Courtney Force, the 23-year-old daughter of 15-time NHRA champion John Force, will make her professional driving debut Feb. 9-12 in the 52nd annual Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in a Ford Mustang sponsored by Traxxas, the world leader in ready-to-run R/C vehicles.
The announcement was part of a wide-ranging press conference at John Force Racing headquarters in Yorba Linda, Calif., that also solidified the team’s 2012 driver and crew chief lineup and addressed other future plans.
Courtney, who for the last four seasons learned how to deal with all of the off-track aspects of professional racing and has proven herself a skilled interviewee, a reality TV star, a spokesperson for Ford Motor Company’s Driving Skills for Life program, a national marketing contest winner, and a fan favorite, finally will get a chance to show what she can do on the track.
“For Traxxas, Courtney represents more than just a female driver on the track. The family that she comes from has been racing and she’s been a part of racing all of her life. She’s not just another girl at the racetrack, she’s a girl that has real DNA and John Force DNA embedded in her and it shows,” said Mike Jenkins Traxxas president. “Take a couple of minutes and talk with Courtney; you’ll see the competitiveness that comes out in that girl. She’s going to represent our company and our brand. She’s been a top pick for us for a very long time- we’re proud to have her on.”
|Following the family path
Although their personalities are exceedingly different, Courtney followed older sister Ashley Force Hood’s lead in developing her current career path. Like Ashley, she took auto shop as one of her high school electives, was a cheerleader at Esperanza High School, graduated from Cal State-Fullerton with a degree in Communications and was a star of the A&E real life series Driving Force which last aired in 2007.
Moreover, like her sister, she learned drag racing basics in a Super Comp dragster, honed her skills in a Top Alcohol Dragster and then tested for a full year in a BrandSource Ford Mustang Funny Car.
That training complete, she now is focused on making her own way to the top of her chosen sport, especially after being identified as one of the “most promising newcomers” in professional sports by ESPN The Magazine’s NEXT poll.
After winning an NHRA national event in the Top Alcohol Dragster class and earning “Top Agent” honors in the marketing contest that fueled Ford’s Fiesta Movement introduction in 2010, the statuesque blonde spent last season testing in a Ford Funny Car after selected Full Throttle tour events.
In anticipation of her pro debut, she will continue to test this month in Florida in a Traxxas Ford Mustang prepared by veteran crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Scott Wible.
“Courtney proved she has the same competitive drive that’s made her father successful, working her way through the Super Comp and Top Alcohol Dragster ranks,” said Jamie Allison, Director of Ford Racing. “We’ve only seen a small portion of what she’s capable of achieving (and) we’re happy to welcome her officially as a member of the One Ford Funny Car team in 2012. It’s something we’ve all anticipated and we are very excited and happy to have her on the Ford team.”
“I’m excited to finally be getting ready for my first professional race,” said Force, who hopes to compete for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award which identifies the season’s top rookie on the NHRA’s 23-race Full Throttle tour. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do and to have had my sister Ashley, my dad, brother-in-law Robert Hight and Mike Neff teach me makes it that much better. I have had the best teachers. I’m just going to learn all I can and see where it takes me.”
Although she was successful in the NHRA’s Lucas Oil Sportsman Series, winning in the Top Alcohol Dragster class at the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Seattle in July 2009, she admitted to some trepidation after her initial laps in her BrandSource Funny Car.
“Steering the car was one of the biggest changes for me,” she said of the differences between a 270 mph dragster and a 315 mph Funny Car. “You don’t want to over-steer in a dragster (but) then you get in a Funny Car and you almost have to over-steer to keep the car going straight. There’s just a lot more manhandling of the Funny Car than there used to be in the dragster, but it’s definitely been fun.”
Courtney acknowledged that she is excited not only about competing against her father and other teammates but also against Alexis DeJoria, another woman driver who made her pro debut late last season.
“Watching Alexis last year just made me that much more eager to get out there with her because she’s having fun with it and she’s done really well. I can’t wait to get out on the track and start making laps and promoting my great sponsors Traxxas, Ford Racing, Castrol, Auto Club, Mac Tools and BrandSource.”
Force with crew chief Ron Douglas
Douglas, who helped direct Ashley Force Hood to second- and third-place finishes and back-to-back Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Funny Car titles in her two most recent seasons in the NHRA’s Full Throttle Series, will try to work the same magic this year with her sister Courtney. Sharing tune-up responsibilities with Douglas will be veteran Wible and a crew consisting of Kyle Darr, Steve Easton, Mark Freidenfelt, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kullberg, Robert Proctor and Brad Robinson.
With 19 years of experience working with some of the most productive teams and well-known drivers in drag racing, nine as crew chief, Douglas brings a wealth of knowledge to his new role including victories with three different drivers in two different nitro categories. Douglas, who had worked at Don Schumacher Racing, Doug Herbert Racing and for two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon, provided additional crew chief experience that supported battery-mate Dean “Guido” Antonelli when the two hooked up to combine to make Force Hood a legitimate title contender.
