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First Victory Leaves Forces Semi Speechless

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 6 2012

Courtney Force gets a traditional dousing after winning her first NHRA Funny Car race. It came at the Northwest Nationals on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Courtney Force’s first professional NHRA Wally trophy has been in the planning stages for three years. But even she was left (almost) speechless Sunday after defeating three world champions – including father/15-time title-holder John Force – to win the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries.

“I honestly am still in shock. I think I’m still shaking,” Courtney, 24, said after defeating reigning world champion Matt Hagan in the final at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash. “I mean, coming back out here to Seattle, there are some good memories and some bad.

“I remember coming out here and getting my Top Alcohol Dragster win (in 2009). I looked at that Wally and remember thinking how much I couldn’t wait for the day I could get one that said ‘Funny Car’ on the side. Being that it’s my rookie season, I didn’t expect it to happen this year at all. It’s been an amazing day.”

Courtney recorded her breakthrough victory in just her third final-round appearance on a day that also saw Erica Enders score her second Pro Stock win of the season. It marked the first time in NHRA history that two women professional drivers claimed Wallys during the same event. In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence earned his third career victory as the grueling, three-race Western Swing wrapped-up without any pro driver sweeping the tour.

Additionally, Seattle-native Megan Ellingson won the Super Street title in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series,

Courtney Force gets lift from her dad, whom she beat in the semifinals on Sunday.

NHRA’s Sportsman category – making it the first NHRA event in which three women claimed victories across all categories of competition.

“The women know their drill,” said John Force, who has orchestrated the Funny Car careers of daughters Ashley Force Hood and Courtney at John Force Racing. “I’m also really proud of Erica Enders to go out there and do what she did. Shirley (Muldowney, former Top Fuel champion) started all this with a number of other women. These are the young kids; they are our future. It’s awesome where they are going to be in 10 years. It’s a sport for the women. It has always been a sport for the men but the rules are changing.”

That sentiment was echoed by the outspoken Courtney Force, driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang. “We’re not just out here to race the boys,” she said. “We’re here to beat the boys and today just proves that.”

Courtney defeated former Funny Car world champions Cruz Pedregon, father John and Hagan, as well as Bob Tasca III to becoming the 13th different woman to win a national event in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Included in that group is older sister Ashley, a former Funny Car national event winner who is on sabbatical from the sport while raising a family.

Courtney also is the eighth different John Force Racing Funny Car driver to win an NHRA national event, joining her father and sister, brother-in-law Robert Hight, Mike Neff, Tony Pedregon, Eric Medlen and Gary Densham.

Courtney posted her first national event win as a Sportsman racer in the Lucas Oil Series at Pacific Raceways in ’09. She also experienced the most challenging race of her fledgling career at the facility in 2010 when she managed to avoid an accident while racing Mike Austin. Force’s right rear tire exploded, destroying a portion of her Ford Racing Top Alcohol Dragster’s rear wing.

Ashley Force Hood recorded her first Funny Car win in April 2008 during her 27th national event and 23rd start in the Funny Car class. Courtney reached the victory podium in just 15 races.

“I’m definitely on a learning curve this whole season,” Courtney said. “I’ve been learning something new at every racetrack. This one was a little bit more familiar to me, but it’s tough. There’s a narrow groove and this car was trying to pull me over to the left in both lanes and (I was) just trying to keep it straight.”

Courtney qualified No. 14 on the 16-car ladder – her worst start of the season through 15 events – but began her march with a first-round win over two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon. “That was definitely a big run for me,” Courtney said. “Cruz Pedregon is a tough competitor. I grew up watching him race my dad. Getting that win light was huge for us. We want to get that No. 6 (points) spot back for this Traxxas Ford Mustang. We needed that run.”

Courtney moved closer to her third final in five races with wins over family friend Tasca, her father and Hagan.

It was women's day in the NHRA Sunday as Erica Enders and Courtney Force each won Wallys.

