Brittany Force used to drive an NHRA Super Comp dragster and motivate herself by watching the Disney movie “Right On Track” that’s based on the Jr. Dragster exploits of Erica and Courtney Enders.
Then as a Top Alcohol Dragster driver, Force relied heavily on her father’s direction and advice and the camaraderie with sister Courtney as they navigated the class together. Then she stepped up to Top Fuel and immediately got complete access to drag racing’s most brilliant mechanical maestro in tuner Alan Johnson. She listened, learned, and lassoed a championship. But she also bore the brunt of the Top Fuel class’ cruelest blow – experiencing a wicked crash in her first title-defense pass. So she was back to being vulnerable again after riding the highs of a Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship – the first in Top Fuel for a woman since Shirley Muldowney’s third in 1982.
But Sunday, as she won the Dodge Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and did it in record-setting style against her nemesis Steve Torrence, she was bolder than ever has been. Her speech is confident. She is demonstrating that she has a mind of her own and is no novelty and no puppet of either her 16-time Funny Car champion father John Force or equally self-assured crew chief Dave Grubnic.
Brittany Force has emerged as one of the sport’s consistent newsmakers. And she’s a woman who knows what she wants.
Sometimes, such as Sunday, she’s also a woman who gets what she wants.
Force eliminated the always-cagey Pat Dakin, her rising-star rookie teammate Austin Prock, and both of the mighty Capco Torrences on her way to sharing the winners circle with Erica Enders and taking the legacy of female pro drag racers beyond the 150-victory barrier.
What that means in her Countdown to the Championship pursuit is that as the tour rushes toward the Nov. 14-17 season finale, the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., at her home track, the Yorba Linda native is just 16 points away from leader Steve Torrence. And he is as determined not to yield control to her like how the race played out in 2017 as she is to stick it to him again.
Mitigating factors – most notably Torrence’s frightening second-round crash at Dallas that didn’t stop him from competing in the semifinals that day but wiped out the best car he said he ever had driven – contributed to Torrence’s fade and Force’s rise in 2017. But she knew how to take advantage of the opportunity he unwillingly gave her and became a champion.
He got his revenge (on the spite of the sport as much as on Force) the next year, crushing all opposition and winning every single race of the 2018 Countdown to claim his title. And as they head to Pomona, they’re lined up for an epic battle, all while they try to hold off Doug Kalitta, Billy Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Austin Prock, and Mike Salinas in a points-and-a-half free-for-all.
Perhaps lost in all the Countdown calculations is the fact Force set the national speed record at 338.17 mph, shattering Tony Schumacher’s 336.57 from the Phoenix 2018 event. That goes along with her 3.623-second national elapsed-time record she established at the start of the Countdown at Reading, Pa. Force also set the Las Vegas E.T. record at 3.652 second this past weekend.
“This weekend’s been incredible. We set the mile per hour. We have the record for mile per hour with 338. It’s incredible to hold that with the Advance Auto Parts boys and the E.T. record this year. So we’ve accomplished a lot, but really what we’re going after is a championship together,” Force said.
“It’s a Vegas win. It’s a win in the Countdown, which is huge. And it has moved us up that much closer to the No. 1,” she said after improving from the No. 3 position in the standings. “So this is a big win for our team. It’s been since Houston since we’ve won, so we’ve been out of the game for a little while, and we’re turning a corner at the right time: Vegas, and now we go to Pomona. There’s one left. Our mind’s in the right place now.
“We’re really turning a corner at the right time,” Force said. “David Grubnic’s been awesome to work with. We sit down and we talk about everything. I mean, he used to drive, so he knows exactly. He knows the pressure that I have, and he’s just been awesome to work with. I’m very blessed to have him as my crew chief.
“Oh man, I want to go straight to Pomona. To you have to go sit at home and just think about it, it’ll drive you nuts. But I’m going to do everything I can to stay in the hunt for this thing, stay in the game. I’m going to be in the gym every single day,” she said.
