She’s got her father’s great teeth and his inevitable gift for gab. Now Courtney Force, 24, has her own NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Wally trophy to place on the mantel. In only her third final round Funny Car appearance the youngest daughter of John and Laurie Force won her first race. The 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceway was the 15th race of her rookie season.
To win that Wally, she had to beat three champions and fellow Ford Mustang driver Bob Tasca III. She took out two-time champ Cruz Pedregon, her 15-time title holder father John and met reigning Funny Car champion Matt Hagan for the title, the latter making his second straight finals appearance this season.
Force’s exuberance at the top end of the 1,000-foot dragstrip was matched by her father’s pride and by her team’s bath in a vat of Full Throttle energy drink, much like a coach gets dunked on a winning sideline. Even now, a few days later the excitement hasn’t worn off and Force continues to get phone calls from her father asking, “Has it sunk in yet? You did it; you finally got that Wally and you earned it.”
Yes, Courtney Force earned her Wally trophy and she did it the right way, by being hungry, by coming up through the ranks and by listening and learning. Doesn’t hurt that she’s got a championship-caliber crew chief in Ron Douglas, ably assisted by Dan Hood (sister Ashley’s husband). Douglas was co-crew chief on Ashley’s car with Dean “Guido” Antonelli when big sister Ashley became the first woman in history to win an NHRA Funny Car nitro race, at Atlanta (actually Commerce, GA) in 2008 – against her father John!
For Courtney Force, the trip back to Pacific Raceway was a return to the site of success, as she won her first Lucas Oil Sportsman Top Alcohol Dragster race at the track in 2009. Every driver feels more comfortable when they race on a track where they’ve won, of course. “I remember coming out here and getting my Top Alcohol Dragster win,” Force reminisced. “I looked at that Wally and remember thinking how much I couldn’t wait for the day I could get one that said ‘Funny Car’ on the side… “
The exceptional heat of the Seattle weekend threw most every driver a curve but it didn’t seem to faze Force, Douglas and Hood once they got into eliminations. She only qualified 14th – her worst start of the season – and that meant a date with Cruz Pedregon, who’s been a feared opponent with his new Toyota Camry this year. “That was definitely a big run for me; Cruz is a tough competitor,” she said.
This wasn’t the first meeting between John and Courtney Force but it was an important one in the semi-finals; Courtney’s father struck the tires early and she breezed to a third consecutive 5.2-second run, repeating the maneuver in the final round against cattle farmer Hagan, with yet another consistent 4.2-second pass down the dragstrip.
Filmed and Edited by Ashley Force Hood
After becoming only the third woman to win a professional Funny Car race (after her sister Ashley and Melanie Troxel, who has also won in Top Fuel), Courtney Force let loose, in Force fashion: “I honestly am still in shock. I think I’m still shaking. I mean, coming back out here to Seattle. At the moment I was telling my dad, ‘I can’t wait to have a Funny Car Wally in my house,’ because you know what, dad has way more than enough so he can’t be mad at me for taking him out in the semis. It’s been an amazing day.”
Eventually she calmed down – somewhat – Courtney is very much like her father with an excitable nature. A few days after his victory, she said John Force was “still in shock; he’s kind of in disbelief right now,” she said. “He keeps calling me saying, ‘You did it, has it sunk in yet, you finally got that Wally and you earned it, kid.’ He’s just been really excited. All week long he’s been calling me nonstop and just telling me how proud he is.”
With her victory on Sunday, young Courtney Force became the 13th woman to earn an NHRA professional Wally trophy at the highest level of drag racing. She enters an exclusive club started by the great Shirley Muldowney, who broke the gender barrier in the 1960s and 1970s, taking three championships along with her 18 Top Fuel wins, even Muldowney isn’t the top female winner.
That honor goes to Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle, who has 41 category victories; current competitor Karen Stoffer has six Pro Stock Motorcycle wins while Troxel is the only woman to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, holding five Wally trophies. Shelly Anderson-Payne (Top Fuel), Lori Johns (Top Fuel) and Force’s sister Ashley Force Hood in Funny Car all have four victories to their credit.
Erica Enders, who won her first Pro Stock Wally at Route 66 in Joliet earlier in the season, earned her second victory at Seattle this past weekend; she is the first woman to win in the Pro Stock category. When Force joined Enders in Victory Lane at Seattle, they became the first women to claim Full Throttle victories in the same weekend.
Drivers and riders in the one-race-win sub-section are Top Fuel drivers Lucille Lee, Cristen Powell, current part-time Top Fuel driver Hillary Will and Force.
Courtney Force’s life was preordained. “I was probably seven years old and I knew for a fact I was going to be a racecar driver,” she reminisced. “I didn’t see my dad a lot as a kid; he was traveling so much, but I think that was the moment I knew if I went into drag racing I’d be able to see my dad all the time. Compared to my sisters I’ve always been the tomboy and loved watching these cars – I just knew.”