COURTNEY FORCE WINS HISTORIC 100th NHRA FEMALE VICTORY
TOPEKA, KS (May 25, 2014) — Courtney Force raced into the history books today at the 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka winning the Funny Car title and securing the 100th victory for female professionals in the premiere NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. It was Force’s second attempt at earning this important win. Last week Force fell to red-hot teammate Robert Hight in the Southern Nationals final round in Atlanta. Today against Cruz Pedregon the third year driver was not going let this opportunity slip through her Simpson Racing gloves again.
“This is huge. You could see the emotion on my face after I lost last weekend. It is a big deal and it is a milestone for women. Every girl out here wanted to get it. It was close every girl put her heart out there to try and get it. I was crushed after last weekend because I thought to myself that opportunity will never come again and that chance to get 100 will be gone forever,” said an excited Force. “I am still trying to soak it in right now. I have to thank my team and all my sponsors. Once my dad and Robert went out today you could see all those colors coming over to our pit area and thrashing on my car. I want to thank all them and all the crew chiefs. They gave me a good consistent race car all weekend and that is what we were missing from the start of the season.”
The win was not without some self-inflicted drama. Force admitted that nerves and pressure were at an all-time high as she rolled her Traxxas Ford Mustang up to face the two-time Mello Yello Funny Car champion. As she tried to give herself every starting line advantage she inadvertently lit the pre-stage and stage bulbs before Cruz had a chance to pre-stage. This racing faux pas weighed heavily on Force both before and after she ran.
“I almost screwed up on the starting line. I almost failed at my job. I was so nervous and the pressure was through the roof. I was pulling up to the starting line and all I was thinking was Cruz got a hole shot on Robert (Hight). I didn’t want to lose on a hole shot, too,” said Force. “There was a lot on the line. I wanted to roll in a little deep on my pre-stage. I screwed up and rolled it too much and lit both bulbs before he was even staged. Luckily, I left when I needed to. I apologized to Cruz and I sure as heck wasn’t trying to screw him up. I screwed myself up. Luckily we got away with it today.”
This was Courtney Force’s first win in three final round meetings with Cruz Pedregon to whom she lost in the final at the last race of 2012 at Pomona and the first 2013 race at Las Vegas. It’s the second time she has gone wire-to-wire for a win as the No. 1 qualifier. She also won from No. 1 at Pomona in 2013. This was the first time in her career that she reached back-to-back finals. It was the 231st Funny Car win for John Force Racing and continued a streak of 15 consecutive final rounds for the team and now four wins in a row.
“Last week I was in seventh place in the points and now I have shot up to fifth with a shot at the top three. Everybody is close together. All I am trying to do is create the Grand Canyon gap between me and the No. 11 driver. That is all I really care about,” said Force. “We are inching forward every weekend. Two go to back to back finals for my team is huge. I think this is a big weekend for women all together. Brittany and I were No. 1 qualifiers Erica Enders Stevens was so close today in Pro Stock. It just shows that we can dominate fields.”
The fact that she had come so close to getting the 100th win last week Force was asked in the media center if that loss entered her head before the final. The 2012 Auto Club NHRA Rookie of the Year was candid in her response to the media.
“I was thinking about it. That was all that was running through my head. I was thinking about going to another final and thinking about what happened last weekend. That sucked and you don’t want that to happen again. I was telling myself to not lose my focus,” added Force. “Don’t think about the 100th win. So now I was already thinking about it. You try and not screw up. You try and clear your mind. You look at the fans and think I am in the greatest place on earth. I get to be at an NHRA track and I get to drive one of these hot rods and there are little girls coming up to my ropes to wish me luck.
Fourteen women have contributed to the victory total. Four in Funny Car, one in Pro Stock, three in Pro Stock Bike and six in Top Fuel. Shirley Muldowney secured the first pro win June 13, 1976 so it spans 38 years. There have been four wins by women this year prior to Courtney; two each for Erica Enders Stevens (Pro Stock) and Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car).
Force was the No. 1 qualifier, set low ET and Top Speed on the way to her fourth career win which ties her with sister Ashley Force Hood. The Traxxas Ford Mustang driver defeated Dale Creasy Jr., Jeff Arend and Tommy Johnson Jr. to reach her final round race with Pedregon.
For Brittany Force and her Castrol EDGE team, it looked like it was going to be their weekend to win her first Top Fuel event. As she started race day from the number one spot, a first for Brittany Force, she was on track to get that trip to the winner’s circle and potentially claim NHRA’s 100th pro female driver win milestone.
“I’m so happy at how we did this weekend. We were the number one qualifier and we’ve never done that before. We ran a career best 3.74 ET and were super pumped about that so to come out here and go rounds is what we wanted to do,” said Brittany Force.
Unfortunately, a catastrophic engine failure during the semi-final round of eliminations ended her day, but it didn’t dampen Brittany’s spirits or enthusiasm one bit. She’s ready to get strapped into her Castrol EDGE Dragster and hit the drag strip.
“Obviously we wanted to go all the way, make it to the finals and be in the winner’s circle, but our day got cut a little short. However, I’m so proud of my team and we turned it around this weekend and we have a great race car. I’m anxious to get to Englishtown and see what happens,” said Brittany Force.