She predicted she’ll “have a lot of conversations with my dad, because it’s beforehand, it’s not on race day, and get his [advice] as much as I can. But I’ll be ready when Pomona gets here. I’m anxious to get there. We’ve been here before, and we want to do it again with the Advance Auto Parts team.”
After recording her 10th overall victory and second of the season, she said, “This weekend’s been incredible for this team. Las Vegas, it’s a home track for me. I mean I grew up out here, I raced Super Comp, A fuel, and I’ve always wanted to win here. And in 2017, I remember sitting right up there on that starting line, and final round chasing down Steve Torrence, and I red lit.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) November 5, 2019
Force said, “That popped in my head at some point today [Sunday] and I thought, ‘Get rid of it, because we’re going back up for this final, and we’re going to chase down Steve-O.’”
What buoyed her for each tough round Sunday was “just the support system I have around me: Advance Auto Parts, all of John Force Racing, all of our sponsors, and my team. Those guys, every single run, were patting me on the back, telling me to lay another one down and turn on another win light. And we’re very superstitious. We have our fist bumps and our handshakes and everything we do before the run, and they all told me to go out there and let’s take them down.”
Grubnic, seldom satisfied with his own performance as though he has someone in particular he wants or needs to impress and his best is never good enough, wasn’t thrilled to see Leah Pritchett set a track E.T. mark in surpassing Force as the class’ No. 1 qualifier Saturday.
But it didn’t disturb Force as much. She said, “I was OK with that. I mean, Grubnic wanted that No. 1 spot for as many [qualifying bonus] points as we could get – and just to be No. 1. But No. 2 I’m fine with. For some reason, it’s tough winning from that No. 1 spot. I don’t know if it’s a mental thing or superstitious, but for some reason it’s tough to win from there, so I felt good coming in. I looked at the ladder. I’m sitting No. 2. And I knew we could have a long day. It was going to be tough – we’re going to have to battle it out – but I was happy with our ladder. And we got the job done.”
Force didn’t let Grubnic’s angst affect her outlook, nor did she allow her father’s personality to distract her.
“Before the run he sometimes says too much, and it’s not the things [he says]– He’s trying to just give you too much advice all at once. And I’ve always told him, ‘Don’t talk to me until the day’s over or talk to me Saturday, Friday or Saturday. Don’t talk to me on race day,’ because it’s just one little thing can get in your head and it could just change your whole mindset on something. And he started talking to me about staging and I said, ‘Stop right there.’ And Grubnic came around the corner was like, ‘Stop talking to my driver’ and cut him off. And my dad said, ‘You’re right, you’re right. You know, go out there and do what you’ve been doing, and you did it once. You’ll do it again.’ And we’re going to chase down a championship again.”
That’s what Enders, who polished off Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin in the Pro Stock final, has in mind. And Force was able to share that “sisterhood moment” with her.
“Yeah. I always cheer the ladies on. There’s only a few of us out here,” Force said. “And Erica Enders, what she’s done for the sport, I mean, two championships. And I’ve always looked up to her. She’s incredible. She started in Jr. Dragsters. I remember watching her movie when it came out on Disney. Courtney [Force’s sister] and I would watch that thing over and over just to get us pumped out, pumped up before we’d go racing Super Comp. So to share the winners circle with her this weekend is pretty awesome. She’s a great friend. She’s an incredible driver and pretty cool that we did 150, 151 today.”
All season long, Force has managed to handle the learning curve with Grubnic, assistant crew chief Mac Savage, and an entire new team this year.
“I’ve worked with a ton of incredible tuners, and this year was a big change: coming in, a whole new sponsor, a new team, David Grubnic, Mac Savage. I mean, everything just flipped upside down for me, and that’s tough coming in as a driver. You almost feel like you’re starting over, and I’ve been out here for seven years. But we found our groove really quickly. We won in Houston, but we hadn’t won since then.”
She won in a splashy way Sunday. And it’s up to leader Steve Torrence and the other Top Fuel contenders if she’s going to be denied at this one last race of the season.
The most female drivers in professional categories to compete in a single NHRA event is 11, and the contingent of female pro racers racing this weekend in Vegas ties the record.
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— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) November 3, 2019