Part-time racers fared well in Top Fuel qualifying for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Friday’s first of five overall sessions. But in the end, Brittany Force dominated and the Capco Dragster father-son tag-team of Steve and Billy Torrence were right on her heels at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Just like she did at Brainerd, Minn., two weekends ago in the most recent race, Force rocketed to the top of the leaderboard. She did so in a Night of Fire-style display of power, edging Steve Torrence in a 3.6-second duel.
She posted a 3.670-second, 327.27-mph effort on the 1,000-foot course that fell only seven-thousandths of a second short of Clay Millican’s 2017 track elapsed-time record of 3.663.
Steve Torrence ran 3.688, 323.81 alongside her. And Billy Torrence, a part-time competitor but two-time winner and Topeka runner-up, followed in the tentative third place at 3.715, 325.61.
Force said, “I’ve been coming to the Indy race with my sisters and parents since I was a baby. I have pictures in my dad’s winners circle going back 30 years.” She said her family has photos of her and her sisters, who all were small enough in those days to “have Binkies in our mouths.”
But the Advance Auto Parts driver for John Force Racing is leaving a quite grown-up mark on this 18th of 24 events and last before the Countdown to the Championship fields are set.
She’s ranked No. 2 in the standings but has rivals Doug Kalitta, Millican, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, and Leah Pritchett poised to bump her down the line.
Kalitta took the early No. 7 spot. Millican, like rookie top-10 driver Austin Prock, was unqualified overnight. Pritchett and Brown were fourth and fifth, respectively, Friday. And Salinas, who was the toast of the track last year as he led all five qualifiers, found himself down in the 15th position to start the show.
Meanwhile, Force continued putting her stamp on the qualifying process, continuing this season for high performance at high-profile events. At the Gatornationals this March at Gainesville, Fla., she became the first woman since Shirley Muldowney in 1979 to qualify No. 1 at the event. Later at the SpringNationals at Houston, Force and her father, Funny Car’s John Force, earned the No. 1 starting spots in their respective nitro categories. That made them the first professional parent-child combo in NHRA history to be top qualifiers at the same event.
This event has a special meaning, for it’s one she said she associates with treasured family memories.
“This track has so much history for my family. Next to winning a championship, every driver and teams’ goal is to win Indy,” Force said. “My dad has won four times and Ashley won two years in a row. This year I’d like to add my name in the book next to theirs with David Grubnic, Mac Savage and all the Advance Auto Parts boys. We’ve had our ups and downs all season long, but we all feel confident going into Indy and this Countdown. It’s the big one. It’s on my bucket list.”
Force is seeking her sixth No. 1 position of the season, and she indicated she wouldn’t be at all surprised if this E.T. from the weekend’s only nighttime qualifying session held up.
“That was a pretty awesome run,” she said afterward, adding that she “won’t have to worry much” about safely making the 16-car field for Monday’s eliminations.
“It definitely felt fast. That track out there, it’s a good racetrack. I was worried – I saw some cars ahead of me that weren’t getting down that lane,” Force said. “We’re looking for consistency, because that’s where we’ve been struggling in qualifying.”
Cameron Ferre, Lex Joon, and Chris Karamesines didn’t make attempts Friday.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019