Courtney Force seeking breakthrough victory in Bristol
Courtney Force has scored just one win in more than two seasons of NHRA competition, and even that triumph was more than a year ago. So what will it take for her to grab a Wally Trophy again? By Anne Proffit.
The youngest daughter of 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion John Force won the SpringNationals in Houston last May and went on to finish sixth in the championship. And if that doesn’t sound worthy of jubilation, it was still a huge relief for a driver who went winless in 2015 and failed to make the Top 10 in what was a very difficult year for John Force Racing as a whole.
This year is proving more promising but therefore more frustrating – Courtney’s form looks very strong, but she’s coming up short on Sundays. She’s been the No. 1 qualifier in half of the 10 races held thus far in a 24-race season, but she hasn’t been able to convert that form into victory.
It’s enough to drive a racer nuts, but Force is handling the dejection like the professional she is and can at least take solace from her consistency. As the NHRA goes to its third race in three weeks, the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway next to Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Force holds fourth place in points despite her winless streak. She is headed only by the Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger trio comprising reigning champ Ron Capps (four wins), Matt Hagan (three wins) and Jack Beckman, who picked up his first win of the year last weekend in Englishtown, NJ.
She is, therefore, leading the John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro trio, which has just one win to its name, courtesy of her father John. And Courtney has already admitted that one of the gifts she hopes to give him in this Sunday’s Father’s Day eliminations is, well, elimination. Although she might be joking, Courtney relishes each pass against the legendary driver.
“Being able to race against my dad on Father’s Day weekend is something that I really look forward to,” she says. “Hopefully we can give him Sunday off - that’s always the goal coming out to Bristol - to give dad the day off for Father’s Day.
“We’ll see what we can do.”
Despite the humor, it’s truly serious business. They’ve only had one battle this season, in the opener at Pomona in February, and Courtney put 148-race winner John on the trailer in semifinal action.
“I don’t feel bad,” she says. “He’s got plenty of Wallys, so he’s fine.
“Honestly, he’s taught me everything I know in a Funny Car and I have fun when I’m in the lane next to him, competing against him. I try to mess with him, but literally nothing breaks that guy down. I can’t screw him up, even if I try. We have fun with it.”
Last weekend Courtney Force went as far as the semifinals on a hot, greasy Englishtown racetrack, but her error in leaving early left her, again, as the No. 1 qualifier who didn’t secure the victory.
As she prepares for battle this weekend, Courtney will try to ignore the less-than-stellar results in her previous five appearances at Bristol Dragway. She’s never made the finals here and is 2-5 in eliminations, making it out of the first round just twice. Yet she professes to loving the place.
“The atmosphere, the fans are amazing,” says the eight-time race winner. “I love coming here; this is one of my favorite races to come to.”
Maybe her bonhomie is also a result of her imminent birthday. She was born June 20, 1988, the day after John Force won on Father’s Day in Columbus, Ohio. But as she tries to prepare for success over her dad, brother-in-law Robert Hight and a host of other challengers, Courtney’s father strikes a poignant note.
“In my early days, I spent a lot of Father’s Days on the road,” says John Force. “Couldn’t get home to them and I didn’t have the money – I was driving the 18-wheeler.
“To be with kids that I’ve missed so much and to race with them, life’s good for me.”
Beckman looks back on "big" victory in Englishtown
Kalitta, Wilkerson and Jeg Coughlin lead qualifying at the Thunder Valley Nationals