Force’s 4.238-second 1,000-foot pass at 293.54 mph in the final was too much for Hagan’s 4.328-second run at 276.58 mph.

“Every guy worries about losing to a girl, but I don’t at all,” said Hagan, driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. “She’s a great driver and doing a heck of a job. She’s driving the wheels off that thing.”

Brut Force, meanwhile, kept a number of his pursuers at bay, including Alexis DeJoria, en route to racing into the semifinals before falling to his youngest daughter.

“When you go up against these kids like my own daughter, Courtney, or DeJoria…she has big money out there. That is a dog fight,” said John Force, driver of the Castrol High-Mileage Mustang. “I have Hagan breathing down my neck and (Tim) Wilkerson is coming on. This old man is trying to stay in the fight. There’s a lot of good stuff happening with our team, it’s called teamwork. If anybody fails at this it’s probably me.”

Going up against his daughter in the semis admittedly was tough for the elder Force. “She really did it herself out there today,” said Force, a seven-time Northwest Nationals winner. “She is kind of wired-up like me but she has that coolness like her mom. Before the final she said, ‘Dad, my helmet has a big old scratch down the middle of the visor.’ I went into full panic mode on the starting line. She said it was OK because she could see the (Christmas) tree to the right of the scratch. Me, I would have been pulling my helmet off. I’m just proud of her.

“It’s funny, it took me 10 or 12 years to win my first race. It took Ashley two years and Courtney said at the top end it was the first time she beat Ashley to anything in the Funny Car: ‘I finally did something ahead of her.’^”

In Pro Stock, Enders drove her GK Racing Chevrolet Cobalt to the winner’s circle after defeating reigning world champion Jason Line and his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Enders became the first woman to win a Pro Stock national event when she defeated four-time world champion Greg Anderson, Line’s teammate, in the final of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill., on July 1.

“I’m so proud of my guys because they won this race today,” said Enders, who drives for team-owner Victor Cagnazzi. “They gave me a great car to drive, and we drove it right to the winner’s circle. I’m honored to be their driver and hopefully we can get a few more wins before the season is over.”

Enders took out three of the heavy hitters in Pro Stock including Anderson in the quarterfinals; point- leader and winner of the past two events Allen Johnson in the semifinals and Line in the final round.

“Beating those guys is something else because they’ve always been on the top of my list, guys that I’ve looked up to my entire life,” Enders said. “Allen and Pam (Johnson) are very good friends of mine. I knew that (Allen) wanted to sweep (the Western Swing), but I told him I was going to take that dadgum broom out of his hand, and he wasn’t leaving here with it. I’m just very proud to do it for (sponsor) Gaston Kirby and the team.”

With the win, Enders clinched a spot among the top-10 in the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs that start at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., Sept. 14-16.

Meanwhile, Texas native Torrence earned his first Top Fuel victory at Pacific Raceways under unseasonably hot conditions. “We’ll take them anyway we can get them,” said Torrence, owner/driver of the Capco Contractors Inc. dragster. “It wasn’t pretty. We definitely had to work for it but we got our third win of the season and I’m so proud of my team.”

Torrence raced fellow young-gun Shawn Langdon and his Al-Anabi Racing dragster in the final , with Torrence’s 4.168-second 1,000-foot pass at 261.98 mph enough to take out a tire-smoking Langdon. Earlier, Langdon defeated DSR’s Antron Brown to end his bid to sweep the Western Swing for a second time.

“Shawn had me nervous in the final,” Torrence said. “He’s a great ‘leaver’ and a great race car driver. I counted on (crew chief) Richard Hogan and had a lot of confidence and did my job. I felt it start to knock the tire off in the final round and went as quick as I could to get it back going. We’re living lucky.”

Torrence also clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

The next NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event is the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Aug. 16-19, at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minn.