“The preparation of the car is our No. 1 priority,” Douglas said. “We want to make sure the product is right before we ever take it to the starting line. We make sure the car is prepared properly and safely – that’s priority one. Then we’ll decide how we want to attack the racetrack.”
Force beefs up the braintrust; Brittany to test in Top Fuel
Unwilling to accept his team’s 2011 results as just an unexpected bump in the road, John Force also made a series of aggressive off-season moves designed to return his namesake team to its customary position atop the NHRA Funny Car standings.
Force will start the 2012 season with a beefed-up braintrust of crew chiefs and mechanics who will race four Ford Mustang Funny Cars under the John Force Racing, Inc., banner instead of the three with which they finished the 2011 season and will expand the racing technology and safety program at JFR working with Ford Motor Company.
“Racing provides a platform for technology transfer and R&D between the track and production vehicles,” said Ford’s Allison. “Ford has a longstanding relationship with John Force Racing and the NHRA on safety which is one of Ford’s pillars.”
Returning for 2012 will be Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, 2009 series champion Robert “Top Gun” Hight and his Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, and 2011 regular-season champion Mike Neff behind the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
While Courtney will be following in the footsteps of her father and older sister Ashley Force Hood in the Funny Car division, 25-year-old Brittany Force will start the season as test driver in the BrandSource Top Fuel dragster utilizing the JFR-built Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor that powers the JFR Funny Cars. Later in the season the team will evaluate the three-rail dragster and see what the future holds for Brittany.
In addition to the on-track additions John Force Racing is investing more than a million dollar build-up at the Brownsburg, Ind., facility and new personnel for research and development to work with Ford engineers and technicians. Force is currently in negotiations with an additional number of technical experts who could lend their expertise to the JFR team. The new personnel along with much needed and appreciated assistance from Ford Motor Company will continue to keep JFR dominating on the track and building safer race cars and dragsters.
This off-season Force bulked his staff by hiring Danny DeGennaro, Dickie Venables, and Scott Wible to work with an existing crew chiefs led by the JFR braintrust of Jimmy Prock, Mike Neff, Dean “Guido” Antonelli, Douglas, and Hall of Famer Bernie Fedderly, who has racing round wins in nitro racing than anyone else in NHRA history.
The on-track lineup includes Neff, who now serves as both driver and crew chief on the Castrol GTX Ford after winning two NHRA championships as crew chief alone; Prock, who engineered Hight’s 2009 title; Eric Lane, Prock’s right hand for the last 10 years; and Antonelli, and Douglas, whose collaboration on Force Hood’s car produced back-to-back victories in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
With Hight working his day job as President of JFR, the company also signed new partnership agreements with Freightliner Trucks and Flow International along with a sponsorship extension with the Auto Club of Southern California, which has served as the primary sponsor on Hight’s Ford since he made his professional driving debut as the NHRA rookie of the year in 2005.
Although 2011 was just the fifth season in the last 22 in which a JFR Funny Car driver did not win the championship, it otherwise was a very productive year for the sport’s most successful team. JFR drivers won half the races contested (11 of 22), won the regular season championship and placed two of three drivers in the Top 5 in points. Nevertheless, Force, who has won at least one tour event in 24 different seasons, an auto racing record, is totally focused on re-claiming the title won last season by Matt Hagan.
“Our primary job is to win championships,” said the 133-time NHRA tour winner, “and when you don’t win you have to look at where you can improve. I’m expanding my ‘brain trust’ with more engineers and new technology. That’s why we brought Danny DeGennaro in and brought Dickie back because he knows how we work. I am also looking for some additional support that will work to just bring us ideas we can implement in testing that will continue to keep us at the top of the sport.”
Traxxas successfully created, manufactured and marketed the first RTR (Ready-to-Run) radio-controlled vehicles for the car enthusiast and which today is the world leader in the category. Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Plano, Texas, Traxxas pioneered a new breed of car; one that incorporated the hobby-class benefits of replaceable parts, performance enhancements and a high-quality component radio system; with the convenience of a beautifully painted, professional built Ready-To-Race performance product that could be driven and enjoyed immediately.
“Traxxas is a company that can easily align with John Force Racing; the overall energy of the team; the brutal, fire breathing horsepower that they make; and the sheer dominance they have had amongst their competition. As a company, we at Traxxas are Performance First in everything we do; from our newest 100-mph supercar, to how we support our customers. It’s all about performing at our best and exceeding the expectation of our customers and race fans. We are proud to have Courtney piloting the Traxxas funny car and we are excited to see that Force DNA come to life at over 300mph. Prepare yourselves for the next generation of Force, with an injection of Traxxas adrenaline.” said Mike Jenkins, Traxxas president.
Traxxas’ newest product, the electric-powered XO-1, defines the pinnacle of a whole new segment as the world’s fastest Supercar, a radio controlled vehicle capable of reaching 60 mph in 2.3 seconds and 100 mph in 4.92 seconds. It’s this level of Extreme performance that has served to reinforce Traxxas’ continued dominance of the radio control marketplace.
While Traxxas will serve as primary sponsor of Courtney’s Ford, the Traxxas name also will appear on the other three Ford, Mustangs in the John Force Racing stable.