In the opening round, No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force lined up against Luigi Novelli. This was the first time these two drivers had faced each other in eliminations. At the first hint of green on the Christmas tree, Brittany left the starting line and never looked back. Her Castrol EDGE Dragster ran a 3.872 pass while her competitor in the next lane had difficulties with his car and had to shut it down early in the run. Brittany’s car also some mechanical issues as her car crossed the finish line but she still got the win and advanced to the next round were she would face Khalid alBalooshi.
“Being the number one qualifier, there’s actually a little more pressure and it can be overwhelming but I try to keep my same focus. I’ve also been working on my lights and they’re getting better,” said Brittany Force.
In the second round, Brittany did not have lane choice but he didn’t matter as once again her 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster planted its Goodyear slicks on the pavement and streaked to a 3.828 second run at 322.88 mph over the alBalooshi who smoked the tires almost immediately. Then Brittany was ready for her semi-final match up against Spencer Massey, who she had faced many times in prior races.
During the semi-finals, Brittany’s Castrol EDGE Dragster was on a good run until it hit the lights. That’s when the BOSS 500 engine started to self-destruct and burst into a huge fireball. Massey was able to hold on for the win while Brittany was fined ten NHRA Mello Yello Points for oiling the track. It was a tough break for the 2013 NHRA Rookie of the Year who has working hard on achieving her first win for the Castrol EDGE team.
With Brittany Force being the seventh female driver to qualify No. 1 in Top Fuel in NHRA history, she knows the rac
ing community is looking at even more closely as she’s begun going rounds and hanging tough in the top-ten of the NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel points chase. Leaving Topeka, Brittany’s still in the Top Ten at 8th place, but now she has a 137 point lead over Bob Vandergriff who is in 11th place.
Points leader Robert Hight’s day ended much earlier than anticipated when his Auto Club Ford Mustang was ousted in a first round upset to Cruz Pedregon. Hight took responsibility for the loss and will exit Topeka with his points lead and a determined attitude heading to Englishtown.
“We just have to get back on a roll here. We have everything in place to do that. My Auto Club team did a great job and they gave me a great car. I should have had a better light. An .081 light is not a terrible light but when you go up there and race Cruz Pedregon you have to dig a little deeper,” said Hight, the No 3 qualifier. “He is a two-time world champion for a reason. Luckily we don’t have an off weekend and we will get right back at it in Englishtown. We’ll start another roll next weekend.”
Hight’s team was on a six race streak of final round appearances and a three race win streak. This was the first time Hight was eliminated in the first round in 2014. His round record is now 22-4 for the season.
Hight had one of the most consistent race cars in qualifying at the Kansas Nationals running 4.091, 4.040 and 4.055 seconds and in the first round Hight posted another solid 4.073 second run. Going back to the final three rounds of Atlanta where the Auto Club Ford Mustang got its 33rd win running 4.053, 4.074 and 4.049 it has averaged 4.053 seconds on it last seven runs down the track.
Despite qualifying number one on Friday, and just barely getting bumped from the pole position on Saturday by daughter Courtney, John Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang looked like it was poised for another victory at Heartland Park Topeka. Unfortunately, mechanical gremlins once again appeared during eliminations and ended his day early with a round one loss at the NHRA Kansas Nationals.
“We are just struggling. I don’t like it but we will get it fixed. We are consistent and you have to have a good race car if you are going to win rounds. We got some points in qualifying, but you need round wins to stay ahead out here,” said John Force.
The 16-time NHRA Mello Yello World Champion was hoping to get his 140th career victory and get back in the points chase with teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight today, but he’ll have to wait for next weekend’s NHRA Toyota Nationals in Englishtown, New Jersey.
“We won’t get hurt too bad but we can’t keep having weekends like this. I have sponsors like Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, Traxxas, BrandSource, Auto Club that expect us to win races and that is what we need to do,” said John Force.
To say this first round loss is a disappointment for John Force would be an understatement. However, he will huddle with his crew guys and address the problems that have had him losing early during the last few races.
“I have a brain trust and we will get to work on it right now. The good news is Robert and I will stay No. 1 and No. 2 in the points no matter what but I will be ready for Englishtown. I am going to go root on my girls now,” said John Force.
The crew that works tirelessly on John Force’s 8000 horsepower Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang is just as frustrated to see their efforts go up in smoke on race day. Like their driver, they are under pressure to make the right calls on how the Funny Car is set up on qualifying and race day.
“We are still figuring out this clutch pack. It is just not consistent. We thought we had it going in the right direction and then on that run it didn’t wear the clutch at all and was way too aggressive. We will keep working on it and get ready for Englishtown,” said assistant crew chief Danny DeGennaro
The team leaves Topeka with 566 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points and still in second place. With NHRA Toyota Nationals next weekend, John Force and the crew will head to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for another chance of going rounds and possibly getting his 140th career win.
“The good news is Robert and I will stay No. 1 and No. 2 in the points no matter what but I will be ready for Englishtown. I am going to go root on my girls now,” said John Force.