Imagine training for a home run derby without taking full swings. Or preparing for an Olympic sprint without actually running at your top speed. Or how about gearing up for a run at the Masters Golf Tournament at your local putt-putt course.
Now, imagine winning the derby, taking home the gold medal and putting on the green jacket.
That must have been how Brittany Force felt on Saturday.
Force spent her one and only weekend of preseason testing one week ago in Las Vegas making little spurts and half-track passes, never fully pushing her machine to the limit. So far this weekend in her first competitive passes of the year, Force has dominated, driving her Monster Energy dragster to the No. 1 spot at the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“That was our plan in Vegas. We never planned to make a full pass,” Force explained. “Our plan was to go to half track and not go beyond that. Heck, half the runs we only went to 300 feet. That is what (David) Grubnic wanted to do. He knew he could figure out what he needed coming out here to Pomona just doing half-track runs and that is what we did all weekend.
“It was good to get back in the seat and get the feel of things. Coming out here and making a full pass really throws you into the back of your seat and you really find that groove again. It feels good to be back making full passes as we should and putting numbers on the board.”
Force had the quickest passes in both of Saturday’s qualifying sessions and in Q1 on Friday, with her 3.657-second pass at 334.32 mph in Q4 securing her ninth career No. 1 qualifier.
“That was an incredible pass for this team. It is the first race of the season and I am excited to be out here at Pomona and we’ve teamed up with Monster Energy again and Flav-R-Pac, a new sponsor that came from Austin Prock’s Montana Brand,” Force said. “I am also excited to be out here with the same team led by David Grubnic and Mac Savage. To come out here this weekend and run consistent all weekend long, we knew we were able to push on that last run.
“We were safe in the show so Grubnic said we are going to push it and see what it can do. A 65 came up on the board and I wasn’t expecting that. It is pretty incredible and I am ready to go on to race day tomorrow.”
Force’s JFR teammate Austin Prock, who had struggled through the first three sessions of qualifying, brought the Montana Brand dragster home in second in his final pass on Saturday with a 3.680 pass at 330.72 mph. Leah Pruett was third with a 3.687 at 328.06 mph.
Shawn Langdon slipped from first to fourth after failing to make it off the starting line due to electrical issues. The provisional top qualifier from Friday had a 3.699 at 322.42 mph. Doug Kalitta rounded out the top five with a 3.717 at 330.39 mph.
Force admitted that even she was taken aback by Saturday’s chart-topping lap. Usually very straightforward with his target times, her crew chief left her guessing entering the final qualifying session of the weekend.
“He didn’t say much,” Force admitted. “He just came over and said we are going to push. Usually he tells me what the target is, what we are aiming for. That round it was just ‘we are going to push it’. So that means hang on and get the chutes out because it is a short track here at Pomona. I was hoping it would hang on and get down to the 1,000-foot stripe and it did and we hung on to that No. 1 spot. Austin was No. 2 so that was pretty exciting. JFR is off to a good start this season.”
Despite leaving her guessing, Force was very complimentary of her crew chief and the entire team as they return intact for a second year. It was a much different story last year when the team was just starting to come together.
“Working with Grubnic has just been incredible. And to carry over an entire team to the next season, your confidence going into the start of the season is much higher,” Force said. “Last season we came out strong right from the beginning, but it was a new group of guys, a new team, new crew chief, and finding your routine and getting to know everyone, that is a little tough.
“So there is definitely that confidence coming in with a group that you already know. Working with Grubnic and Mac Savage, they have been incredible. We have a lot of conversations because he has driven these things. He has been in the car so he understands the pressure that a driver carries and he understands it all. He has been there.”
With only 13 cars making the Top Fuel ladder, Force earns a first-round bye and will face the winner of Clay Millican and Terry McMillen in round two on Sunday.