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 that will once again be televised on ESPN2. 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 with her comfort level continuing 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 dragstrip 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 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, but 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.”
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.
Thursday, March 27, 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.
NHRA Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, March 28, with sessions at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 29, at 1:10 and 4:50 p.m. The K&N Horsepower Challenge will run Saturday at 1, 3:45, and 4:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, March 30.
To purchase general admission or reserved seats, log on to www.LVMS.com or call Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 800-644-4444. General admission tickets for children 12 and younger are free with any paid adult ticket.