A Boy's Story: Racing in Australia
John Force got off the airplane and was happy to feel the firmness of the earth beneath his feet. He was 26 years old and it had been his first plane ride ever and a long one it was. All the way from Los Angeles, California to Sydney, Australia. A hot wind blew off the outback and he knew he was in the land down under.
The first thing he did was head straight for something familiar. He spied a McDonald's restaurant on the way to the hotel and pulled in for a bite to eat. But things are a little upside down in the land down-under and he found an egg in his hamburger. Once again he asked himself, "What am I doing here?" What indeed?
It was just before Christmas 1975 in Los Angeles and John was broke. He was driving a truck for Garrett Freight Lines and spending his time dreaming about driving a racecar, when he got a phone call from his cousin, Gene Beaver. Gene indicated that he had given up on a proposed Australian tour but if John wanted the car he might get the tour with it. The only problem was John would have to fix the broken car, which was now back in the states.
John jumped at the chance to finally own a racecar. He took his income tax check and gave the money to Gene on the proviso that Gene would help him keep the Australian tour. John fixed up the car, painted it silver and put Brute Force on the side. It was the first real racecar John had ever owned. It was a beauty.
He borrowed another thousand dollars from his good friend Joe Schenkle to buy a reverser for the car and John was ready to go. He hired "Shooter Doug" Robinson, a boat racer and former crew chief on a car owned by Beaver Brothers and Condit, cousins all. Another friend, Bruce Thorson, went along to do bottom end, something Thorson had never done before either. John had worked on a number of racecars for years but this was his first professional outing.
The promoter of the tour wanted to know exactly who John Force was before he would have the car shipped back to Australia. John took his Brute Force car out to Orange County Raceway and parked it next to Mickey Thompson's car in the glue box and took a picture. He sent the picture to the Australian promoter. The whole thing was practically a scam, but they wanted an American racer and John was going to give them one. The promoter figured that anyone racing against Mickey Thompson must be good so he hired Force for the tour. John would later say of that moment, "I didn't have a clue what I was doing."
Gary Densham was going down to Australia to run his Teachers Pet car and John was set to join him on the tour. John tells it in his own words:
"At the time I was living in La Mirada, California, in my brother Walker's house and I remember walking out the driveway and my brother telling me I should not give up my real job to go gallivanting around the world. The next day I took off for Australia. My team and I wore cowboy hats and western jackets because everyone in Australia thought that everyone in America was a cowboy like John Wayne.
"We flew to the Fiji Islands and then on to Sydney. I had never been on an airplane in my life. In fact I had only been out of California to Oregon and Arizona a couple of times. My first experience in a foreign country I bit into a cheeseburger and it exploded. They put eggs over-easy on everything in Australia. Another thing I learned, they didn't have air conditioning in 1975 and you had to eat your meals inside the hotels.
"I was in my early 20s but had never drank a beer. I got my first drinking experience down there because Australians drink beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The beer is always hot, too. It was a real experience but we had lots of fun. From there I went on to Surfers Paradise racetrack. I had seen the movie Jaws and I swore I would never go back into the water. Well I was swimming in the ocean at Surfers Paradise when I heard loud air horns go off in the city. I thought it was an air-raid siren. A great white shark had moved into where they had the nets and everybody swam for the beach and ran out of the water. Security guards with guns ran toward the beach and it was a big ol' deal. I never swam in any ocean again.
"Later on we traveled to Brisbane and I met with folks there, it was unbelievable how well the Australian people treated us. They took me all the way to Adelaide because it was the only place to get pancakes in all of Australia. I remember a big Aussie named Stomper who had a big furry head of hair and was straight out of the outback. He used to bring me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that his mother made me cause I just craved peanut butter and jelly and couldn't find it anywhere.
"On opening day at Surfers Paradise they asked me to do a TV commercial. I had a total of two motors to my name. On the first run for the TV commercial the motor exploded and set the car on fire. Gary Densham was in shock. It took two days to put the car back together. We had no idea what we were doing.
"And to show you how luck would take us I went out on the first run of the first race and did a burn out and then couldn't get the car into reverse. My car was a high gear Chevy Vega with my first two sponsors, Don Steves Chevrolet and Wally Thor's Truckmasters School of Driving smack clear down the side of it.
"Then on the second run the car went out and made a right turn. They didn't have guardrails and I remember driving up over the grass with people running everywhere, throwing their lunches and beer cans, trying to get out of my way. It was quite an experience.
"But then something happened in the finals. At a 1,000 feet, the car exploded and caught on fire. I had beat Gary Densham and I went out into a cornfield in the middle of the dark. I remember the fire went out but no one came to me. And I was sittin' out there 'cause they opened the gates at the end of the racetrack in case the car had brake failure so you could go out into a field. And all of a sudden I saw these eyes looking through the window and I thought it was a close encounter … It was a cow. I had almost run over a herd of cows standing in a cow pasture.
"At that point I had lost every motor that I had. We were out of business. When I got back that night the promoter, Dave Harding was his name, paid me and said, 'You don't know how to race do you? This is all a big scam.' I said 'Yes sir, it is.' I had put my heart into this deal and thought I could do it. I still believed that I could drive a racecar. But I went back to the hotel that night knowing that I would have to swim back to the United States. The tour was over. When I left, Gary Densham was shaking his head in disbelief, he had never heard of me either.
"The next morning I was awakened by somebody beating on my hotel door. It was my 6-foot 4-inch Aussie friend Stomper. When I opened the door he was standing there holding up a Sydney newspaper with giant headlines on the front page. I'll never forget. It said: 'American makes quickest run in Australian history.' I was the fastest car in the country. No one had ever done this before.
By pure luck and faith in God I was an instant hero. The promoter came back and said 'Well, now I have to keep you.' What they did was they got Gary Densham to help me and they hired Sid Waterman from California to help run my car and that was my first meeting with Sid. He shipped me one motor and all of my money was sent directly to him every week except enough for my crew and me to eat.
"So there I was on tour during Christmas and through New Year's with Gary Densham beating me up every week. It was the first time crowds had cheered for me, they didn't care how fast I ran, they just wanted to see me on fire. They wanted to hear this American truck driver talk that American talk. I talked my way through the whole tour. I just pretended I was John Wayne and I raced. I loved it. But I could not have done it without a lot of people's help.
"When I left Australia I was the fastest guy alive over there. When I got back to the United States I decided that my days as a truck driver were over and that I was going to be a racecar driver. "
This article is from a book in progress., written by John Force's oldest brother, retired L. A. Sheriff's Lieutenant Walker R. Force. Used with permission.
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