MOHNTON, Pa. — The 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season still has three races remaining but it has already been one filled with incredible achievements for third-year Funny Car star Courtney Force.
There are the four victories this season and the seven in her short career, already records for female Funny Car drivers. Force also earned the landmark 100th NHRA win by a female earlier this year, while her most recent impressive stretch includes back-to-back victories in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, becoming the first female to win consecutive events in Funny Car.
Lastly, the win bumped her to second in points, just 30 behind her father and reigning champion John Force, and marking the first time in NHRA history a father and daughter have been first and second in points. But perhaps taking a page out of her father’s book, Courtney Force is only looking forward and that means a possible third straight victory at this weekend’s 30th annual NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
“I just think about these races as a new race, a new day,” Force said. “You just have to take it round-by-round and try to pick up points. You don’t look at the end of the day. You can’t think about it. It’s all about getting a win out here and picking up points, and we have to go rounds to do that.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the fourth of six events in the Countdown and is held at one of the quickest and fastest strips on the NHRA circuit.
A year ago, Courtney Force watched her legendary dad make a championship move in Reading, taking over the points lead during the weekend and winning the event en route to his 16th world championship. Courtney Force wouldn’t mind a similar season-changing weekend at Maple Grove Raceway and she couldn’t be entering the pivotal race on a better note.
After entering the Countdown in sixth, Force fell in the opening round in Charlotte to her dad. But she has responded in championship fashion, winning in both Dallas and then last weekend in St. Louis, beating Matt Hagan in a thrilling side-by-side duel in the final round to jump all the way to second in a loaded Funny Car class.
“I’m proud of my guys for giving me a great race car,” Force said. “We got things turned around at the right time. Right here at the start of the Countdown to the Championship is when we need to have a consistent race car, and I think that’s what we’ve got so far. To have back-to-back wins and make a move in the Countdown is just huge for us. We need to create a gap between us and everyone behind us and climb our way up to catch dad if we want to win this championship. That’s what we have our eyes set on right now.”
Force also got a touch of Countdown revenge on her father with a holeshot victory in the semifinals at St. Louis. It left Force with mixed emotions at the time but also proved her ability to perform under pressure in the heated race for a world championship.
“Nobody likes to get beat on a holeshot and I didn’t want to do that to my dad, but I went after it,” Force said. “I wanted to get the win and go after the points. I was thinking that dad beat me in Charlotte and I dwelled on that for a while. I was waiting for a rematch to get him back and I did it, but luckily he can’t be too mad since I (took) home a Wally.”
Of course, it isn’t just a father-daughter race to the championship in a crowded Funny Car field. John Force has seven victories at Maple Grove Raceway, the most for a driver in any NHRA professional class, but Funny Car is loaded with championship talent.
That includes Courtney Force’s teammate Robert Hight, Hagan, who is just 12 points behind Force in third, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., three-time season winner Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Del Worsham. The impressive list has Force appreciative of her current position but also eager to make one more push starting this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway.
“Dad is tough to beat but a lot of these drivers are,” Force said. “Everyone is so close in the points and every weekend it could change. I’m definitely going to savor this moment where dad and I are 1 and 2 in the points.”
Langdon won in Reading last year en route to his first career Top Fuel world championship. Standing in his way of a repeat title is a host of star challengers including red-hot points leader Tony Schumacher, who won the first two races of the Countdown and also has four wins at Maple Grove Raceway, Doug Kalitta, who has advanced to nine finals in 2014, Antron Brown, who ended a brief slump with a win at the most recent event in St. Louis, Spencer Massey, Brittany Force, 2012 winner Khalid alBalooshi, rookie Richie Crampton, Steve Torrence and J.R. Todd.
In Pro Stock, Coughlin defeated teammate Allen Johnson to win at Maple Grove Raceway last year, a win that became one of the differences in Coughlin claiming his fifth Pro Stock world championship. He is currently chasing points leader and two-time event winner Jason Line, as is the rest of a talented Countdown field consisting of Dave Connolly, who has won back-to-back events to climb to second in points, Shane Gray, Jonathan Gray, Erica Enders-Stevens, V Gaines, Vincent Nobile and Chris McGaha.
Smith was victorious at Reading in Pro Stock Motorcycle last season en route to his second championship. Smith is looking for his first win of 2014 while teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec have been the class of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field during the regular season. Hines is the points leader in the two-wheel category, while Krawiec is second. Others nipping at Hines’ heels in hopes of a championship are Angie Smith, Hector Arana Jr., Hector Arana, Michael Ray, Scotty Pollacheck, John Hall and Steve Johnson.
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 and get autographs from 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.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Oct. 3, with sessions at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Oct. 4, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 5.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Maple Grove Raceway at (610) 856-7200 or visit www.maplegroveraceway.com. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.