Being a successful rookie, Top Fuel driver Brittany Force appears to have taken the next step in 2014
After a successful rookie season ended with a flourish, Top Fuel driver Brittany Force appears to have taken the next step in 2014. A season after winning the 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which goes to the top performing rookie driver in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Force continues to make strides, advancing to her first career final round early in 2014.
The next step is winning her first career race and Force will get her next opportunity at the 15th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race takes place March 28-30 at one of the world’s most state-of-the-art dragstrips and is the fourth of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events in the 2014 season.
In 2013, Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) won the event. This year Force, the daughter of legendary Funny Car driver John Force, hopes to send her 8,000-horsepower Castrol EDGE dragster to the winner’s circle for the first time in her young career as her comfort level continues to grow in the world of 320 mph dragsters.
“Heading into the 2014 season the Castrol EDGE team now has a year of experience to work from,” Force said. “We are starting to come together and jell, we just need a few races to keep figuring it out. I believe we can continue to improve our starting positions and continue to go rounds. I think we’re heading in the right direction. Our car has been running extremely consistent especially with new crew chief Todd Smith on board.
“I have lots of great memories in Vegas as I remember watching my dad race here when I was younger. Between racing Sportsman cars and my Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster, I’ve been down that drag strip so many times.”
While learning the nuances of her powerful Top Fuel dragster in 2013, Force went through all of the expected ups and downs in a rookie season that ended on a high note. Her first semifinal appearance came in the final race of the season in Pomona and she carried that momentum into the first three races of 2014.
She set a career-best E.T. and speed at the season-opening Winternationals, with a performance of 3.778 seconds at 326.24 mph to qualify eighth. A race later, Force and her team demonstrated what they are capable of when things come together. She knocked out heavyweights Tony Schumacher, David Grubnic and Steve Torrence to reach the final round, where she went 3.793 in a narrow loss to 2012 world champion Antron Brown.
It’s a sign that Force, whose sister Courtney won the Auto Club Road to the Future Award in 2012, is on the right path. But seeing the success of her John Force Racing teammates simply pushes her that much more.
“Reaction times are still the toughest part,” said Force, who is currently sixth in points. “You can practice all you want, but it's completely different when someone's in the next lane and you're strapped in with a helmet on and the engine making all that noise behind you. I'm still learning, and I'll be learning for a while."
The learning curve is made all the more difficult against a loaded Top Fuel field that boasts a plethora of championship contenders. Schumacher has ruled The Strip, piloting his U.S. Army dragster to seven career wins, but everyone is currently chasing Doug Kalitta and his Mac Tools dragster. The points leader qualified No. 1 at the first two events and then beat Brown en route to the victory at the most recent event in Gainesville.
After beating Force in the final at Phoenix, Brown is back in championship form, while Al-Anabi Racing’s Shawn Langdon is looking to defend his 2013 world title. Other contenders include Khalid alBalooshi, who won the tradition-rich Winternationals to start 2014, two-time Vegas winner Spencer Massey and rookie Richie Crampton.
Force, though, remains focused on what she needs to do to climb the Top Fuel ladder.
“Todd Smith and the rest of the team have been working really hard since Gainesville and have fixed the bugs that plagued our Castrol EDGE Dragster during qualifying,” Force said. “I’m pumped to be heading back (to Vegas) as I got my first round Top Fuel win against Kalitta here last year. I love the Vegas track as it’s beautiful and the Castrol EDGE team is ready to go some rounds.”
The legendary John Force, coming off his 16th world championship in Funny Car, is the current points leader in the class and has four wins in Vegas. His JFR racing teammate, Robert Hight, is once again a bona fide championship contender and is coming off a win in Gainesville. Hight also has four Vegas wins, including three at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals. Ron Capps has a Funny Car-best five wins at The Strip while Alexis DeJoria defeated Hight in Phoenix to earn her first career victory. Other marquee challengers include defending race winner Pedregon, who has three Vegas wins, Courtney Force, Jack Beckman, Del Worsham, Tommy Johnson Jr., Bob Tasca III and Tony Pedregon in what has developed into one of the most competitive Funny Car fields in history.
In Pro Stock, the reigning champion is Jeg Coughlin Jr., while his Mopar Dodge Dart teammate Allen Johnson is the defending winner and has posted back-to-back victories in 2014 to take over the points lead. Winternationals winner and one-time Las Vegas winner Jason Line and his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro are after another early-season victory and his teammate, Jimmy Alund, who is filling in for Greg Anderson, is also expected to challenge for the win. Erica Enders-Stevens, V Gaines, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile and Dave Connolly always provide tough competition in the ultra-competitive factory hot rod category.
The SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals is always a big weekend for Pro Stock drivers as the lucrative K&N Horsepower Challenge will showcase the 200 mph factory hot rod category. Eight Pro Stock drivers will duke it out for bragging rights and a hefty $50,000 paycheck on Saturday of race weekend. Allen Johnson is a two-time and defending K&N Horsepower Challenge winner.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
On Thursday, March 13, NHRA will host a Fanfest at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino (5-7 p.m.). The NHRA Fanfest will give fans an opportunity to meet and greet drivers, get autographs, check out some show cars, take photos with their favorite drivers and more before the drivers go full throttle at LVMS.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins on Friday, March 28, with sessions at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 29, at 1:10 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. The K&N Horsepower Challenge will run at 1 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on Saturday. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 30.