As Courtney Force approaches the 10th race of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series – in her rookie season as driver of the 7,000-horsepower Traxxas Ford Mustang – she is pleased with the growth that her team has made as well as her progress in the cockpit.
The 23-year-old daughter of 15-time Funny Car world champ John Force has come a long way since February’s season opener. Since then, she has qualified for every race, posted semifinal efforts in Phoenix and Englishtown, shined during final qualifying in Topeka, and logged a career-best time of 4.098 seconds. She has also tagged the wall at high speed and experienced an engine explosion up close and personal.
As she holds down ninth place in the points standings in the ultracompetitive Funny Car class with only eight races remaining until the Countdown to the Championship begins, she believes that her team’s consistency has allowed her to develop as a driver.
She hopes to take the next step in her progression at the 12th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers, June 15-17, at tradition-rich Bristol Dragway. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN and ESPN2.
As one of the leading contenders for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award, a coveted prize that her older sister Ashley Force Hood claimed in 2007, Courtney is very pleased with how her season has unfolded.
“Our Traxxas Ford Mustang team has had a consistent and competitive race car this season with two semifinal appearances, and I’m so excited with how our first season is going,” Force said. “I have an amazing group of guys that work on my Funny Car and a great crew chief with Ron Douglas and Dan Hood. I’m still learning as a rookie driver every time I come out to the racetrack and am working hard to become a fast learner. We have qualified at every event at this point in the season and hope to continue this streak throughout the season. I feel that with every pass down the racetrack, I’m learning something new, especially with the different racetracks and weather conditions. I’m really starting to challenge myself as a driver and pushing the limits to see what my car is capable of achieving, and I’m loving it every step of the way. Also, having great teammates like my dad, Robert Hight, and Mike Neff makes it easier to go to them for any questions I might have.”
One question she won’t have to ask her more experienced teammates is how to qualify for the Countdown. She is well-aware that only the top 10 drivers are eligible for the championship after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus in Indy. She says she’s not nervous sitting in ninth with so many talented drivers on the outside looking in, including veteran Tim Wilkerson, two-time champ Tony Pedregon, her rival in the rookie battle Alexis DeJoria, and even the defending series world champ, Matt Hagan.
“My outlook for making the Countdown in my rookie season is that I just hope to stay consistent, both my race car and myself, and if we can continue to qualify at the events leading up to Indy while gaining some extra points throughout the qualifying sessions and keep going rounds, then we might have a shot,” Force said. “Being that I’m ninth in the points gives me a lot of hope and confidence that this goal isn’t out of reach. I’m blown away at our accomplishments so far as a rookie team. My expectations for this season have already been passed. I’m happy that we have had such a great race car and hope to continue gaining points throughout the rest of the season, continue to learn as a driver, and have a safe season, whether we make it in the Countdown or not. I’m just so fortunate to even be in the position I’m in, and it wouldn’t be possible without my sponsors.”
As a Top Alcohol Dragster driver in NHRA’s Pacific Division in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, this will be Force’s first opportunity to compete at the historic northeast Tennessee motorsports facility where so much drag racing history has been showcased.
“I’m so thrilled to be racing at Bristol Dragway for the first time, for so many reasons,” Force said. “I grew up watching my dad race at this legendary track, and it will be exciting being out there racing with him, especially over Father’s Day weekend. The Bristol Dragway race this season will be sponsored by the Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers, so I really hope our Traxxas Ford Mustang team and all of our Ford cars can do well at our sponsor’s race. I’m also looking forward to the debut of my dad's and Robert’s Elvis-themed Funny Cars at this race and really think it will be cool not only for my dad, being that he has always been an Elvis fan, but for all of the fans at the race to see it and be a part of a special car debut.”
In 2008, Melanie Troxel raced to victory at Bristol Dragway in a Funny Car, and Force would love to add her name to the winner’s list at Thunder Valley. To do it, she’ll have to outrun a fierce lineup of competitors, starting with her own teammates. From there, it doesn’t get any easier; among the competition is Ron Capps, who is riding a five-race final-round streak and recently posted the quickest run in Funny Car history at 3.964 seconds in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. The past two race winners – Johnny Gray and Jack Beckman – are picking up steam at midseason as well.
“The competition in Funny Car has definitely been tough this season, just as I had expected it would be preseason,” Force said. “I’ve grown up watching these guys compete against my dad, and it’s still very surreal to me that I’m now competing against them in my very own Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car. You really have to be at the top of your game, and you really need to concentrate without making mistakes if you want to beat these guys.”
In Top Fuel, Spencer Massey leads the points standings with three wins in four finals in his FRAM/Prestone dragster, and four-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher is trying to end a 32-race winless skid in his U.S. Army dragster. Morgan Lucas and Antron Brown have also posted victories this season, as has surprising Steve Torrence, who won in Atlanta and Englishtown. Two-time Bristol winner Brandon Bernstein, like Schumacher, hopes he can pull out some Thunder Valley magic and end a winner’s circle drought that dates back to October 2009.
In Pro Stock, the Summit Racing duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line are back to their dominating ways. Anderson has won four races this season, including the most recent event in Englishtown, and leads the points standings. The four-time world champ won in Englishtown in a brand-new Chevy Camaro and in the process gave team owner Ken Black the team’s 100th race victory. Meanwhile, Line, the defending world champ, is second in the standings with one victory and is scheduled to have a new Summit Racing Chevy Camaro in Bristol. Local favorite Allen Johnson, from Greeneville, Tenn., will be trying yet again to put his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger in the Bristol winner’s circle. He has won two times this season and is third in the points order. Others to watch in the 200-mph category include Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Shane Gray, and defending winner Edwards.
SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 15, and noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 16. Final eliminations will begin at noon on Sunday, June 17.
TICKETS: For tickets for the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers, call Bristol Dragway, 423-989-6900, or log on to www.bristoldragway.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 16. ESPN and ESPNHD will televise two hours of eliminations coverage at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 17.
LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 10 a.m. on June 15. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on June 16 and continue through June 17.
NHRA PRO MOD SERIES PRESENTED BY PROCARE RX: NHRA’s popular Pro Mod touring series will make its fifth start of the 10-race 2012 season at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition. Two of three scheduled rounds of qualifying will be held on Friday, June 15, at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. The final round of qualifying is set for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 16, followed by the first round of eliminations at 4 p.m. Eliminations will continue on Sunday, June 17, at approximately 3:30 p.m.