John Drive is the winningest driver in Nationwide Sizzling Rod Affiliation (NHRA) historical past in any class. However not like the quarter-mile tracks he dominated on his option to incomes that distinction, his path to racing greatness has been something however a straight line. Automoblog was lucky sufficient to meet up with Drive and converse to him about his life, his profession, and the place he thinks the NHRA and the game of drag racing are heading.
Tour de Drive: Life and Profession of an Icon
Drive was born simply outdoors of Los Angeles in Bell Gardens, California in 1949. Rising up, he moved round always and survived a childhood bout with polio earlier than happening to search out success on the soccer discipline in highschool. Then, in 1971, Drive made his skilled racing debut within the humorous automobile division, which he would keep on with for his whole profession.
Nonetheless, Drive didn’t discover success on the observe straight away. Fairly the alternative, in keeping with his personal web site.
“John Drive was so unhealthy within the early years that Larry Sutton, the official starter at Irwindale Raceway, as soon as banned him from the observe as a security danger to each himself and everybody else,” the location says. “Drive’s lower than stellar repute was prevalent among the many established Humorous Automotive racers of the late Nineteen Seventies and early Nineteen Eighties.”
In actual fact, it wasn’t till 13 years after his doubtful debut that he would win his first drag racing title – the 1984 American Sizzling Rod Affiliation (AHRA) championship. Drive gained his first NHRA occasion in 1987 in Montreal and eventually, his first NHRA championship in 1990 on the age of 41.
Following his first championship, the California native amassed a document that stands among the many most unbeatable in any sport in historical past. Drive gained 16 NHRA Humorous Automotive championships in 23 seasons, together with 11 straight victories between 1993 and 2004.
That success has carried over to John Drive Racing (JFR), the driving force’s drag racing group, in addition to to the subsequent technology of Forces. John’s daughters Ashley Hood Drive, Courtney Drive, and Brittany Drive all competed within the NHRA. Brittany gained the NHRA High Gasoline championship in 2017 and 2022, and continues to be a daily contender every year in one of many sport’s premier divisions.
Nonetheless, neither the success of his group and progeny or the years and miles of racing have slowed John Drive down. At 74 years previous, Drive nonetheless competes within the NHRA Humorous Automotive division and nonetheless has his eyes set on yet one more championship for his jam-packed trophy case.
John Drive: The Interview
Might you speak a bit about your path to the place you are actually and the way you bought into racing?
I got here from enjoying soccer at school. I used to be a quarterback. I nonetheless maintain the document at Bell Gardens Excessive College. We misplaced each recreation for 3 years straight, in order that’s a document they’ll by no means break. I’m pleased with it. However I had polio as a child, and I knew that I wasn’t going to make it. I wasn’t going to play for the LA Rams – wasn’t going to occur.
I used to be going to go to school, however simply couldn’t do it. I had no cash in these days, regardless of the excuse. I began driving a truck as a result of my dad was a truck driver and a few of my relations had been, too. That finally led me to racing.
While you develop up in a bit trailer park with 5 brothers and sisters, you wish to escape from it. You wish to get in your bike once you get one or once you get a automobile, you wish to get as distant as you possibly can. So I acquired a race automobile to do the working for me.
How have you ever seen the game change over the course of your profession?
I’ve seen all of it. It’s modified as a result of the expertise has modified, however I’ve watched the older technology that developed into the humorous vehicles and prime gas, the form of vehicles they drove in these days again within the 50s.
It was once within the previous days, if you happen to needed to drive a race automobile, you needed to personal it, and also you chased the cash, you probably did all of it. Now it’s developed to the place they’re employed weapons. It’s modified the evolution of the driving force. You’re up towards a child that’s younger, that’s robust. He can dwell within the gymnasium day-after-day. I’ve to do it at my age simply to remain up with these youngsters, so I name them employed weapons. They’re doing their job and so they’re robust and so they’re actually good at it.
However the sport has modified. The cash’s modified, and it’s getting loopy. The NHRA is preventing each week. They’re attempting to deliver us offers, just like the races inside races. They’re doing every part to assist as a result of they know what it takes to run it. Lately, there are quite a lot of wealthy folks on this sport. I’m not certainly one of them, however there are quite a lot of wealthy folks on this sport.
How have the vehicles and expertise modified because you began racing?
It’s so totally different, as a result of we’re going so quick and fast and the security of all of it needed to evolve. I acquired into that years in the past once we misplaced Eric Medland in a automobile crash. I didn’t know something about security on the time. Then lots of people acquired concerned. The army acquired concerned. We went to them asking, “How will we construct higher helmets? How will we construct higher race vehicles?
The expertise within the vehicles has additionally developed. Alongside comes these computer systems with expertise the place a automobile tries to do the considering for you. That don’t work so good for me.
It’s solely 4 seconds, however boy, so much goes on in 4 seconds. Half the time, I can’t even take into consideration what passed off. I simply react to it. Folks go, “How do you try this?” I don’t even know the way, I simply do it.
What made you select Humorous Automotive as your division?
I used to be simply at all times a automobile man. And rising up, I used to be at all times a Chevy man. However after I was at school, I had a front-engine dragster. I drove quite a lot of stuff.
However I had kinfolk that drove Humorous Vehicles. My cousin gained the Tremendous Nationals driving for Plugger. That’s my position mannequin. He’s been within the sport for years.
