Courtney Force won her first drag race in the NHRA's premier funny car series Sunday to advance in final eliminations at the Winternationals in Pomona.
Force, the 23-year-old daughter of funny car legend John Force and one of the most anticipated rookies in the National Hot Rod Assn. in years, defeated Bob Tasca III at Auto Club Raceway with a run of 4.204 seconds at 309.27 mph.
Tasca jumped in front after the green light flashed but then his 7,000-horsepower funny car lost traction and Courtney Force pulled ahead on the 1,000-foot drag strip to earn the win.
"I was nervous going up there" to the starting line, she said. "I was just holding on the whole time hoping [the car] would go and it did.
Courtney Force's goal this weekend simply was to qualify for the final eliminations so "I didn’t picture [going] this far into Sunday," she said. "This weekend is going way better than I expected."
Her 62-year-old father, a record 15-time funny car champion, then narrowly defeated another rookie female driver in the series, Alexis DeJoria, in the first round despite DeJoria's strong run of 4.141 seconds at 310.27 mph.
DeJoria jumped to the seventh-fastest spot after a pass Friday of 4.198 seconds and 300.40 mph, an improvement over her initial qualifying run Thursday of 4.438 seconds.
Force also improved slightly with a run of 4.199 seconds and 307.09 mph; she had traveled the 1,000-foot drag strip at 4.210 seconds in first-round qualifying Thursday.
"I’m just having so much fun out here," Force said. "We’re just trying to step it up on each run. Hopefully we’ll get it going a little quicker tomorrow."
Force's father, 15-time funny car champion John Force, was sixth after the second round, and Bob Tasca III was the provisional No. 1 qualifier after he shot down the track in 4.109 seconds at 309.34 mph.
The 16 fastest cars after the third round of qualifying Saturday advance to the final eliminations Sunday.
In the top-fuel division, defending Winternationals winner Morgan Lucas retained the No. 1 qualifying spot at 3.832 seconds and 320.28 mph.
Photo: Top-fuel driver Morgan Lucas on his way to recording the fastest qualifying run Thursday in the National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Credit: Teresa Long / Associated Press-NHRA
Courtney Force, the youngest daughter of drag-racing legend John Force, said Tuesday that she's joining her father as a driver in the sport's big leagues, starting with the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona on Feb. 9-12.
Courtney Force, 23, will drive one of the 8,000-horsepower funny cars prepared by her family's John Force Racing team in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series. The car's primary sponsor is Traxxas, a maker of radio-controlled hobby cars that's new to the team.
"I am so thrilled and honored," Courtney Force told a news conference at the team's Yorba Linda facility. "I knew ever since I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a professional race-car driver. I can't wait to start beating up on the boys, especially my dad."
John Force, 62, is a 15-time champion in the NHRA funny car division, where dragsters reach speeds exceeding 300 mph in 1,000-foot races.
Another of his daughters, Ashley Force Hood, 29, already had been competing in the Full Throttle Series but took last year off to have a baby and is not racing again this season.
Big-league drag racing kicks off its season with the Winternationals this weekend in Pomona as the National Hot Rod Assn. celebrates its 60th anniversary.
In the sport’s premier top-fuel class, where the cars routinely exceed 300 mph, a key question is who might provide an early challenge for Larry Dixon and his Al-Anabi Racing team, which ran away with the championship in 2010.
Although Dixon won 12 times last season, including the Winternationals a year ago, Tony Schumacher expects to provide stiff competition in 2011. Schumacher had won six consecutive top-fuel titles and seven overall until Dixon snapped his streak last year and earned his third championship.
“We’re all going to have to step it up this year if we’re going to chase [Dixon] down,” Schumacher said. “If you win the Winternationals, it’s a great way to get the ball rolling.”
Various classes of dragsters run throughout the day, but qualifying for the premier top-fuel and funny-car classes starts at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: NHRA funny-car driver Robert Hight during qualifying in the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Feb. 13, 2010. Credit: Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire
Ashley Force Hood, daughter of funny car legend John Force and herself one of drag racing's most popular drivers, said Tuesday she's pregnant and will miss this year's NHRA season.
Force Hood, 28, is married to Dan Hood, a crew member for the three-car team of John Force Racing, and she said they're expecting their first child at the end of the summer.
Her announcement was one of several made at a news conference at the team's Yorba Linda headquarters. The team also said Robert Hight -- Force's son-in-law and the team's other driver besides Force and Force Hood -- succeeded Force as president of John Force Racing.
In light of that accident, Force said he'd been giving increasing thought to turning over the management reins to Hight, 41. Hight's wife and Force's daughter Adria also is an executive at the team.
