It’s often said that racing is a family. Occasionally a big, dysfunctional family, true, but isn’t that the way families exist?
Last weekend at Gainesville Raceway outside Gainesville, Florida, drag racing’s Force dynasty added two more Wally trophies to their family archives. No, John Force didn’t add to his 143 win total, and neither did daughter Courtney Force add to her seven victories. It was second-youngest daughter Brittany who finally won.
In her fourth year on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, Brittany Force has come close, so close so many times. Driving the Monster Energy Top Fuel rail to her eighth final round appearance, and second in a row, Brittany finally captured her first professional victory, facing her sixth different opponent in the finals.
Doubling down in Gainesville
Brittany’s brother-in-law Robert Hight, the 2009 Funny Car champion also won on the day, giving John Force Racing its first double-up victories on the tour. Even though father John Force has won 16 titles and had numerous drivers to mann second, third or fourth Funny Car entries on the NHRA tour, it wasn’t until Brittany Force started racing a Top Fuel dragster that this opportunity arose.
What makes the feat a bit more remarkable is her mother Laurie’s Force recognition the Thursday night before racing began as winner of this year’s Pat Garlits award, given to a woman who personifies the family strength involved in pursuing NHRA race titles and championships.The award is named for the late wife of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who passed away several years ago. Laurie Force’s accomplishments have been attained with class and style, even as she raised three daughters - Ashley, Brittany, Courtney - essentially on her own.
It took former truck driver John Force an awfully long nine years before his own massive win streak began in NHRA’s Funny Car class and most everyone - Force included - chalks that up to the hiring of tuner Austin Coil and his ability to tune a Flopper. This year John Force Racing engaged uber-Top Fuel tuner Alan Johnson to help Brittany earn her first victory. Johnson has won races and championships with his late brother Blaine, with Gary Scelzi, with Tony Schumacher, Khalid alBalooshi, Larry Dixon, Shawn Langdon and, in the first race of the 2016 season, with Steve Torrence.
Yes, Johnson is assisting both Brittany Force and Steve Torrence in Top Fuel this year. In three races thus far in the 24-race campaign, he’s helped two drivers to gain Wally trophies and entrance into the Traxxas Shootout race-within-a-race that occurs over Labor Day weekend during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. (Leah Pritchett won in Phoenix)
In addition to Johnson helping the team, JFR hired Brian Husen, responsible for Alan Johnson Racing titles in Top Fuel as the on-site, every day crew chief for Brittany. Husen most recently tuned Del Worsham to his first, Top Fuel title in 2011; Worsham won the Funny Car championship with Kalitta Motorsports in 2015.
Brittany's road to victory in Gatornationals
After losing to Leah Pritchett in Phoenix, Brittany Force was quickest in the 47th annual Amalie Oil Gatornationals’ Friday time trials and ended four rounds of qualifying in fifth place, behind Richie Crampton, multiple IHRA champ Clay Millican, two-time Don Schumacher Racing NHRA TF champion Antron Brown and Pritchett. She defeated Morgan Lucas, newcomer Tripp Tatum, former Pro Stock standout Dave Connolly and veteran Terry McMillen, both of the finalists looking for their first victories.
Brittany Force thus became the seventh Top Fuel driver to score a first victory at the Gatornationals, in her 75th race in the class. She’s the fourth female racer to earn a win at this fabled Gainesville Raceway dragstrip, after the legendary Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer.
She also completely overshadowed Hight’s achievement of racing to his third Gatornationals victory in Funny Car; he also won in 2012 and 2014 (even-numbered years favor JFR’s president in Florida, it appears). Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS was able to take the victory when competitor Ron Capps crossed the center line, disqualifying his Dodge Charger R/T. This was Hight’s 37th win in Funny Car - in 57 final rounds - and one he’ll remember as it marks the first time two John Force Racing teammates have held the points lead in two different classes.
Hight, who stood third in the title fight coming into this race, leapfrogged former leader - and Pomona victor - Capps after taking his win last weekend and re-setting his track speed record in the 1,000-foot category at a scintillating 327.43 mph. “We had a great are car the first two races so we actually felt we let a couple slip by that we actually could have won. So to come in here to get it done, and to get it done with Brittany and both of us leaving here with the points lead, it doesn’t get any better.”
A rare weekend for John Force Racing
The last time John Force Racing doubled up at an NHRA event came in the final race of 2004, the clan patriarch John Force won Funny Car and Ashley Force Hood took home the Wally in the Lucas Oil Sportsman Top Alcohol Dragster category. And once again, it was a family affair. The only non-family members to compete and win with JFR are Tony Pedregon, Gary Densham and the late Eric Medlen.
This weekend the Force family will likely gather to celebrate Easter together. It’s bound to be a raucous affair with John Force leading the group of family winners. It’ll be family, though, and that’s what matters in NHRA drag racing. Winning families like the Force clan just make the sport that much better.