BROWNSBURG — Mother Nature was the only victor at this weekend’s U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, but she stayed away from one of the rites of the end of summer here: the John Force Racing Summer Car Show.
The popular show typically brings about 10,000 visitors to the John Force Racing complex here. Some came three hours in advance to stand in line for autographs from the team’s drivers, some came to tour the garage and the Eric Medlen Museum, and some came to participate in the car show.
The annual show is about the only time race fans can see the guts of the garage, but it’s also special for the drivers as they gear up for what they call the Super Bowl of racing: the U.S. Nationals.
Nationals were rained out last weekend, but have been moved to this weekend.
“It’s a community deal here in Brownsburg,” John Force said. “But they come in from out of the country. But it’s fun for us because fans are what we do. They’re our lifeline.”
Driver Robert Hight said the event has special meaning to many fans.
“We have people come here each year just to see the Eric Medlen Project,” he said. “Every Sunday night they have a get together around his statue and his dad lives here. People bring things that remind us of Eric every year and you get to see his museum above our store. That’s what really stands out to me.”
The team’s devotion to their fallen friend, who died in a crash in 2007, is evident throughout the day. Fans packed the museum, which is adorned with photos of Medlen that fans have sent in over the years. His famous quote — “You can never be sad when you’re eating ice cream” — hangs above an office in the museum.
“We’re really trying to build in this community,” Force said. “We work here, but we’re building with the restaurants, catering, and the fans come, and that’s the cool part. They can see our machine shops, the Eric Medlen Project. Everything’s about safety. Fans are funny. They’re really loyal. If you drive a Budweiser car, they’ll drink Budweiser. They’ll use Castrol Oil.
“The one that gets me the most, and I’ve had it four or five times, is a fan will come up to me holding a baby and say ‘what do you think of this picture?’ Then you look at the baby and say ‘when did we take this, because the baby didn’t age?’ And the guy says that this is his baby and that was his mom or dad holding him. Here this guy is 25 with a kid. It’s pretty cool when you see generations of kids and that’s what we have as a big family here.”
Hight said the annual open house and car show has become a tradition.
“It kicks off the biggest race of the year, but it’s also cool that all the people that work in the facility, they get to be a part of this weekend as well and be a part of the races, and hopefully get them into the winner’s circle,” Hight said.
Fans were also able to meet John’s daughter Courtney, who also races.
“Anytime you can have driver and fan interaction, it’s amazing,” she said. “They get to see the cars and they’re really excited for the race. It’s really awesome that people get to see our car show, that we get to welcome them to our shop, and see the excitement for the race.
Doing well so far on her rookie season, Courtney Force said things were going even better than she had expected.
“As a rookie, I was really just hoping to learn a lot, which I’ve done, and it’s been awesome,” she said. “I have a great crew behind me and they’ve all been very supportive. We won an event, so that was a huge accomplishment. I really couldn’t ask for it to be any better.”
John Force offered some advice to young fans that hope one day to be where he is, hosting his own car show and tearing up the NHRA circuit.
“Get an education,” he said. “I had to learn it the hard way. What I say to everybody is don’t take a job in racing if you don’t love it. Don’t do it because you want to make money. You work too many hours. But get an education. Go to college, whatever it takes to get you there, and love what you do. If you’re going to jump out here, whether you have money or not, you’re going to struggle for a long time. I struggled for 15 years — starved. Now we’re doing good, but there were a number of times I thought about quitting. But that’s what America offers: a chance.”