NHRA Notes: Courtney Force Models Her Genes

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 10 2012

Courtney Force got her nitro career rolling on Thursday in the Winternationals. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

On her first day as a real-gosh-darn NHRA Funny Car driver, Courtney Force showed speed. And, she showed savvy.

Her 4.21 second/303.16 mph pass in the first round of qualifying for the NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona was sixth fastest on the day. And it was just a blink slower than the one laid down by her 15-time-champion father, John Force, who was fifth fastest.

After pulling free of her helmet, and being told that she would stage next to her father in Friday’s second round of qualifying, the 23-year-old Courtney showed the savvy part.

“I bet ESPN is happy about that,” she said.

Pop was happy, that was for sure.

“Courtney had some first day jitters but so did I,” Force, who has won the season-opening Winternationals five times, said. “She went A to B just like Ashley (Force, his oldest daughter) did. She kept her nose clean. It got a little loose at about 800 feet but she drove it and kept it off the wall. She got it to the lights and I think she is No. 6 in the show right now. I am so proud of her because I know the pressure is on her.

“I love seeing the women like Courtney and (rookie of the year candidate) Alexis (De Joria) getting into the show. That is big for our sport. I am not just talking about my kid but it is big for our whole sport. Women will put fans in the stands.”

DeJoria, racing a Kalitta Toyota Solara Funny, was 10th fastest Thursday with a pass of 4.438/211.00 mph.

Courtney, a recent college graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, has been testing Top Fuel cars for months. Testing with her dad watching and helping.

But on Friday, she made her first 1,000-foot run with points on the line.

“It is a little different when you are running with someone else in the other lane,” she said. “You want your routine to be OK. You don’t want to be too slow or too fast. There are a bunch of little things that I am still working on as a new driver.

“Testing by myself last season made it harder to figure out how my routine was coming together. I learned a lot in Florida when we were testing and it is going to be fun to run beside my dad. I couldn’t have asked for a better match up. That is amazing it worked out like that. I am really excited and we’ll have a lot of fun with it.”

It doesn’t take much to get John Force emotional. Two things got him emotional on Thursday at Auto Club Raceway and neither of them were small things.

The first was the nitro debut of his youngest daughter.

The second was looking up and seeing his name on a section of the grandstands at the historic Pomona strip.

The Top Eliminator grandstands were re-named the John Force grandstands and their namesake was able to see the signage adorning the stands for the first time. They are adjacent to the Don “The Snake” Prudhomme section.

“Don Prudhomme was my hero,” Force said. “You look at all the greats from (Don) Garlits to Shirley (Muldowney) to (Kenny) Bernstein, I just wanted to be able to stand next to them and race with them. Don Prudhomme was the guy for me. He was the guy I set my goals after, him and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. To have my name next to his is just like being beside Garlits. You can’t get better than that. I am living life at its fullest. I am getting a second chance with this leg. It is going to be a very interesting season and I am ready for it.”

Defending Funny Car champion Matt Hagan played it conservatively on Thursday.

He was content with how his Tommy DeLago-tuned Dodge performed on its run of 4.177 seconds at 307.23 mph that earned them the No. 4 qualifying spot.

After seeing several Funny Cars ahead of him smoke the tires, the Don Schumacher Racing driver said DeLago backed down the tune-up to be more conservative and make sure the team was able to get solid run and get into the 16-car field.

“Our Aaron’s Dodge was on a pretty good run early,” Hagan said between bites. “We’re solid in the show that’s what matters.”

Top Fueler Steve Torrence headed to Pomona as an owner/driver for the first time. So, he must have felt doubly good about the way his day went.

Torrence, who left his ride with Dexter Tuttle’s team in the middle of the 2011 season, on Thursday afternoon put the Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. dragster into the provisional No. 4 starting position on his first qualifying run for Sunday’s Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

“First, I am happy to be here,” said Torrence following his 3.857-second, 318.39-mph 1,000 foot run. “The off-season is over and we were ready to go racing. That was a great run. I am pleased with the efforts of (crew chief) Richard Hogan and our crew.

“The car went straight down the track and it was a nice, clean pass.”

“We didn’t race here last year,” said Hogan, “so we didn’t have any data. I used our runs from last year’s race at Las Vegas (as a baseline) and everything did what it was supposed to.”

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 10 2012
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