After grabbing her third No. 1 qualifier of her career, Courtney Force wrapped up the weekend today with her second career win and first at the season-opening 53nd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway. She defeated Ron Capps in the final round of eliminations and ran the quickest pass of the weekend a 4.025 second run.
“It was definitely pretty unbelievable. My team, Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, thanks to them. They’ve given me a great race car all weekend long; a consistent one, running 4.0s. I just try to keep it straight down the center. They really made my job easy. I really owe it to those guys,” said the 24-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif.
Force is the fourth person to qualify No. 1 and win the Winternationals in the last 25 years. She took on the No. 16 qualifier at the start of race day and never looked back. Today was the first time Force and Phil Burkart Jr. have faced each other in eliminations and the daughter of 15-time world champion John Force came out on top with a 4.066 ET at over 316 mph.
“It is always tough racing someone in the other lane no matter who they are, whether they are the No. 16 qualifier or the No. 2 qualifier.
Force went on to race No. 9 qualifier Matt Hagan in the second round and claimed victory when Hagan slowed and Force posted a 4.070 ET. She is now 4-2 to the 2011 Funny Car World Champion.
The 2012 Rookie of the Year and Nationals spokesperson for Ford Motor Company’s Driving Skills for Life also ousted fellow Ford racer Bob Tasca III in the semifinals after he fouled out and sent Force on to the final round of eliminations against Ron Capps.
“I saw the red light. I knew I was good but it was definitely pure luck. I got on the radio and I said, ‘guys, we just won that by pure luck. God wanted us to win that round.’ But you know what, Bob Tasca III, we both get fired up against each other. He’s always good on the lights so he’s always a tough competitor, but the main thing is we both bleed Ford blue and we knew one of the Fords were going to the final so we were excited about that. You know, things happen. We both just wanted to get that win and we got lucky,” said Force.
The Traxxas Ford Mustang driver next pulled off the win in an exciting matchup against Capps in the final round. Force had lost the luxury of lane choice, but posted the quickest time of the weekend, a 4.025 ET and cruised into the winner’s circle.
“Going against Capps I was honestly terrified. I knew the last time I ran him it was out here in the finals and I knew he wanted revenge. He was running well all weekend. He got lane choice over me and it definitely made me nervous. He’s a tough competitor.”
“Going down there my car was flying. It got over to the centerline and I just held onto it because I didn’t know, I thought maybe he was right out my window. I wasn’t looking over in his lane, I was just paying attention to my own, trying to keep it straight and get past the finish line to get that win and was able to get the job done. I’m excited it was definitely a tough round not knowing where he was on the track, but we were able to do it,” said Force.
By winning the first event of the season, Force also now occupies a spot on the board reserved for the first driver entered into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout that will be held in Indy at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Last year, Force won the fan vote and was entered into the bonus race.
“Making it into the Traxxas Shootout, I think that’s the coolest thing here at my home track, being the first one on that list, you know my dad won the Winternationals last year and it’s pretty cool. It was kind of a bittersweet finish here in the final not getting that win and coming back and picking up where we left off and finishing our job. We got the win, got in the winner’s circle and I’m Just proud of my team.”
“That right lane for some reason has been tough for me this weekend. We spun the tires down there. We found a little bump in the road. But getting it down there and running a 4.02 in what was considered the bad lane, for me that was unbelievable. Ron Douglas just knows how to tune this car and I think we have a pretty bad hot rod going into Phoenix. I’m excited to see what we’re capable of doing.”
“It’s pretty surreal and crazy that we went to the top spot and I’m leaving here in the points lead. That just crazy to me and it’s exciting to be out here at my home track. My friends are all out here so I get to celebrate in the winner’s circle with them. I was starting to think the only race I could win was Seattle so it was kinda cool to come out here and prove myself wrong. We had a good hot rod and we had a good day,” said Force.