Final finishing order (1-16) at the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Pacific Raceways. The race was the 15th of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Shawn Langdon; 3. Doug Kalitta; 4. David Grubnic; 5. Khalid alBalooshi; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Spencer Massey; 8. Tony Schumacher; 9. Clay Millican; 10. Morgan Lucas; 11. Brandon Bernstein; 12. Scott Palmer; 13.Terry McMillen; 14. Ron Smith; 15. Steve Chrisman; 16. Bob Vandergriff Jr.

Funny Car _ 1. Courtney Force; 2. Matt Hagan; 3. Ron Capps; 4. John Force; 5. Tim Wilkerson; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Bob Tasca III; 8. Johnny Gray; 9. Alexis DeJoria; 10. Tony Pedregon; 11. Jeff Arend; 12. Mike Neff; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Robert Hight; 15. Gary Densham; 16. Jeff Diehl.

Pro Stock _1. Erica Enders; 2. Jason Line; 3. Vincent Nobile; 4. Allen Johnson; 5. V. Gaines; 6. Greg Anderson; 7. Warren Johnson; 8. Mike Edwards; 9. Ron Krisher; 10. Matt Hartford; 11. Mark Wolfe; 12. Kurt Johnson; 13. Shane Gray; 14. Larry Morgan; 15. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 16. JR Carr.

Sunday’s final results from the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals:

Top Fuel _ Steve Torrence, 4.168-seconds, 261.98 mph def. Shawn Langdon, 4.329-seconds, 254.57 mph.

Funny Car _ Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.238, 293.54 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.328, 276.58.

Pro Stock _ Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.614, 209.65 def. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.631, 209.72.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Chris Demke, 11.370, 46.05 def. Jim Whiteley, 11.763, 50.91.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ John Evanchuk, Chevy Monte Carlo, 6.582, 230.88 def. Steve Gasparrelli, Monte Carlo, 6.803, 244.92.

Competition Eliminator _ Mike DePalma, Pontiac Trans Am, 8.999, 149.93 def. Brandon Huhtala, Pontiac GXP, 7.344, 186.85.

Super Stock _ Joe Sorensen, Chevy Camaro, 10.321, 121.65 def. Jody Lang, Chevy Malibu, 10.877, 120.20.

Stock Eliminator _ Brad Plourd, Chevy Nova, 12.562, 95.13 def. Dallas Glenn, Chevy Corvette, 10.870, 120.16.

Super Comp _ Brad Plourd, Dragster, 8.925, 157.48 def. Stefan Kondolay, Dragster, 8.899, 171.51.

Super Gas _ Ken Mostowich, Chevy Corvette, 9.896, 166.70 def. Mike Shannon, Corvette, 9.892, 154.46.

Super Street _ Megan Ellingson, Chevy Chevelle, 10.849, 134.50 def. Jason Gibson, Ford Mustang, foul.

Final round-by-round results from the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Khalid alBalooshi, 3.881, 318.54 def. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 9.333, 82.39; Shawn Langdon, 3.838, 316.15 def. Terry McMillen, 5.647, 120.26; Antron Brown, 3.859, 313.95 def. Clay Millican, 3.926, 294.05; Steve Torrence, 4.563, 208.46 def. Steve Chrisman, 6.880, 84.31; Tony Schumacher, 3.828, 318.62 def. Scott Palmer, 5.178, 143.32; Spencer Massey, 3.824, 320.51 def. Ron Smith, 6.834,88.95; Doug Kalitta, 3.842, 317.87 def. Brandon Bernstein, 3.940, 297.75; David Grubnic, 3.854, 312.28 def. Morgan Lucas, 3.935, 264.86;

QUARTERFINALS _Torrence, 3.879, 303.03 def. alBalooshi, 3.877, 312.64; Langdon, 3.852, 314.83 def. Brown, 4.267, 224.06; Kalitta, 5.386, 229.27 def. Schumacher, foul; Grubnic, 3.958, 281.42 def. Massey, 5.067, 151.90;