I assume I simply at all times appreciated them. They referred to as them “plastic unbelievable vehicles.” They had been simply horny to me. I like to get in them and drive them and do the large previous smokey burnouts. I like seeing the header hearth and flames belching out of the pipes and all of the noise.
I used to be at all times a Humorous Automotive man, however I like High Gasoline too. Hell, I like Professional Inventory bikes. After I get beat, I am going into the stands to look at the opposite races. I’m a fan. Folks don’t get it, like, what are you doing up right here? I wish to see what you guys are seeing.
Do you might have a favourite win out of your profession?
My first race I gained in Montreal. I used to be driving the Wendy’s automobile and in these days we didn’t get cash, we acquired free meals. All of us jumped up and down after they acquired a salad bar. I bear in mind we confirmed as much as a Wendy’s retailer in Montreal and the lady that was presupposed to be Wendy didn’t present up. And I stated, what’s the pay? They stated, ‘Oh, they gave her like 25 bucks or one thing.’
I went within the retailer, placed on the gown and the wig, and I went outdoors. Everyone was throughout it. My previous furry legs and stuff. Everyone thought it was humorous, however it was enjoyable to me. And but different drivers had been like, ‘How embarrassing. You’re a driver. You’re on the market in a gown.’
However I did that as a result of it was a option to make some cash to feed the crew and it was a option to make the sponsor actually like me. I ended up getting a sponsorship. After I despatched the contract to Wendy’s, they despatched it again. I wrote it initially and so they stated, ‘Have anyone write this factor that may spell.’ So, my spouse wrote the contract and I acquired the deal.
I’m hoping they’re going to return to Canada as a result of I raced in Edmonton, Ontario, Calgary, Montreal.
What have been the keys to constructing a profitable racing group past your individual particular person success?
Nicely, it had at all times been largely me by myself early on. I by no means had any cash at first. It’s modified as a result of now, it ain’t such as you put it collectively in your storage like within the previous days and drag it out to a racetrack. Nevertheless it’s additionally modified as a result of you possibly can’t do it with out the correct folks and with out coaching folks for the long run. You’re not simply working the 18 wheelers down the highway or simply the machine retailers.
We construct our personal engines. I construct every part. I imply, I construct blocks, I construct blowers, I construct heads. I don’t construct crank chassis, rods or pistons. However I construct every part else. We personal the molds of the Chevrolets that we run.
So the large factor that’s modified is that you need to have cash, that’s the important thing. It’s unhappy, however you’ve acquired to have cash. And once you get the cash, you set collectively the correct group and that’s the key. Then you determine a option to win and that’s what I’ve been capable of do.
What’s it like watching your kids race within the NHRA? How does it examine to driving?
Nicely, there’s nothing in comparison with driving. However your kids, I imply, I’ve acquired to look at myself.
When my daughter Ashley beat me in Atlanta, that was her first nationwide win. I used to be down there leaping up and down and everybody goes, ‘You misplaced within the ultimate.’ However, it was my child, you understand?
It’s simply superb to look at them win, there’s nothing prefer it. I by no means drove the [Top Fuel] dragster, however I am going as much as watch Brittany as a result of she teaches me. Brittany, Robert, [Austin] Prock, they arrive to me and so long as I’ve been doing it, I’ll nonetheless go, ‘One thing is altering right here, I’m getting screwed up. Can anyone assist me?’
All of them attempt to assist me and we’re only a group. I like watching my youngsters. Courtney drove, Brittany’s driving now, Ashley drove. So no, there’s nothing higher than your youngsters after they win or after they lose, simply seeing them be part of it.
What do you see for the way forward for the NHRA and drag racing?
The game will survive. It at all times does. I watched it undergo after they took away the nitro and we couldn’t run nitro 40 years in the past. We acquired by that quick time period. I’ve watched adjustments. I’ve watched the expertise change, the security they needed to construct to guard the drivers.
In drag racing, all you’ve acquired to do is placed on a helmet and buckle your seatbelt and also you’re a driver. Take grandma’s automobile on the market racing. I can say that, I’m a grandpa.
However what I’m saying is drag racing will survive. I typically go right down to a bit observe down right here in the direction of San Diego to look at my grandkids race of their little junior dragsters. And after I roll in there, there are massive previous buses and 18 wheelers. It’s like Little League Baseball, besides the mother and father will be a part of it. They go on the market and run these vehicles for his or her little youngsters. So racing will survive as a result of it’s an amazing product.
The NHRA has been doing this a very long time. We’re going to be okay. We’ve acquired to get our crowds again from what we misplaced throughout the pandemic. Lately, folks can get every part on their telephone. However they will’t get the actual scent of nitro. They will’t really feel what it’s wish to be there. They’ve acquired to be on the races.
So I’m going to pitch the NHRA and drag racing till I drop and I don’t plan on dropping quickly. I’m going to dwell to be 110.
The rest you’d like so as to add?
Sure: I offer you my phrase. The game of NHRA drag racing won’t fail.
As a bonus, we’re together with a video which will simply be essentially the most John Drive second ever. Really certainly one of a form.
On the time of publishing, the 2023 NHRA Humorous Automotive title continues to be inside attain for John Drive heading into the DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals. With simply 9 races left on the 2023 NHRA schedule, Drive’s John Drive Racing teammates Brittany Drive and Austin Prock are additionally in competition for the 2023 NHRA High Gasoline title. John Drive Racing driver Robert Hight can also be inside attain for the 2023 NHRA Humorous Automotive championship as properly.