Courtney Has Become A Genuine Force In NHRA
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
One day after playing a reluctant but pivotal role in the 2012 NHRA Funny Car championship, Courtney Force added another award to the John Force Racing trophy case.
Force was named winner of the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes the National Hot Rod Association’s top rookie performer of the year. Force logged a championship-caliber season featuring one victory in four final rounds and two No. 1 qualifying positions, including the top spot at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis.
“We’ve had an amazing season as a rookie team,” said Force, who advanced to the championship round of Sunday’s 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals before losing to Cruz Pedregon. “We had a consistent race car the entire weekend in Pomona. Coming out to the Auto Club NHRA Finals is something I always dreamed of as a kid. I watched my dad win here in February and we were runnerup this weekend.”
Force, who finished fifth in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship final point standings, earned the award based on votes from a panel of the nation’s top motorsports journalists. Courtney is the fourth driver from the JFR stable to win the award, joining sister Ashley Force Hood, 2009 world champion/brother-in-law Robert Hight and Mike Neff. Courtney, a 24-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., is the youngest of 15-time world champion John Force’s three racing daughters.
Other candidates in the strong rookie class were Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Todd Lesenko (Funny Car), Blake Alexander (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock), John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Scotty Pollacheck (PSM).
Meanwhile, first-time world champions Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) headlined the drivers honored Monday evening during the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series awards ceremony at the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood and Highland Center. Pro Stock Motorcycle ace Eddie Krawiec, who earned his second consecutive and third overall championship, also received a check and trophy as 2012 titlist.
Force trailered 2011 world champion Matt Hagan, Tim Wilkerson and Ron Capps en route to her runnerup finish against Pedregon, a two-time Funny Car world champion. Force, driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang, began Sunday in the No. 4 qualifying spot and took on No. 13 qualifier Hagan of archrival Don Schumacher Racing. Force had lane-choice and prevailed with a 1,000-foot pass in 4.055-seconds at 318.02 mph to improve her 2012 record against Hagan to 3-2.
Force was first off the line in Round 2 against fellow-Ford driver Wilkerson en route to a winning pass in 4.064-seconds at 317.12 mph. The victory moved Force from sixth to fifth in the changing point standings.
The semifinals pitted Force against championship contender Capps, who needed the win to remain in contention against DSR teammate Beckman. Force took advantage of lane-choice and ended Capps’ bid by posting a 4.069-second elapsed time at 318.24 mph to his 4.091-second pass at 313.95 mph.
“I hated being in the middle of a championship decision in that big round against Capps. I love both Capps and Beckman,” said Force, who was tutored by the latter at Frank Hawley’s NHRA Drag Racing School. “They’re great guys and great drivers, but we were going after the win.”
Force, 1-1 against Pedregon in previous events, advanced to the final against “The Cruzer” without the luxury of lane-choice. Pedregon scored his first victory of the season in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry when the connecting rods in the engine of Force’s Mustang broke at the hit of the throttle.
“I was looking to move up to the No. 4 spot, but I had to get around Cruz for that to happen,” Force said. “We made it into the No. 5 spot in the NHRA point standings and I really couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t have asked for this year and the weekend to go any better. I have a great race car in this Traxxas Ford Mustang; it’s a consistent one. I have a great team and those things are just what you need on race day. I’m so happy to have them with me and I’m really looking forward to next season.”
Top Fuel champ Brown, 36, made history by becoming the first African-American driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship. Brown claimed the title in dramatic fashion after suffering a fiery, first-round loss during the season-ender at Auto Club Raceway. Brown, a native of Chesterfield, N.J., clinched the title when Brandon Bernstein eliminated seven-time world champion/DSR teammate Tony Schumacher in the season’s final pairing. Brown finished seven points ahead of “The Sarge.”
Driver of the Matco Tools dragster, Brown earned six victories in 11 final rounds and set a national performance record in Round 4 of the six-race Countdown to the Championship at Reading, Pa., to add 20 valuable points to his total. Brown earned $500,000 from NHRA and Full Throttle for the series crown and added to the NHRA’s storied history of diversity by joining pioneering champions Shirley Muldowney (Top Fuel), brothers Cruz and Tony Pedregon (Funny Car) and Angelle Sampey and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Beckman, a 46-year-old native of San Fernando, Calif., took the $500,000 Funny Car title over Capps by two points in the closest title finish in the 39-year history of the class. A cancer survivor and former NHRA Super Comp champion, Beckman raced to three victories and a national ET record at Reading, Pa., behind the wheel of his Valvoline/NextGen Dodge Charger R/T.
