Making new memories in Dallas
Flying directly from the Charlotte race right into San Antonio on a 6 a.m. flight made for a pretty exhausting extended weekend. Unfortunately, I'm not a morning person so I don't know how I get up for those kinds of flights. All I can say is, thank goodness for my iced green tea from Starbucks!
Dad and I landed in San Antonio, changed clothes and quickly reviewed some notes before going on stage for a PPG event. I'm the type of person who likes to prepare and be organized for a speech, but when I have to go on stage with my dad, I know we're not sticking to any lines or set plan. My dad is the type of person who can go on stage and, if you hand him a microphone, he will automatically start talking. He knows the business and how to entertain and talk with sponsors, which is something I'm learning. However, going on stage with Dad is always fun because you never know what to expect.
I got up there, prepared to say what I wanted. Most of our time was spent with Dad giving me a hard time. Luckily, I spun his statements and we had a great show. We talked about how we love using paint and how we thought, at the start of the season, I would be scraping up quite a few Funny Car bodies as a rookie driver.
After the event, we walked to the River Walk before catching a flight into Dallas. We flew in a few days before the race for media and sponsor appearances and did a little cowboy boot shopping along the way. We also went to the Texas Motorplex early and took part in the Traxxas customer race where we talked with the group and taught them a thing or two about drag racing. We taught them the basics of staging and understanding the Christmas tree, staying in the center of the groove of the race track, where to lift off the throttle at the finish line and, most important, how to get that win light.
After the customer race, my dad and I got to take a tour of the Traxxas headquarters in Plano, Texas. We got to see where all the magic happens at their company and got to meet with the people who are hard at work designing amazing radio-control cars.
When I arrived to the racetrack the day of qualifying, I was instantly in race mode. Now is the time to focus on picking up bonus points in qualifying to push closer to the top spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
I ended up the No. 1 qualifier for the second time this season, and my dad won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout. This was the first year for the shootout, so for our team to win it was huge! I went out of the race in the second round, but we had a great car all weekend. It just happened that when we were running our best numbers, the car in the lane next to us was running just a tiny bit better.
Although I was fully focused, I couldn't help but think back to when my dad crashed his Funny Car at the Motorplex in 2007. It was a nearly fatal crash. He was fortunate to have just broken his arms and legs and was taken to Baylor Hospital to be reconstructed and recover over the next few months.
I will never forget the moment I heard about the crash. To this day, thinking about the crash and the feeling that I might lose my dad, still brings tears to my eyes. He was very lucky.
That Sunday in 2007, I was at home finishing homework with my sister and constantly checking the results for each round of the race. My mom was calling every round to let me know if my dad had won or lost. The round he crashed, I remember sitting at home thinking it had been too long since my mom had called. I called her but got no answer. I got on my computer and went to the NHRA website to check the race results. The opening page read, "John Force airlifted to hospital." I immediately started crying and yelled for my sister Brittany so we could read what happened together. It only said he crashed and was airlifted, but no information about whether he was dead or alive -- just a picture of pieces of my dad's Funny Car, a helicopter and him lying in it.
I tried calling everyone I knew at the racetrack, but no one had any answers, just rumors. We decided not to answer any calls unless they came from our team or our family. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life before my mom called to say she was headed for the hospital. My sister Ashley, who was racing with our dad that day, witnessed the whole thing. The one positive thing my mom and sister said was that Dad was yelling as he was being put into the helicopter, so they knew he was still his same self, just badly injured. His Funny Car had split in half at more than 300 mph and sent him tumbling into the guard wall.
After being in the hospital for a few months and going through physical therapy until the end of the season, my dad continued to recover until he was back on his feet and, to many people's surprise, back in his Funny Car. He ended up winning another championship a few years after his crash, even when everyone told him he would never walk again and would definitely never be able to drive again. He proved everyone wrong at the age of 61.
Now that I'm out at the race track with him and competing against him, it's always hard to block out the possibility of what can happen in one of these 8,000 HP race cars. Being in Dallas was a reminder of that, and this was the first time I would race in a Funny Car at the track of his crash. It was hard to mentally block that out and focus on winning the race, but I was able to do it.
Overall, it was a great weekend, though tough at times. Luckily, Dad and I officially made new, great memories at the Texas Motorplex to replace the old.