: What are some of your memories of racing in the March Meet?

Force: The March Meet was a big part of my early years of drag racing. I remember racing at Famoso and Weld Wheels was one of my first sponsors. I was making a run and my wheel came off. I stopped but the wheel kept going down the track – it outran me. I’ve been racing Funny Cars for 33 years. I’ve had Castrol as a sponsor for 25 years and the Auto Club for 15. But back in the early days, I didn’t have the money or the sponsors. It was a struggle. I was jumping around the country lookin’ for places to race, doing a lot match races. But if you wanted to be anybody, you had to go to the March Meet. That’s where all the best raced, like Snake and Mongoose. I would go there and come out swinging – you had to. I didn’t even have a uniform. I had to buy t-shirts from the local Wendy’s.

The March Meet is back. It should be an NHRA event again. I’m going back as Grand Marshal. I’m excited, but I don’t know what to do. I’m going up with Robert Hight. He loves it up there. They all know him there. Me, I’m a 14-time champion and people now call me ‘Ashley’s dad.’ I don’t care: I’m the Grand Marshal of the March Meet.

: Cruz Pedregon is driving a replica of the Joe Pisano 1978 Plymouth Arrow Funny Car at this year’s event. Ever think about racing again at the March Meet?

Force: I know Worsham and Capps race there, too. I actually have the Brute Force car in my Yorba Linda museum, but know that the March Meet crowd has seen it there before, so it’ll probably just be me and Robert. I’m a hot rodder and that’s what Bakersfield is all about – winning. Pisano used to spank me, but one day, John Force will drive again at the March Meet. You can take that to the bank.

: What were the early days of Funny Car like?

Force: They were tough. The cars weren’t computerized like today. We had to shift into high gear – really jerk it. There was a lot going on. And fire was a big issue. But whether you’re runnin’ at 250 or 350, if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t get in. The March Meet is a big part of the history of the sport, like Wally Parks. We all love the old days, but it had to evolve. Safety, speed and sponsorships all had to grow. The sport is much safer now. In the 50 years of NHRA racing, we’ve only lost a handful of drivers. You lose that many in one day on LA freeways. I’m really glad I’m going to the March Meet again. I used to sneak in. I remember it all from the early days. Who you are today has no meaning without history.

Now celebrating 52 years of racing, the March Meet is a three-day speedfest that enthusiasts call ‘the jewel of Nostalgia Racing.’ It attracts drag racers and spectators from around the world and also includes a hot rod car show, swap meet and a vendors’ midway. Drag racing legend John Force is this year’s Grand Marshal.

The 2010 March Meet is also the first race of the Hot Rod Heritage Series, the NHRA’s 9-race nostalgia racing series.