June 7, 1998
WOW what a fantastic day! Ken Latka organized another SSpectacular SoCalSS event--a tour of the John Force Racing facility in Yorba Linda, CA. Our special thanks to Dick Quaternik, who suggested this idea to Ken back in February of 1998.
Ken started the ball rolling by contacting Craig Hoelzel (public relations director for John Force Racing). Despite having also been contacted by a local car club whose cars are very closely associated with John Force Racing, Craig (and John) selected SoCalSS to be the first car club to have a private day at John Force Racing. What an honor! It took a lot of discussion between Ken and Craig to set everything up just right, and we certainly appreciate the great effort from everyone on the Force Staff to pull this off.
After meeting at the various local staging areas, we cruised over to the facility...well almost. At one point, we had 24 cars from two different caravans on Yorba Linda Boulevard--all lost. There were Impalas going North, Impalas going South; it looked like a Keystone Cops movie but with cooler cars. Eventually, we all found the place and when we finally all rolled in, there were 76 Impalas in the parking lot...a new record for our cruises!
After the usual 45 minutes renewing friendships and looking at mods, we began our shop tour in the main building. The first thing you see upon entering is one of John's Elvis-themed Funny Cars in the center of the lobby. Around the car are 60 NHRA national event trophies for some of the races John has won over the years. To the left of the Elvis car is John's Driver of the Year Funny Car and a Dodge Viper GTS in deep blue with white racing stripes. To the right of the Elvis car is a 1965 Red Mustang in mint condition. This is one large lobby! Also in there are his Harley Davidson, a player piano (that was playing while we toured) and a huge monitor wall (we're talking BIG screen TV here folks) that was replaying several NHRA events from over the years. John also has some antiques on display (waiting for his new restaurant to open): old barber shop poles, Coke machines, etc.
After touring the lobby area, we went into the shop where John's Funny Cars are built. On the way to the shop, you pass the parts room, which had 30 PAIRS of Funny-Car heads, blower belts stacked to the ceiling, Fram oil filters, and just about anything else needed to put one of these heart pounding machines together. In the garage area, where most of us congregated, were some Funny-Car bodies from John's older cars, a couple of bare Funny-Car chassis, one with motor ready to go, a white limousine, a replica of a classic Cobra 427, and a late-model black Mustang Cobra. Dang, we're talking a lot of cars in this place.
Adjacent to the racing facility was the "Untouchables" store, with everything from signed 'used' engine parts to Dale Earnhardt memorabilia. There was one Jeff Gordon Winston Million car (the one with the trick color-changing Chromalusion paint) in 1/24 scale at $149.00. If you're interested, call the store. These die casts are reported to be very rare.
Ken was getting hourly updates from Craig Hoelzel on when John Force would arrive. John had family obligations up North but was calling Craig on his cell phone every hour to give us updates on his arrival time. Craig assured us that John really wanted to be there and so was driving down at a speed only slightly slower than his 323.89-MPH NHRA world-record speed.
At 3:15 PM John pulled up in his car with his entire family. After donning his championship red leather jacket, he was immediately surrounded by diehard SoCalSS members that had waited. John was nice enough to sign everything from die cast cars, to T-shirts, to life size cardboard cutouts of himself that people had purchased. Some people even had John sign the regular shirts and jackets they were wearing. While signing one of the life-sized John Force cutouts, John smiled and said "you're actually going to put that in your house? My wife won't let me; she'd kill me if I did".
After all the merchandise was signed, John turned his attention to the Impala's. Everyone that was there had John sign trunk lids and fuse box covers. The funniest signature belongs to Lori Hernandez, whose trunk says "I Saw Elvis at 1000 feet ... John Force". This is in reference to John's accident last year, when his car blew up mid-run and caught fire. The fiberglass body flew off the car, and the chassis (with John still in it) rolled into the infield and flipped on its side in the dirt. Afterwards, Steve Evans of Diamond P Sports interviewed John and asked how he was. John (still a bit shaken from the accident) said "I saw Elvis at 1000 feet"...hence Lori's signature.
Chino Barreto is honored to have John Force Signature Series Impala #1, with the rest following. John was so accommodating, posing for pictures and signing anything for anyone who asked. He even went through a paint pen or two from all the signing. The personality you see on TV is definitely for real, and you couldn't find a nicer guy, especially in the large "ego" world of NHRA drag racing.
In between signing everything, John would stop to keep us all in stitches with his stories of NHRA racing and practical jokes he's played on people and visa versa. One story he told was about his company car, which has memory seats. His daughters love to reprogram the seats while he's away and he was never sure what was going to happen when he started the car. One time he jumped in the car with an armload of shakes and fries and had them all squashed against his chest when the seat slid as far forward as it would go. When John retires from racing he could have a second career as a stand-up comic.
After more than an hour of signing things, John went inside the shop to take care of some business. Most of the Impala owners who had not yet eaten lunch cruised up to the El Torito for a bite. After many of the people had eaten and left, who comes over to talk some more but...John Force. There were five SS's remaining in the parking lot with Rich, Erik, Lori & Aaron, Albert, Michael, and Tad just hanging out with John Force talking about all sorts of stuff. It was way too cool!
The verdict by John was that the event was a hit from his standpoint. He was afraid he would arrive to a parking lot full of burnout marks and an office full of police. But we managed to restrain ourselves while guests of John and his staff. Since we were such model citizens, John Force Racing will hold other events like ours at their facility.
All of us with SoCalSS would like to thank John Force, Craig Hoelzel, Richelle Davidson and everyone else from Force Racing who gave up their day-off to spend time with us and let us see a little of their special world. This was by far our most memorable cruise yet.
22722 Old Canal Road
Yorba Linda, California 92887
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