SEMIFINALS _ Torrence, 4.138, 274.89 def. Kalitta, 6.310, 142.39; Langdon, 4.777, 223.39 def. Grubnic, 6.379, 133.33;

FINAL _ Torrence, 4.168, 261.98 def. Langdon,4.329, 254.57.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.164, 301.33 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.710, 189.71; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.118, 296.89 def. Jeff Diehl, Chevy Monte Carlo, broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.152, 300.53 def. Gary Densham, Charger, 5.240, 143.11; Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.159, 304.05 def. Robert Hight, Mustang, 5.059, 152.14; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.181, 297.88 def. Jeff Arend, Camry, 4.383, 255.19; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.323, 261.83 def. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.412, 258.52; John Force, Mustang, 4.254, 291.70 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.185, 296.83; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.138, 298.67 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.358, 234.13;

QUARTERFINALS _ Hagan, 4.268, 280.08 def. Gray, 5.865, 125.47; Capps, 4.169, 288.46 def. Wilkerson, 4.214, 292.90; J. Force, 4.505, 254.28 def. Beckman, 4.574, 274.05; C. Force, 4.255, 290.57 def. Tasca III, 5.694, 132.28;

SEMIFINALS _ C. Force, 4.239, 297.48 def. J. Force, 10.548, 84.75; Hagan, 4.410, 231.28 def. Capps, 5.328, 159.61;

FINAL _ C. Force, 4.238, 293.54 def. Hagan, 4.328, 276.58.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Warren Johnson, Pontiac GXP, 6.658, 208.46 def. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.880, 206.13; V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.614, 208.55 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 9.664, 94.10; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.601, 209.56 def. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Avenger, 10.507, 86.73; Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.606, 209.95 def. JR Carr, Mustang, broke; Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.622, 208.71 def. Mark Wolfe, Mustang, 6.726, 206.76; Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.575, 210.70 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.719, 207.56; Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.596, 209.56 def. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.640, 209.56; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.607, 210.05 def. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.729, 207.18;

QUARTERFINALS _ Nobile, 6.628, 209.52 def. Gaines, 6.631, 208.33; Line, 6.620, 209.43 def. Edwards, 18.357, 43.30; Enders, 6.638, 209.20 def. Anderson, 6.646, 209.62; A. Johnson, 6.605, 209.69 def. W. Johnson, 6.684, 207.66;

SEMIFINALS _ Line, 6.657, 209.23 def. Nobile, 6.709, 208.75; Enders, 6.624, 209.33 def. A. Johnson, 6.747, 209.14;

FINAL _ Enders, 6.614, 209.65 def. Line, 6.631, 209.72.

Point standings (top-10) following the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals:

Top Fuel _ 1. Spencer Massey, 1,236; 2. Antron Brown, 1,231; 3. Tony Schumacher, 1,109; 4. Steve Torrence, 1,108; 5. Doug Kalitta, 902; 6. Shawn Langdon, 839; 7. Morgan Lucas,829; 8. Brandon Bernstein, 766; 9. David Grubnic, 756; 10. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 633.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, 1,143; 2. Ron Capps, 1,112; 3. Jack Beckman, 1,003; 4. Johnny Gray, 942; 5. Mike Neff, 933; 6. Courtney Force, 851; 7. Cruz Pedregon, 803; 8. Jeff Arend, 749; 9. John Force, 746; 10. Bob Tasca III, 739.

Pro Stock _ 1. Allen Johnson, 1,324; 2. Jason Line, 1,246; 3. Greg Anderson, 1,236; 4. Mike Edwards, 1,031; 5. Vincent Nobile, 1,020; 6. Erica Enders, 941; 7. Shane Gray, 592; 8. V. Gaines, 570; 9. Ron Krisher, 558; 10. (tie) Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ronnie Humphrey, 550.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 6 2012
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