to me and asked me what I meant. I told him the guy with all the people around him and the TV cameras was the Washington quarterback and he had left the building. It was classic Force. He had naturally done everything he was supposed to do without realizing who he was doing it with. 

The autograph line Force thought wouldn’t be there

Later that afternoon, we came back for a scheduled autograph signing and the whole way to the display Force was worried there would be no one interested in his autograph and we were all going to be fired. I don’t know why he was worried. When we landed in Miami at 10:30 p.m. on Friday, as we were leaving the airport at least ten people stopped Force before he got to baggage claim and asked him for an autograph or shouted congratulations for winning the Funny Car championship the year before. The airport was almost empty but there were still Force fans around.

When we walked up to the booth there were already 20-30 people in line waiting for Force. They cheered when he walked up and he shook a few hands as he worked his way to the front of the line. This was a classic Force technique to get people excited and making noise to draw attention to his area and get more people in line. I can’t tell you how many Force fans were created by them just hearing a cheer and then their curiosity led them to an autograph line. They would get in line because they figured it was someone famous and by the time they finished getting their signed hero card they were a fan for life.

At this appearance I was off to the side of the line and a guy walked up and asked me who Force was. I told him he was a famous world championship drag racer and he should get his autograph. He said he wasn’t much of a racing fan but he had a friend who loved motorsports. I suggested he call his friend and get his friend’s opinion on Force. This is my recollection of that phone call.

Guy: “Hey, I am in Miami at the Super Bowl and there is a racer named John Force signing autographs. Is he a big de…”

Phone: “JOHN FORCE?!?!? You have to get his autograph! He is the best racer of all time!”

Guy: “OK. OK. I will get in line. Do you…”

Phone: “Get me an autograph too. I love John Force. Are his daughters there? Get their autographs too. He is the best.”

Guy: “I am getting in line. I don’t see any daughters but I will ask.”

Force being Force. Talking to a fan on his buddy’s phone

I can recall the conversation so well because the guy’s friend was genuinely overcome with excitement and was yelling at his buddy through the phone. The guy got in line and about 15 minutes later he was in front of Force telling him this whole story about how his friend talked him into getting in line. Force told him to call his friend back and let him talk to him. The guy called his buddy and before he could say anything Force grabbed the phone and started right in with, “John Force here! I hear you’re a big fan. I want to thank you for telling your buddy to get in line. We’ll be in Gainesville in a couple months so you have to come see me. Here, talk to Elon, and give him your name and number.” Force handed me the phone and the guy at the other end thought he had died and gone to heaven. I gave him my cell phone number and told him to call me if and when he got to the Gatornationals, and I would be sure to connect him with Force.

Sure enough the Saturday of the Gatornationals my phone rang and it was a number I didn’t recognize. I answered and it was the guy who Force told, at the Super Bowl, to come by wanting to know if Force was for real. I told him of course Force would like to meet him. We connected about 20 minutes later and I took this guy and his girlfriend behind the ropes and into Force’s pit. They got photos, autographs, and Force took the Castrol hat right off his head, signed it, and gave it to the guy, thanking him for being a fan. I am sure that hat is in place of honor in that guy’s man cave.

The white Force Castrol hat is one of motorsports iconic collectibles in my opinion. It is the traditional trucker style ball cap with the point at the peak of the crown and it has the small rope across the bottom of the front. It is so much a part of Force’s look he made PEAK antifreeze and motor oil make a white hat when he switched to their brand. They were always blue and had never created a white hat. Force told them no one would recognize him if he wasn’t wearing a white hat. They made them just for him and Force was right. Fans came up to him all the time saying they saw him from a distance and they knew it was him because of the white hat. 

Force would give away hats all the time, right off his head. As soon as he gave one away, if I was around I would go up into his lounge and get a new hat. I would move the snaps to the appropriate spot and take him a replacement. There was a cadence to this maneuver. When I first started, as soon as Force gave a hat away I would hustle and get him a new one and bring it right to him. Next thing I knew he was giving that hat away and I was hustling back for another one. I realized I could control the amount of hats we were giving away by taking my time and hanging back until he asked me for a new hat. He told me if we would have kept going at my breakneck pace he would run out of hats at the first event. It was all about timing for Force, in everything he did.

Even autographs had a hierarchy with Force. When he had a huge crowd or he was doing a show and needed to interact with as many people as possible he would crank out autographs at a ridiculous pace. The signature would basically look like a capital “J” dash “F” with an “o” and straight line attached along with 9X or 14X or 16X depending on how many championships he had at the time. If he was signing in a normal setting a fan would get an almost recognizable John with “For-” dash and the number of championships. If he was signing an item for an auction or a VIP or had some one-on-one time you would get “John Force, 16X world champion” completely legible. If you got one of those signatures, that was the top of the pyramid. No matter what signature Force doled out he always added a hello, a thanks, or a pat on the back. He made a connection and for that reason he is hands down my motorsports GOAT. The Greatest Of All Time.