March 13, 2014 — NHRA photo — GAINESVILLE, FL — Funny Car standout Courtney Force has watched her John Force Racing teammates start the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in impressive fashion. Her legendary father, John, has kept the momentum from his 16th Funny Car world championship a year ago, winning the first race of the season and grabbing the points lead. Robert Hight posted a final-round appearance in Phoenix and sits second in points, and Force’s sister, Brittany, advanced to her first career final round in Phoenix, as well.
Meanwhile, Courtney is still searching for her first round-win of the season, something she hopes comes this weekend at the tradition-rich Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, March 13-16, at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
Things haven’t exactly gone as planned for the ultra-popular Force and her 8,000-horsepower Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car, but she knows things can change quickly in the world of 300-mph Funny Cars.
“In this sport, it’s easy to be on top one weekend hoisting a Wally and out in the first round the week after,” Force said. “That’s why it’s important to stay positive because things can always turn around at the next event. My Traxxas Ford Mustang team is ready and excited to go to Gainesville, and I have high hopes after testing we will be able to start turning things around.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
Despite the slow start, Force, in her third year in the Funny Car ranks, enters the event with confidence, in part because of the work the team has put in since Phoenix. There, she qualified just 12th and lost in the first round to Del Worsham, a rarity from a talented driver who has three wins, eight final-round appearances, and 53 round-wins in two seasons.
The break between Phoenix and Gainesville came at a welcomed time, giving Force and her team an opportunity to return to the level race fans have grown accustomed to since she debuted in the Funny Car ranks in 2012.
“We were able to stay over and test some things in Phoenix, and I have been in Indy (at the JFR headquarters) making the cockpit feel more comfortable,” Force said. “Little changes can always make a big difference, and we obviously don’t want to change anything too drastically. We’re still learning about this car, and we will have it coming back around soon, I have no doubt about that.”
As frustrated as Force may have been in her slow start, she has been able to take great pleasure in the successes of her JFR teammates. John Force posted a national record time of 3.965 seconds and speed of 324.12 mph en route to the win in Pomona, and Hight also cracked the three-second mark in Pomona before being ousted by Alexis DeJoria in the finals at Phoenix.
Brittany Force’s final-round appearance in Phoenix only added to the team’s banner start, but it’s also given Courtney Force confidence that her chance to jump back into the spotlight isn’t far off.
“I’m very happy with how well my teammates have done, and it makes me excited and determined to get things turned around for myself,” Force said. “We have great cars and an experienced brain trust behind all our teams at John Force Racing. I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before we’re back where we need to be. There’s absolutely no reason to be frustrated after only two races, which is why we are staying positive and determined.”
Force also welcomes the return to a legendary facility like Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. Despite a host of additional Funny Car challengers, including Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Bob Tasca III, and many others, Force knows the electric atmosphere Gainesville provides could be helpful.
“The fans are always great at this track,” Force said. “They pack them in every year, and the fans keep you excited and motivated. They’re what the experience is all about, and we’re ready to give them a great show.”