NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Dazzling performances, career-best season earn Force second Top Fuel crown

30 Dec 2022
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
2022 NHRA world champion
Brittany Force

No one at John Force Racing ever envisioned it as a five-year plan for Brittany Force to win a second NHRA Top Fuel world championship, but that’s what it ultimately took for someone to finally unseat Steve Torrence after a four-year reign atop the class.

But when you individually dissect the pieces of the puzzle that had to fall into place to bring together another championship campaign to the second-generation superstar, it all begins to make sense.

Torrence’s four-year performance monopoly notwithstanding, the newly crowned 2017 championship Force team had to overcome a serious, season-opening crash in 2018; a new crew chief, parts, and sponsor in 2019; sitting out the majority of the COVID-19-compromised 2020 season; and a get-reacquainted 2021 season to bring their true potential of the Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team back to the front.

“It takes a little while to get back on your feet after an accident and recover from it on the mental side,” she said. “Then in 2019, we had a new sponsorship [Advance Auto Parts], a new crew chief in [David] Grubnic, and, from top to bottom, a whole new group of guys. We also had to move into all John Force Racing parts, because we were with Alan Johnson for so long. There were a lot of shifts going on, and it takes a while to learn that whole new system and figure out how you’re going to put all these new pieces together and how to win. It took us a couple of years, but I still think it was pretty fast.

“Winning the second championship is as special as the first one, but one is unique in its own, because it’s with David Grubnic, and this is his first championship as a crew chief as it was for eight of my nine crew guys, so it is huge.”

The team had begun to find its footing in 2019, finishing third after a disappointing fifth in 2018, then COVID hit, and all of the JFR teams sat out the balance of 2020. The 2021 season was a bit of a mixed bag with only one win (Topeka), but the team also reached the semifinals or better at more than half of the events.

“I think that it showed how strong this team was and that we were coming,” she said. “We set a lot of records, track records, and had [12] No. 1 qualifiers, so we knew we were figuring this out. We weren’t performing like we wanted to on race day – I made a lot of mistakes as a driver – but I think it was proven that we were coming.”

That proved true as it took them just five races into the 2022 season to be in first place after back-to-back wins at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas and the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston. 

The win in Las Vegas was highlighted by a 338.00-mph blast, the second fastest in history behind her own 338.17 from 2019. By year’s end, she would run faster than both twice – 338.43 in St. Louis and a stunning 338.94 at the Auto Club NHRA Finals – and she, Grubnic, Mac Savage, and the Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team would end up owning the 10 fastest speeds in history by season’s end.

“We’re proud to hold all 10 of those runs,” she said. “That’s David Grubnic; he’s always said, ‘No balls, no glory,’ and he pushes the car, he wants to see those numbers, and he proves we can do [it] every single weekend.”

Another win in Richmond kept them out front, and even though they briefly lost the lead for two events in midseason, their fourth win of the year, in Sonoma, gave them back the lead. En route to the win, she made the quickest run in track history and then set the track speed record on three consecutive runs.

The team solidified that top spot with a runner-up in Seattle and Indy and entered the Countdown to the Championship playoffs with two first-round losses in the first 16 events.

The team hit a rocky stretch in the Countdown to the Championship, winning just one round in each of the first four events, and her second-round loss in Dallas to Shawn Langdon, on a 3.72 to3.67 holeshot, might have been her lowest point, but her team was there to buoy her.

“When you lose on holeshot, it’s hard to put it behind you, but you have to,” she said. “If you carry that into the next race, you’re gonna do it again, so you really have to put it behind you. That is what I told myself, and that is what I believed.

“We always have a team meeting on Sunday, regardless of if our weekend is good or bad. We talk about where we can improve, what we need to fix, where our strengths were, where our weaknesses were, and if the error is on me, I have no problem admitting my fault. I will stand up and apologize to my guys, tell them that I felt like I let them down and that I will get better. I give them a reason why I had a bad light, and they’re always, ‘Don’t worry about it. We will win the next one,’ and they 100% believe it, and that pumps me up.

“Having the quickest and fastest car puts extra pressure on a driver to win, and sometimes, it’s hard to navigate that. You have to have a laser-beam focus, be in that right mental space, and just don’t give a [damn] who’s in the lane next to you and find that balance: Not too calm but not overly aggressive, right there in that killer spot. That’s what works for me.”

It certainly worked for her in Las Vegas, at the penultimate event of the season. She entered the event 82 points behind Justin Ashley and took full advantage of his first-round loss to reach the final, where she faced another of the season’s top performers, Mike Salinas. With a chance to take the points lead riding on the final-round outcome and the flip side being entering the season finale in second place with Salinas hot on her heels in her, she drilled Salinas on the Tree with an .034 reaction and won on a holeshot, 3.705 to 3.702.

“That was a huge one for our team,” she admitted. “Winning on a holeshot is huge, just because that’s where I’ve struggled so much in the past. It was also a thank-you for my team for the times that they carried me and when I wasn’t there as a driver for them.

“I have a great support system around me. Obviously, my dad’s there with me every single weekend, my mom’s at most of the races. I called [sister] Courtney before the Vegas final round. I just was off, and I wasn’t in the right state going into the final round, and she got me back in the right place. She gave me a little motivational pep talk and went in, and we killed it.”

Force and team entered the season finale in Pomona needing to match Ashley round for round while staying ahead of Salinas, Antron Brown, and Torrence, and, for a while, a potential semifinal matchup with Ashley was a possibility, but Ashley, Salinas, and Torrence all were defeated in round one, and Force’s victory over Steve Chrisman eliminated Brown, and the second championship was finally hers.

The final scoresheet showed a career-high five wins in seven final-round appearances, 10 No. 1 qualifying efforts, 16 track records, and a 42-17 round record. Now 10 full seasons and more than 210 races into her Top Fuel career, she’s a certified badass in a certified badass car. Although the challengers are many, she may well be poised for her own mini monopoly, and she’s embraced the journey.

“I’ve had a lot of growth and seat time and experience that’s gotten me to where I am today,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from different crew chiefs, different crew guys; through bad weekends, red-light weekends, I always tried to find a positive. Even the crash in 2018; they are all pieces of this puzzle that got us here today. I wouldn’t pull any of it away because it got me where I am today, and it’s been worth the journey to get us to where we are.”

Force thanked her crew – David Grubnic, Mac Savage, Narciso Braco, Matt Covault, Mark Davidson, Justin Groat, Andrew Moore, Jimmy Newlin, and Cody Wilkinson – for their flawless help this season and acknowledged the support of her team’s valued sponsors: Monster Energy, Flav-R-Pac, Frank Tiegs, Chevrolet, Cornwell Tools, NK Seeds, Powers Solar, Auto Club of Southern California, Peak, Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist, Baldwin Filters, Weld Wheels, Gates Belts, and Goodyear.