The Force family is going at it for the 2014 Funny Car title.
There’s a family feud in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car class, as 16-time champion and 2014 points leader John Force has to contend with two members of his family looking to stop him from taking an unprecedented 17th title this year.
The battle is on
The always wide-open Force has led the championship standings for much of the year, once son-in-law Robert Hight abdicated the top spot and, with three events remaining in a six-race Countdown to the Championship holds a small 30-point advantage over daughter Courtney Force, who won last weekend’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis.
That win was Courtney’s second consecutive victory, giving her four on the year to her father’s three Wally trophies. She made her way to the final round by taking out her No. 1 qualifier father in the semi-finals at St. Louis - on a start-line hole shot - en route to vanquishing 2011 titleholder Matt Hagan in the last race of the day. Hagan is third in points.
I just think about these races as a new race, a new day. You just have to take it round by round and try to pick up points
Courtney Force has seven total career Funny Car victories; she also secured the 100th NHRA win by a female earlier this year; she’s the first woman to win back-to-back races in the series’ long history.
When John Force won his 16th title in 2013, he did so at the penultimate, Las Vegas event by racing and besting his daughter in the final round. Courtney is out to turn the tables on drag racing’s 65-year-old ageless legend, hoping to earn her first championship over him. “I just think about these races as a new race, a new day. You just have to take it round by round and try to pick up points,” she said. “You don’t look at the end of the day - you can’t think about it. It’s all about getting a win out here and picking up points… and we have to go rounds to do that.”
John Force’s march to last year’s title began at Reading, Penn., site of this weekend’s fourth consecutive Countdown race before the series takes a bit of time off and reconvenes at Las Vegas Halloween weekend. Courtney Force is hoping she has a similar season-defining weekend at Maple Grove Raceway and she couldn’t be starting with more momentum.
With his youngest daughter breathing deeply down his neck, Force’s focus is strictly on securing as many points as he can, trying to get the “little” points for being one of the top three qualifiers in each of four sessions and taking that No. 1 position from all of his competition. He knows the “good air at Reading will tune everybody up,” John Force noted. With moderate temperatures forecast for the Reading area - showers are possible for Friday and Saturday but clear on Sunday - the racing should be hard and fast on this dragstrip. Just the kind of weather that gets John Force and tuner Jimmy Prock pumped up for competition.
Watch out for Courtney
They’ll have to contend with Courtney, though, who has been fortunate enough in her (nearly) three seasons of professional NHRA racing to see the championship-setting action unfold at Reading. “This is where you always see records being set. I’m hoping this will be my time to get into the 3’s (race to 1,000 feet in under four seconds). Conditions will be cool and the track will be fast for these cars,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what we can do there.”
Courtney Force has the talents of Ron Douglas and Daniel Hood (who worked with older sister Ashley) to guide her racecar and, now that she’s cured the seating problem in her Ford Mustang that caused discomfort during the first part of the 2014 campaign, Courtney Force is ready to take on her father, her brother-in-law Hight and anyone else standing in her way. “We’ve made a big move up to the No. 2 spot in points and have started to create the gap we need between us and the other competitors on our tail,” she noted. “We need to keep our consistency going and finish off this four-week stretch on a high note.”
For Robert Hight, getting back in contention is the difference in milli-seconds on the timing tree. The initial points leader through the first quarter of this 24-race season, his Countdown start has been difficult, just as it was in 2013. He and tuner Mike Neff, who formerly drove for the John Force Racing team, haven’t lost their touch as much as had the kind of racing luck everyone tries to avoid.
The battle rages on
The battle rages on within Team Force - father against daughter against son-in-law/brother-in-law as each works to topple the other. This family feud - at more than 300mph - continues through Reading this weekend, the Las Vegas meeting on Halloween weekend at two weeks later it ends, at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Can Courtney Force ruin her father’s dream of a 17th championship and his final year with backing from Ford and Castrol? The Traxxas Ford Mustang driver is intent on doing just that.