After spending much of the off-season on the road, including the last two weekends in Florida for the PRO test session and the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona Int’l Speedway, Funny Car driver Courtney Force is thrilled to finally be back home in Southern California. When she studies her calendar, she’s also relieved to see that her next road trip is a short one: Historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, site of next weekend’s season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals, is less than 30 miles from her home in Yorba Linda. Barely three months after finishing the season in Pomona, Force and the rest of NHRA’s Pros will begin counting points again following the first of two qualifying nitro sessions that are scheduled for Friday, Feb. 7, at 1 and 4 p.m.
“It was a hectic off-season, but we managed to get a lot accomplished, and now I’m ready to race,” said Force. “I’m happy to be back behind the wheel of my Traxxas Mustang no matter where we’re running, but there is always something special about racing in Pomona. It’s my home track, and it’s a place where I grew up watching my dad race. I have a lot of memories there.”
One other not-so-minute detail: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is also where Force bagged the first of her two wins last year. She opened the 2013 season with a dominant performance that included a 4.03 in qualifying that was good for the No. 1 spot and a 4.02 in the final round against fellow California native Ron Capps.
Returning to Pomona, Force will have the opportunity to race in front of family and friends, but as the defending event champion, she acknowledges there might be slightly more pressure than usual.
“I would agree that there’s a little more incentive to defend my title,” she says. “We definitely want to win back-to-back titles, and it’s always important to get a good start as far as the points are concerned, so that’s a big consideration as well. A win early can set the tone for the rest of the season.”
At times last year, Force’s Traxxas Ford was arguably the best Funny Car in the class. She hovered around the top five for most of the regular season but slipped to seventh following a pair of first-round losses during the Countdown to the Championship. The numbers that flowed from the recent South Florida test session included a host of 4.0 performances from most of the NHRA’s top Funny Car teams, and Force was right in the mix with a pair of 4.06-second runs. Her father, John, was one of the leaders with a 4.01, and teammate Robert Hight was also strong with a 4.03 best in his Auto Club Ford. For much of the winter, the entire Force team focused not only on improving performance, but also consistency.
Courtney Force, the defending Circle K NHRA Winternationals champ, shared the winner's circle last year with her famous father, John, and mother, Laurie.
“We want to be better, not just in qualifying, but also on race day,” said Force. “We got into the top 10, but the last seven races last year, we struggled during Indy and then again during the Countdown. Early in the season, we had a bracket car, but then we couldn’t get out of round one. Historically, we’re at our best when we can make a good run in the first qualifying session and just tweak it and make minor changes. We tested a lot of new things this winter, and we always had it in mind that we wanted to make our cars not just faster, but also more consistent. There is no doubt that we need to have better Sundays, too.”
Now entering her third full season as an NHRA Pro, Force acknowledges that she’s no longer a rookie and should be one of the leading contenders for the Mello Yello Funny Car world championship. By the time she gets to Gainesville, she will have competed at 50 NHRA events as a Pro, and she’s on the verge of her 100th elimination round, compiling a very respectable 53-44 record during her first two full seasons in the class.
“As a driver, I still make mistakes, and I’m still learning, but I’m learning faster now,” she says. “My comfort level is very good. When my crew is forced to make changes to the car, I’m less and less nervous about it because I have a pretty good idea of how the car will react to them. We have a great team with [crew chiefs] Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, and I don’t have any reason to think we can’t win more races this season and be there at the end fighting for the title.”
For tickets for the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, call 800-884-NHRA (6472) or log on to NHRATix.com.