Time To Be Sorry

Stan Creekmore


John Force is learning a valuable lesson.

There is a time to be a boss worried about the success of his company and an even more important a time to just be a father, Courtney Force's accident in Seattle was the impetus.

Force climbed into the ambulance where Courtney was receiving preliminary treatment. To Force she appeared to be in shock.

“I climbed in the ambulance asking questions and a paramedic who was evaluating Courtney asked 'who is he?' explained Force.

“He's her father,” responded another paramedic.

Force's mind was racing 330 miles an hour. Force still needed to run his first round of eliminations and Courtney had hit the concrete barrier in her run. The concrete barrier Courtney's Traxxas Chevrolet hit had moved “four to five feet” according to Force. Courtney had hit one of her knees on something inside the car and had a tremendous headache.

Courtney's biggest concern wasn't her knee or her headache, according to Force. Her concern was the damage to the racecar.

Laurie Force, Courtney's mother, stepped in sending her husband out of the ambulance and back to his Peak Chevrolet Funny Car while she went along in the ambulance with Courtney to Valley Medical Center in Renton, Wash.  Brittany Force also rode in the ambulance with her sister while Ashley drove to the hospital.

The move would turn out to be the first step in Force's realization he was not being the father he needed to be.

Force lost his first round run against Tommy Johnson, Jr., the third run just over an hour after Curtney's incident. Force climbed from his racecar down at the end of the track and went directly to the hospital to see his Courtney. The move was a change in Force's typical routine.

“I never left an event before unless I left it in a ambulance,” revealed Force.

Arriving at the hospital immediately returned him to dictator mode. What had been done? How was his Courtney? What test were done? How was Courtney? The race car was destroyed! Was she going to be able to walk and drive her race car in Brainerd, Minnesota? When we should be released?

The MRI showed Courtney's right knee was swollen but serious damage had not occurred according to Force. Her head hurt. She was still apologizing for her vehicle being destroyed. Her mother, Laurie stepped in again.

“Go to the hotel,” was the message Laurie delivered to her husband. “I am the mother and I will take care of her. Go back to your business.”

Force has simply been more of a boss and not nearly enough of a father.

The final straw at the hospital was the realization Courtney's husband, Indy car driver Graham Rahal, was sending his personal jet plane to ensure Courtney could be safely transported home.

Force went a little overboard. He could just not accept a husband was doing the right thing for a wife. Force's concern was the cost of flying on the plane.

Once the family reached their summer home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada Force was still not just being a father.

Laurie, in her calm manner, reminded Force to go to their home in California. So Force commandeered Brittany's car and drove to Yorba Linda, California. All the way there Force thought about what it would take to get a new car ready in 10 days for Courtney to race at Brainerd.

Courtney would later travel to Yorba Linda where additional tests would show her knee would heal without any surgery. The big question would be her headaches. As of the Saturday after the Seattle incident Courtney was free of headaches.

Force, staying clear, headed to Summit Motorsports Park for a performance in the Spectacular Night Under Fire, his 21st year of being a part of the event. Being at the event, sitting in the office of Bill Bader, Jr., the track president, revealed to Force he needed to make a change, not in his heart, just in his presentation.

From Bader, Force learned he needed to set down the pen and just be a father when away from the track with his family. He should have sat next to Courtney's hospital bed, held her hand, reminded her he loved her and prayed with her for her speedy recovery. In Lake Tahoe, talking about her being healthy enough to race at Brainerd should have been more about her just being healthy.

The conversation in Bader's office at Summit struck deep into Force's heart. The words revealed to him he needed to sit down with his family, his wife, his daughters, his sons-in-law and his grandchildren and apologize for his dictatorial mannerisms throughout their entire lives.

Forces final words in this interview, words he repeated at least a dozen times, were “I'm sorry. I need to sit down with my family and tell them I am sorry. Laurie, I am sorry. Ashley, thank you for busting my a$$, I am sorry. Brittany, I am sorry. Courtney, I am sorry.

The apology to Courtney is the biggest in his heart. The most important in his mind.

“I will work hard to change. I need to remember there is nothing more important in my life than my family.”