HomeShowsThe Marty Smith Podcast: John Force Talks Risks of Drag Racing, Including Catching on Fire

The Marty Smith Podcast: John Force Talks Risks of Drag Racing, Including Catching on Fire

by Chris Haney
(Photo by Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images)

In the most recent episode of The Marty Smith Podcast, NHRA drag racing legend John Force joined the show to talk about his iconic career. Not many people know what it’s like to get strapped into a race car that goes over 300 mph, but for Force it’s commonplace. Yet even though drag races are short and fast, plenty can go wrong within those few seconds on the track.

Co-hosts Marty Smith and Wes Blankenship picked John Force’s brain about what it’s like to drive the NHRA Top Fuel cars. The 73-year-old is the most decorated drag racer ever with 16 championships to his name. Add 21 titles as an owner and he’s headed the winningest team in motorsports history. Therefore there’s no one better to describe what it’s like to drive a vehicle that reaches those speeds.

As John Force shared though, anytime you get behind a car that can go upwards of 330 mph, “something could go wrong. The motor could let go and you could be engulfed in fire. And that’s where your real job starts.”

The NHRA has certain safety standards that ensures drag races are as safe as possible. But anytime a machine is traveling at these insanely high speeds, things can quickly take a turn for the worst. According to Force, that’s when a drag racer’s driving skills really kick in.

“It’s hard to explain,” John Force said on The Marty Smith Podcast. “But when you’re on fire is when you really know the seriousness [of the situation]. When you hit a wall at 330, that’s when you know impact, what this ol’ hot rod’s really like.”

NHRA Legend John Force Explains What It’s Like to Be on Fire

The podcast hosts wanted to know more about the experience of driving while engulfed in flames. John Force shared that it comes with the territory of the sport. The most important thing is keeping your wits about you and not panicking.

“So how do you react when you’re on fire? What is that moment like?” Marty Smith asks his guest.

“Well, I always joke, I scream a lot!” John Force said with a laugh. “Not really. The minute that thing lights up, I know I’ve reached for the parachutes. I go, ‘No, don’t hit the ‘chutes too early.’ Depending on the fire, if it’s a big one, you don’t want to burn the ‘chutes off and then have to ride the thing out.”

Force gives credit to the NHRA’s safety protocols and equipment. From the car itself to the protective gear the racers wear, the amount of injuries are reduced significantly within the sport because of safety measures.

“I’ve been very lucky in my career. I always joked I’ve been on fire from here to Australia, and I have been. But in the middle of it, the cars are safe,” Force added. “Yea, I’ve got a few burns on me. I’ve been whacked in the head a few times… but in the process, been real lucky to walk away. You’ve got to give credit to the NHRA safety.”

Yet Force admits that the sport and its cars occasionally have mishaps. It’s bound to happen when racing as fast as they do on drag strips.

“Every now and then, we’ll get a little glitch there. Something will go wrong, somebody will get hurt,” he explained. “But in my career I’ve been real lucky, and so has my family. So we’ll see where it goes.”