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John Force Says It’s ‘Game On’ For His ‘Baby Girl’

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 11 2012

Courtney Force moves up to nitro Funny Cars this year. Her legendary father says her life is about to get tougher. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

John Force sounded exactly like a father when he was asked if he thought his 23-year-old daughter, Courtney, has what it takes to be competitive as a nitro-powered Funny Car driver.

“It’s important to her,” the 15-time NHRA champion said during a telephone conversation on Tuesday. “It’s all she thinks about. It’s more important than boys.”

But as a drag racing legend, Force also knows that want-to alone – even so much want-to that it has put boys on the back burner – is not nearly enough to get his youngest daughter to where both hope she will be in coming years. That, John Force said, will take things like talent and fast cars.

And most of all, he said when asked if Courtney was ready to make the jump from college student/Top Alcohol driver to Funny Car, it will take “seat time.”

“Is she ready? I didn’t think she was ready to learn how to swim when I threw her in the pool. She probably won’t remember that. Sometimes you got to take that leap. Has she bumped the wall a few times? You bet. Has she run over 300? You bet. She ran 312 (in a test), quick enough to qualify in almost every NHRA event. She got her license. Now it’s time to put her in the game.”

John Force Racing made the much anticipated announcement that Courtney would move up to nitro Funnies on Tuesday. In the announcement, made at the team’s headquarters in Yorba Linda, Calif.,

Courtney Force is following the same plan that was used by sister Ashley.

team-owner Force revealed that Courtney would drive a Ford Mustang sponsored by Dallas-based Traxxas radio-controled cars in 2012.

The car will be tuned by veteran crew chief Ron Douglas and will increase the size of Force’s Funny Car stable to four cars – one each for Force himself, Mike Neff, Robert Hight and Courtney.

For Courtney, the announcement ended a very long period of anticipation.

“This is a big deal,” she said during a separate phone conversation. “I knew ever since I was little that I was going to grow up one day and be a race car driver and compete against my dad. It was just a matter of time. It’s crazy that it’s finally now that time and I am kind of able to live my dream out.”

Courtney’s nitro program actually launched last year. Between classes at Cal State-Fullerton, where she got her degree in Communications, she tested in her dad’s cars; his Funny Car and the three-rail dragster on which JFR is working.

At a test in Las Vegas, she made the 312 mph pass.But she also says of the total number of 1,000-foot runs she made last year, “There were some good ones and some bad ones.”

Asked about running 300 mph in cars known for their fussiness, Courtney said, “When the car is on a

John Force will put his youngest daughter in a 300 mph 'rocket'. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

good pass, it’s on a good pass and it feels great. When it goes straight, it goes straight as an arrow. Going 300 is fast, but it’s the ride of a lifetime. It is like strapping yourself into a rocket, but the adrenaline makes it worth it.”

Later this month, Courtney will get an adult dosage of adrenaline as she will take part in the annual week of open testing for NHRA cars at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida. Then, next month, things will get even more intense as she debuts at the historic, season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

The time has come, as her father said, to “go against the pressure the boys will put on her and it’s going to be tough.”

Nervous?, Courtney was asked.

“A little,” she said.

John did not have to be asked about nerves: It will be his “baby girl” strapped into a rocket in a couple of weeks. And she will be in a sport that has beat the stuffings out of very hard older men.

“We could use another four, six months testing her,” he said. “But, I’ve had guys earn their licenses in four or five runs. Like Robert tested a couple of weekends and he went right out in the hunt and finished in the top 10.”

Top 10s will not be a top priority for Courtney in the early going.

“She has to know she’s got a lot to learn,” John Force said. “This ain’t about winning right now. I said, ‘You go out there and you learn. You went out there all those years in college and now I’m sending you back to college. You got to go out there and learn. The boys will beat on ya, they’ll play head games sometimes, but if you treat them with respect, they’ll learn to respect you. They’re going to whip you, they’re going to hole-shot you, they’re going to do everything you can imagine and harass you that you are woman and you don’t belong there.

“And if it gets too tough, then big daddy, old Forcey, will step up to the plate with Mike Neff and Robert Hight and we’ll be right there.’ ”

Old Forcey, of course, has been through this all before. Like in 2007 when his oldest daughter, Ashley Force Hood, began her Funny Car career – a career now on hold as the 29-year-old has taken time off to start a family.

The first daughter run-through turned out well as Ashley made the Countdown playoffs three times and finished second and third in points in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Ashley, who twice won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, has been working with Courtney to prep her for life on-track as well as off-track.

But big sister also may have inadvertently caused little sister problems by “coming out and blowing everybody away,” Courtney said. “Definitely big shoes to fill.”

For sure. But John Force just knows this about “that blond girl with blue eyes”:

“It’s time to put her in the game. It’s going to be tough. But I think she can handle it and she sure ain’t afraid of it. Oh, she might pass a tear or two every now and then. She’s very emotional, she’s like Ashley, but she’s a fighter. I think she can drive that hot rod.

“Game on. Let’s go.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 11 2012
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