Sunday’s elimination rounds at the NHRA Full Throttle Northwest Nationals in Kent, Washington were supposed to be a coronation for drivers that were conquering the three-race Western Swing.
Instead, the top dogs got sent to the pound by a trio of drivers that had a grand total of three career NHRA event wins at this time yesterday, including the first time ever in the Pro classes that two of the winners were female pilots. Courtney Force scored her very first NHRA victory, Erica Enders doubled her career Wally total with her second win while Steve Torrence snared his third win in Top Fuel.
Courtney Force qualified a distant 14th on Saturday but wasted no time in scampering up the Funny Car ladder on Sunday. She made her best pass of the weekend in her opening round win over Cruz Pedregon, then kept it in the groove in the next two rounds as Bob Tasca III and then her father each smoked the tires.
Courtney and John squared off in the semi, ensuring that one of the Forces would advance to the final, but John’s Ford went up in smoke at the hit, giving Courtney the free pass, where she would face off against the resurgent Matt Hagan. The reigning NHRA Funny Car champion, Hagan is still fighting to displace the elder Force to take the final transfer spot into Countdown for the Championship, but could not hold up to the consistent power put down by Courtney.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Courtney said. “I grew up watching my Dad do this every weekend and to get our first victory of the season is amazing. I am so proud of my team, the guys got a new driver this year and they got a girl and they never missed a beat.”
Man this is a huge weekend. Courtney (Force) won, Erica (Enders) won, me and Shawn (Langdon) here in the final, we’re all just a bunch of kids that grew up wanting to be race car drivers and here we are in the finals.
"A big congratulations to Courtney, the TRAXXAS Ford Mustang Funny Car team and everyone at John Force Racing who has helped in Courtney's development," said Jamie Allison, Director of Ford Racing. "That apple did not fall far from the tree. With her talent and experience, we knew she'd celebrate her first win sooner rather than later. We and all Ford fans are delighted to see her win the Wally as a rookie."
Not to be outdone, Erica Enders followed Force’s lead in Pro Stock and scored her second NHRA victory of the season – clinching her spot in the Countdown in the process.
Enders had to work for every inch of Pacific Raceways real estate that she got today, starting with a tough early-round wins over Ron Krisher and Greg Anderson. Enders used a strong reaction time to nip Anderson, but that set her up to stage against Allen Johnson, who led all 12 qualifying rounds on the Western Swing and had taken all 10 elimination rounds on his way to the Seattle semifinal. But timing is everything and Enders moved to the final when Johnson had his first bad run of the month, carding a 6.624 to Johnson’s 6.747.
“I’m living a dream, I am so blessed to have this opportunity,” Enders said. “The guys gave me a great hot rod. To figure out this tricky track was no easy task today and our team did everything they needed to do to help me get this.”
The win earned Enders a final-round meeting with Jason Line, who benefitted from problems from both of his early-round matchups to advance to the semi. Line ran down Vincent Nobile in the semifinal to get the win, but gave up lane choice to Enders, who posted a 6.614-second run to nip a fast-closing Line by three feet.
Like Pro Stock, the Top Fuel class was supposed to be a celebratory exercise for Antron Brown as he looked to sweep the Western Swing, but Steve Torrence had other ideas.
Torrence escaped a pedal fest in his opening round against Steve Chrisman, and then used his starting-line prowess to weld Khalid al-Balooshi to the tree in the second round, taking the holeshot win to advance to the semis. Torrence got the free pass to the final when Doug Kalitta smoked the hides, giving Torrence the chance to meet Shawn Langdon in the final. Langdon ended Brown’s quest for three straight wins in the second round, and then took Torrence’s path to the final as his foe David Grubnic hazed the tires in the semi, giving Langdon his first final-round berth since joining the Al-Anabi team.
The final round showed that sometimes it is the engine tuner that earns a driver a Wally – but sometimes the spacer behind the wheel is the key. Both Torrence and Langdon spun the tires at the halfway mark, but Torrence worked the pedals a little faster, found his grip, and got down the strip in 4.168 seconds to claim his third career win.
“I didn’t know until we rounded the corner that we won,” Torrence said. “Shawn is a heck of a driver, he had me nervous on the tree, but man this is a huge weekend. Courtney won, Erica won, me and Shawn here in the final, we’re all just a bunch of kids that grew up wanting to be race car drivers and here we are in the finals.”
The day for Don Schumacher Racing was notable for what didn’t happen in the Top Fuel megateam. Brown lost traction in his match, Spencer Massey struck the tires and lost in the second round against Grubnic and Tony Schumacher red-lighted against Kalitta, marking the first time Schumacher red-lighted in an NHRA event in 12 years!
“I really can’t tell you what caused me to leave early,” Schumacher said. “It wasn’t like I was distracted by something. The tree can be hard to read at times in terms of how fast or slow it goes to green, but it’s still on the driver to react properly. Quite obviously, I didn’t do that.”
Check out this behind the scenes look at Courtney Force's first funny car race at the Winternationals in Pomona, CA!
Filmed and Edited by Ashley Force Hood