"If anything goes wrong, who's going to run the team?" Force said. "Robert knows the business. He's running it now."
Force also named Mike Neff to replace Force Hood in the driver's seat this season. Neff had driven a fourth funny car for the team until last year, when the weak economy prompted the team to park Neff's car. Neff had remained with the team as a key crew member.
The team also said Force Hood would run its John Force Entertainment division, which hopes to develop a new television reality show along with a written John Force biography that could lead to a feature-length film, among other projects.
Force and his family previously starred in a reality show, "Driving Force," in 2006-07 but it was halted after the death of team driver Eric Medlen in early 2007 from injuries in a practice crash.
Force Hood said a new series probably would focus on another of Force's daughters, Courtney Force, 22, who currently races in the NHRA's second-level series but is being groomed to drive in the Full Throttle Series next year.
The NHRA, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, opens its season with the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona from Feb. 24-27.
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: NHRA drag racer Ashley Force Hood gets ready for a practice run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 31, 2009. Credit: Isaac Brekken for The Times
But this is John Force, whose oversized personality and fast and furious way of talking never wind down, which is one reason why he’s a legend among fans of 300-mph drag racing. In fact, Force is revved up more than ever on the call.
And why not? After recovering from a serious racing crash three years ago, a crash that prompted him to curb his free-wheeling lifestyle and become a zealot in the gym, Force had a banner season and on Sunday overtook 27-year-old Matt Hagan at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona for yet another title.
Hagan was leading in the standings when Sunday dawned, but unexpectedly he lost in the first round of eliminations while Force went on to win the event and capture the championship.
Some of Force’s comments:
On whether he thought he could really beat Hagan: “You know, I pray to the good Lord a lot. But you know what I'm saying? He just ain't going to come down and bless John for us. Maybe he does have another plan for me, and I don't know what that is. But I do know I have the thing of positive thinking.
“And I looked at my guys, and I said it so many times. You've got to believe. That Hagan kid is too good, too focused to fail. And at the end of the day, I was preaching: ‘Believe. Believe.’ I never allowed myself to believe that it couldn't happen.”
On being back in the gym the day after the race: “The gym is a way of life for me. I haven't had a beer since the day of the crash, not one, and I was a beer drinker. I've had a couple shots of wine at Christmas with my family, but, no, my party days are done.
"I've changed my lifestyle. And I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with -- you know, with a little alcohol, you know what I mean, in moderation. But John Force, I didn't know how to do it with moderation. I was a party guy when I won, and I just -- I can't go back."
On how long he’ll keep racing: "I'm going to try to have knee surgery over the winter. They wanted to do it last year, and I said -- I keep putting it off. I just want to make my body stronger where I can still run the run. Hell, I believe, if I could get my knee right, I'd go another 10 years.
“I've got nowhere to go, guys. I ain't trying to be no cool dude here that says things to make a story. I got nowhere to go. I go to the racetrack. It's where I live.”
Photo: Drag racer John Force, 61, after winning his record 15th NHRA funny car championship Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Matt Hagan was only 8 years old when John Force won the first of a remarkable 14 NHRA funny car drag-racing championships. Now Hagan is hoping to block Force from winning a 15th title.
The 61-year-old Force, head of a Yorba Linda-based team and long among the sport's most popular drivers, led the funny car points in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s premier Full Throttle Series for much of the season.
But Hagan, 27, assumed the lead after the most recent race, and the Virginian -- who is seeking his first championship -- now leads by 64 points over Force with two events left, at Las Vegas on Oct. 28-31 and at Pomona on Nov. 11-14.
"That Force camp over there is a first-class operation and John is a world champion for a reason," Hagan said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday. "I'll try not to add any extra pressure on myself."
Force, in turn, said "I'm going to give that kid everything I've got."
"We can't count on Hagan to make mistakes," said Force, who has rebounded from serious injuries in a drag-racing crash in Dallas in 2007. "I'm going to need every point I can if I'm going to catch this kid."
In the NHRA's other leading division, top fuel, two-time champion Larry Dixon has 12 wins this season and an 89-point lead over Cory McClenathan in the title standings. If Dixon wins his third title, it will snap Tony Schumacher's streak of six consecutive top-fuel championships.
-- Jim Peltz
Photos: Top, legendary funny car drag racer John Force greets fans at an NHRA race at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., on Sept. 19. Credit: Rusty Jarrett / Getty Images. Botton, Matt Hagan completes a funny car qualifying run Oct. 9 at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. Credit: Jerry Foss / Associated Press.