The 2012 NHRA season got off to a “Force-ful” start as Courtney Force a made her official pro debut at the 52nd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals. In her distinctive black and red Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car, Courtney posted a solid time of 4.21 seconds at 303.16 mph. She held on to the provisional No. 1 position for three of pairs of Funny Cars before ultimately slipping to No. 6, one spot behind her father, 15-time Funny Car champion John Force and his 4.192 second, 302.89 mph pass.
“My first run was very exciting. It was very nerve-racking. It is something I have been thinking about for such a long time. I think my dad was a little more nervous than me. I definitely had some butterflies and I just went up there knowing I didn’t have anything to lose. This was the dream that I was getting to live,” said the 23 year-old rookie. “I just wanted to go out there and do the best that I could as a driver. I wanted to take everything I learned from last year and take it to the race track. I am still a new driver and I am still learning every time I get in the car,' said Courtney. “I am very comfortable knowing that my car can get down the race track. I have a great team behind me with (co-crew chiefs) Ron Douglas and Scott Wible. I am very confident going into Friday. We are working hard as a team and we are doing the best we can,” added the Cal State Fullerton graduate.
Going into Friday’s qualifying session, Courtney will be paired up with her father based on the NHRA qualifying order. When the youngest Force was told about this prospect, her immediate response was a quick laugh and a comment about the NHRA’s broadcast partner. “I bet ESPN is happy about that,” joked Force.
Knowing that racing side by side will continue to be a learning experience, Courtney was happy to be making a lap beside her teammate. During the Florida test sessions, she made a number of laps side by side but tomorrow will be the first time father and daughter will race in official competition. “It is a little different when you are running with someone else in the other lane. You want your routine to be OK. You don’t want to be too slow or too fast. There are a bunch of little things that I am still working on as a new driver,” said Force. “Testing by myself last season made it harder to figure out how my routine was coming together. I learned a lot in Florida when we were testing and it is going to be fun to run beside my dad. I couldn’t have asked for a better match up. That is amazing it worked out like that. I am really excited and we’ll have a lot of fun with it.”
Team leader John Force was all smiles after the first day of the season, because of his daughter’s performance as well as his own. Last year ended on afrustrating note for the winningest driver in NHRA history, losing in the first round at the final eight races, so getting off to a strong start in 2012 is important to the 15-time champion. “It is really good to watch my guys all working together. It is great to have John Medlen and Dickie Venables back. They are both learning our processes again. We have a lot of new people over here and everybody worked really well together on the first day. We didn’t do anything spectacular. My Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Mustang went down the race track with a 4.19. Courtney had some first day jitters but so did I,” said the five-time Winternationals champion. “She went A to B just like Ashley did. She kept her nose clean. It got a little loose at about 800 feet but she drove it and kept it off the wall. She got it to the lights and I think she is No. 6 in the show right now. I am so proud of her because I know the pressure is on her. I love seeing the women like Courtney and (rookie of the year candidate) Alexis (De Joria) getting into the show. That is big for our sport. I am not just talking about my kid but it is big for our whole sport. Women will put fans in the stands," enthused Force. “I have my new leg and the doctors have me fixed up, and I have a new sponsor with Traxxas. I also am excited for all my sponsors from Castrol to Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools and BrandSource. We also added Freightliner and we are getting the season started right. It is so important to have a new sponsor join the team. It was good to see the Traxxas Mustang go A to B since they are investing in that program. We have two more days and three more runs so a lot can happen. It was a real good start. I am excited about the year.”
The last time Force was at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the Top Eliminator grandstands were re-named the John Force Grandstands and this event was the first time Force was able to see the signage adorning the stands. The former truck driver was noticeably emotional when he talked about seeing his name at the top of the stands, adjacent to the Don “The Snake” Prudhomme section. “Don Prudhomme was my hero. You look at all the greats from (Don) Garlits to Shirley (Muldowney) to (Kenny) Bernstein, I just wanted to be able to stand next to them and race with them. Don Prudhomme was the guy for me. He was the guy I set my goals after, him and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. To have my name next to his is just like being beside Garlits. You can’t get better than that. I am living life at its fullest. I am getting a second chance with this leg. It is going to be a very interesting season and I am ready for it.”
The two John Force Racing Funny Cars that were battling for the championship last season did not get off to a strong start on Thursday. Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang smoked the tires and recorded the 15th quickest time of the day, 7.594 seconds. Robert Hight was full of confidence going into qualifying, but a sheered blower shaft ended his day before his Auto Club Ford Mustang moved past the burnout box. The 2009 Funny Car champion was surprised by the mechanical mishap considering the blower shaft had an acceptable number of runs and that area is not usually prone to this sort of issue. “I don’t know why it happened, but Jimmy Prock and the guys are looking into it. If it had to happen, I'm glad it was Thursday and not on Sunday morning. We have three more shots this weekend and I am still extremely confident in our capabilities,” said Hight.
Qualifying will continue tomorrow starting with Top Fuel at 2:00 p.m.
Traxxas is very proud to be racing with Courtney Force as she carries The Fastest Name In Radio Control across the finish line at over 300mph. Be sure to visit Traxxas in Nitro Alley at each stop of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series!
2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Series schedule:
Feb. 9-12 • 52nd Annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals • Pomona
ESPN2 Schedule: 2/11 Qualifying 11:00:00 PM-1:00:00 AM ET; 2/12 Eliminations 7:30:00 PM-11:00:00 PM ET
Feb. 17-19 • 28th Annual NHRA Arizona Nationals • Phoenix
March 8-11 • 43rd Annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals • Gainesville
March 30-April 1 • 13th Annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals • Las Vegas
April 13-15 • Third Annual VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals • Charlotte
April 27-29 • 25th Annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals • Houston
May 4-6 • 32nd Annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals • Commerce, Ga.
May 18-20 • 24th Annual NHRA Summer Nationals • Topeka
May 31-June 3 • 43rd Annual NHRA SuperNationals • Englishtown
June 15-17 • 12th Annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals • Bristol
June 28-July 1 • 15th Annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals • Chicago
July 5-8 • Sixth Annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals • Norwalk
July 20-22 • 33rd Annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals • Denver
July 27-29 • 25th Annual FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals • Sonoma
Aug. 3-5 • 25th Annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals • Seattle
Aug. 16-19 • 31st Annual NHRA Nationals • Brainerd
Aug. 29-Sept. 3 • 58th Annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals • Indianapolis
Sept. 14-16 • Fifth Annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals • Charlotte
Sept. 20-23 • 27th Annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals • Dallas
Sept. 27-30 • 28th Annual Uni-Select Auto Plus NHRA Nationals • Reading
Oct. 5-7 • Inaugural NHRA Midwest Nationals • St. Louis
Oct. 25–28 • 12th Annual NHRA Nevada Nationals • Las Vegas
Nov. 8-11 • 48th Annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals • Pomona