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Forces Are Learning About Each Other at 300 mph

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 23 2012

John and Courtney Force are dealing with being family and competitors at the same time. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Fifteen-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force describes daughter Courtney as an extrovert, daughter Ashley as an introvert and third daughter Brittany, well, he admits he has yet to figure out their 26-year-old sister.

However, there is one thing Courtney and Ashley have in common – both are successful NHRA Funny Car drivers.

After 2010, Ashley stepped out of the cockpit to start a family. Two years later Courtney stepped into a Funny Car. In her rookie season, the 24-year-old Courtney is battling for the Funny Car championship. She took one victory into the Countdown to the Championship and was seventh in the standings heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas Fall Nationals where she’s the No. 1 qualifier.

For John and Courtney, the relationship of car owner/father and driver/daughter has been complicated at times this year, frustrating and occasionally argumentative. And last weekend at zMAX Dragway in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Concord, N.C., it was competitive as the two were pitted against each other in the opening round. Courtney qualified sixth, while her father was 11th quickest. John defeated Courtney in the first round; then lost to John Force Racing’s Mike Neff in the quarterfinals.

“You made the Countdown and … it’s a different ballgame now,” John told Courtney. “It’s hard ball; it’s their futures. If you can take me and handle me and my stuff, then you can handle them.”

John notes he and Courtney will go “nose-to-nose” whereas Ashley would walk away from him.

“She [Ashley] would kill me with silence,” says the outspoken John, who enters Sunday’s elimination round

Courtney Force has gotten real good, real fast. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

eighth in the standings. “Ashley was more like her mother, always calm and cool. Courtney is more aggressive. She’s more like me. I attack.”

Courtney admits the relationship with her 63-year-old father can be a “little overwhelming” at times and he doesn’t always know when to leave her alone. Such was the case at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis when Courtney wasn’t happy with her performance.

“I was bummed out after going out at Indy. I was getting down on myself because I wasn’t satisfied with my driving job,” Courtney explained. “I came back into the bus and I needed 2 minutes to myself. My dad knew I was upset about it and he was trying to make me feel better. I told him I needed 2 minutes to myself. He told me I needed to get out to the fans. We couldn’t agree on anything at that moment.”

On the other hand, John was proud of his daughter’s performance. He saw the fans backed up 15 deep, waiting to see her and he felt she needed to take care of them.

“I was so excited and little kids sitting on the ground (shouting), ‘Mr. Force. We’ll get to see her, right?’ because a lot of drivers leave when they lose,” John said. “I ran in (to the bus) and she was in tears. ‘What’s wrong, baby?’ ‘I failed today.’ So over center negative. First it saddened me and then it made me mad.”

John informed his daughter she had qualified at Indy, she was low E.T. and she had made the Countdown in her rookie season. He pointed out to her that he had a 10-year segment in his career when he had nothing; when he couldn’t do anything right.

“The fans are the ones that will heal you,” Force said he told her. “Go to them right now and they will take the pain out. They’re your life line. They don’t even know that you lost. They don’t even care. They just want to see you.”

Eventually, Courtney said she would go outside, so John ran out of the bus to the fans and told them she would visit with them.

“I ran up to her and said, ‘Thank you, honey, for coming out.’ She looked at me and she started crying again,” John continued. “She said, ‘I can’t. My makeup is ruined again.’ Her mother said, ‘If you will just leave her alone, she’ll be OK. You’re causing all of this. You never change.’ So I went over and sat on the hood of the car like a mushroom. She went out to the kids and everything was fine. In years, she will learn this game.”

Courtney realizes he’s being a good father and she knows she often says things to him that she wouldn’t if she wasn’t his daughter.

“We’re trying to figure out the balance this season,” Courtney commented.

Despite their differences at times, John always takes time to teach his daughter there’s more to being successful than winning on the track. At zMAX Dragway, he treated the full John Force Grandstand and the crowd standing at the fence to him and his daughter riding a motorcycle and waving at them.

“If I ran this like a boss, we’d be fighting all the time,” John said. “As good as she does, I really want perfection. I know I’m a pain to her. It’s more father-daughter, wanting to make sure she doesn’t fail. That isn’t just driving the race car. That’s with the fans; that’s with the sponsors.

“I got to stand on the stage with Ashley in the top 10 and I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it this year to stand with her [Courtney]. She is a good kid. She keeps her nose clean. She works hard at it. It’s a great feeling to watch her excel.”

And at this year’s awards ceremony, John will stand on stage with Courtney.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racinToday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 23 2012
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