John Force picked a tough opponent to have one of his better runs of the weekend against. There were three winners in front of Force that advanced to the second round with runs slower than five seconds. Cruz Pedregon (5.165 sec), Todd Lesenko (5.013 sec) and Gary Densham (5.023 sec) all took out their respective opponents while Force was sent back to his Castrol GTX trailer after running 4.119 seconds at 313.07 mph.
Unfortunately for Force his opponent Ron Capps ran 4.108 seconds and took out the six-time Winternationals champion. Force was relegated to cheerleader for daughter Courtney the rest of the day. Force was able to see her get revenge on Capps with the final round win.
“I know the emotions she is going to have. I won the season opener here last year. A young kid like that doesn’t understand how it all works yet but she drover against a great champion in Ron Capps. They gave the fans a show,” said John Force.
“They were both going for it. He was trying to run one of those low 4.0s and she did it. I am really proud of her. For Traxxas and Mike Jenkins the president to have him here is key. He wasn’t in Seattle for the first win. We had a great weekend for John Force Racing. Robert Hight and I we both struggled but at the end of the day I had a neck and neck with Capps. My daughter took him out so it is all balanced to me.”
“Our dragster, I am still amazed with the job Brittany did putting that thing in the quickest Top Fuel field. Brandon Bernstein is the best. I lost to his dad in my first final and to see the next generation out here. To see the crowd at Auto Club Raceway was big. For all our sponsors from Mac Tools to BrandSource to Freightliner plus all our new sponsors like System 51, Champion, Gates Belts and Stingray Systems. To give them a win right out of the box at the first race of the season is amazing. I have had a lot of wins in my career and this one is big. We are a big family. I want to thank the media for giving my girl a chance when she made mistakes. It is a job but she loves her job.”
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang lost a pedalfest with Cruz Pedregon in the opening session. Both Funny Cars launched hard and Pedregon lost traction and then Hight’s Auto Club Mustang Goodyear’s came loose. Both drivers battled to get their 8,000 hp Funny Cars under control and it was Pedregon who crossed the finish line just in front of Hight.
It was a disappointing finish for Hight at his home track but he was philosophical about the outcome after just one race in the 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
“You always want to win the first race of the season but they don’t hand you the championship trophy until the end of the season. Jimmy has been looking at a number of different issues on the Auto Club Mustang and we are getting some answers with every pass. I am glad we are going to Phoenix in four days,” said Hight. “My team and I will keep working and we will figure this Mustang out. We are creating a lot of power and honestly we are trying to get it harnessed so we can run like some of these guys that are running 4.0s all the time. We will get there and when we do you’ll see a big smile on my face.”
Brittany Force’s first day of eliminations may have been shorter than she would have liked but that did not dampen her enthusiasm for the overall experience. In the first round she lost a close race to veteran Brandon Bernstein as her Castrol EDGE Top Fueler stepped up with a weekend best 3.822 second run against Bernstein’s 3.785 second run.
“Even though we went out in the first round I am still excited and so glad to be out here racing. We got the Castrol EDGE dragster qualified. We came out in the first run going against Brandon and we actually improved. I am really happy about that. We also ran our fastest speed. It is still a good day,” said Brittany Force.
For a rookie driver it is all about the process and learning from every experience. Force took a number of positives away from her four days at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“I have always been that type of person. I always try and find the positive spin on things. Even though we went out first round we did get qualified. I am so happy to be qualified and that we got a chance to race. I got to run against Brandon Bernstein. I grew up watching him and his dad. That was pretty awesome to have him in the lane next to me,” said Force, the quickest rookie in Top Fuel.
“I thought I was going to be really nervous about it but I surprised myself about it. I came out here and every one told me to think about it like testing in West Palm and that is pretty much what I did. I was a lot more relaxed than I thought I would be. I put everything out of my mind and I went up there and did my thing. We had a good car and we made a good run.”
Photo credits: Ron Lewis Photography and Gary Nastase Photography