Johnson, 52, gave the Dodge brand its first Pro Stock title in 18 years and fifth overall. Johnson, whose team features his 71-year-old father Roy as engine-builder, drove the Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger to a personal-best seven victories in 11 finals and a category-best 10 poles. Three of those victories came during the Countdown. Johnson, who works out of his family’s shop in Greeneville, Tenn., was awarded $250,000 for the series title from NHRA and Full Throttle.
Krawiec, 35, raced to a personal-best nine victories in 10 final rounds on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod, including three victories during the Countdown. Krawiec, an Englishtown, N.J., native, claimed $75,000 from NHRA and Full Throttle.
Winners of the Full Throttle Hard-Working Crew Awards, which recognize behind-the-scenes personnel in each of the four professional categories, were led by Brown’s Matco Tools dragster team in Top Fuel. Brown’s crew earned $25,000 for setting the national elapsed time record at 3.701-seconds at Reading, Pa., jumping to a 104-point lead during the fourth of six Countdown events.
Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang crew earned $25,000 in Funny Car for helping the rookie win her first race in only her 15th start in Kent, Wash., despite having her worst qualifying effort of the season (14th).
Erica Enders’ GK Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt crew earned $15,000 for helping her make NHRA history in Joliet, Ill., where she became the first female to win a Pro Stock national event final. Enders finished fourth in the final point standings.
Krawiec’s Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines H-D crew pocketed $5,000 in PSM for setting the then-national elapsed time record of 6.750-seconds for the quarter-mile, and racing to a dominant season-opening victory at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
For the fifth time overall and second year in a row, Ford Motor Company was named NHRA Manufacturers Cup winner. Ford also won NHRA Manufacturers Cup titles in 1964, 1965 and 1982. Contributing to the Blue Oval effort were Funny Car drivers Courtney and John Force, Neff, Hight, Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III; Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan and NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series drivers Drew Skillman, Bo Butner and Ray Skillman.
Popular NHRA announcer Bob Frey was presented the prestigious Don Prudhomme Award for his many contributions to the sport during a 46-year career. Frey, who recently announced his retirement, has been a drag racing announcer since 1966, an NHRA national event announcer since 1985 and a columnist for “National Dragster” since 1994. Frey, a resident of Waterford, N.J., received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Drivers in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognized as 2012 world champions: Jim Whiteley (Top Alcohol Dragster), Frank Manzo (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Bruno Massel (Competition Eliminator), Jimmy DeFrank (Super Stock), Brad Burton (Stock Eliminator), Alan Kenny (Super Comp) and Jeff Lopez (Super Gas).
The 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series awards ceremony will be available in its entirety to fans worldwide on the Internet on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at NHRA.com and the NHRA channel on YouTube.
Final professional 2012 point standings (top-10):
Top Fuel _1. Antron Brown, 2,555; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,548; 3. Spencer Massey, 2,505; 4. Shawn Langdon, 2,450; 5. Brandon Bernstein, 2,450; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,341; 7. Morgan Lucas, 2,338; 8. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 2,336; 9. Steve Torrence, 2,300; 10. David Grubnic, 2,260.
Funny Car _1. Jack Beckman, 2,610; 2. Ron Capps, 2,608; 3. Mike Neff, 2,497; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 2,429; 5. Courtney Force, 2,383; 6. Johnny Gray, 2,357; 7. Robert Hight, 2,302; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,293; 9. John Force, 2,281; 10. Jeff Arend, 2,267.
Pro Stock _1. Allen Johnson, 2,756; 2. Jason Line, 2,571; 3. Vincent Nobile, 2,512; 4. Erica Enders, 2,507; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,365; 6. Mike Edwards, 2,347; 7. V. Gaines, 2,324; 8. Ron Krisher, 2,290; 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,271; 10. Larry Morgan, 2,198.
Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,773; 2. Andrew Hines, 2,691; 3. Hector Arana Jr., 2,502; 4. Hector Arana, 2,432; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,386; 6. Matt Smith, 2,370; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,323; 8. Michael Ray, 2,316; 9. LE Tonglet, 2,292; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,239.No Comment