espnW: Courtney Force
It's been a wonderful year. I'm so proud of my Traxxas team for all their hard work. We just wrapped up the Western Swing, where we raced our way to two back-to-back semifinal round appearances and moved up a spot in points!
It takes a lot of hard work, concentration and dedication when you're running three races in a row. I'm so proud of all our John Force Racing teams, and I really think we're getting back on the right track at the right time.
Being on the road with my friends and family and getting the opportunity to race a Funny Car at the same time is one of the greatest things on Earth. I'm fortunate I get to do a job that I love, and I get to compete against my dad and cheer on my sister, Brittany, in the process.
The most frustrating thing as a driver is losing on a holeshot, which means your competition left the starting line before you. I won on a holeshot in Sonoma, and the following weekend I lost on one. It happens to everyone at some point, but it is the worst feeling knowing you let your team down on that run.
As a driver, you do whatever you can to be the best. I'm constantly on my practice tree -- working on my reaction times and trying to improve. Luckily, I have a great group of guys who are my support system. They cheer me up even when I know I've let them down. It's the toughest part as a driver, but I'm so thankful I have a team that will stick by my side no matter what and will always remind me that "we win as a team and lose as a team."
Now, it's crunch time, and I'm eager to get this Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car clinched in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. I'm looking forward to Indy, and we will of course strive for our first win at "The Big Go," the biggest race on the NHRA circuit.
I'll also be cheering on Brittany, who needs to win the fan vote/lottery style drawing on Wednesday morning before the race to get the last spot in the Traxxas Top Fuel Nitro Shootout! I campaigned for the last spot in the shootout last year, and it was pretty stressful. You need to get as many votes as possible because after that your votes go into a lottery where only one person is drawn to win.
In between the Sonoma and Seattle races, I hung out with my sisters, continuing our tradition of wine tasting in beautiful Sonoma, Calif. A driver took us to local wineries, and we had a great time just being with each other, away from our crazy busy lives.
After a semifinal-round finish for our team and a runner-up finish for my dad, we headed over to Lake Tahoe for some vacation time with family and friends.
We went out on the lake for a day of boating at Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor and did some tubing and tanning. Lake Tahoe is one of our all-time favorite vacation spots, and it's awesome to be able to go there with my family between races to recharge our batteries. While in Tahoe, we hit the beach and just used the time to relax. We even visited our former race track chef, Jonny Roscher, at his newly opened restaurant called Za's in Tahoe City. The food was amazing, and I'm pretty sure our family tried everything on his menu.
I love getting to compete in my Funny Car, being out at the race track with my family and just enjoying the atmosphere that surrounds us all every weekend. It's an amazing sport, and I'm proud to be a part of it. Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a race car driver like my dad, and it's really cool to have the chance to be out here racing in the lane next to him and learning how to improve myself as a driver. I'm loving every minute of it.
Surprise! I'm in the 2013 ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue, and what a ride it's been.
I was originally approached last season, my rookie year in Funny Car, to be in the Body Issue but made the decision to turn it down. At the time, the start of 2012, I felt it was the right choice.
I had been racing in sportsman categories within the NHRA for the past seven years and was about to take a huge step up into the professional category piloting a Nitro Funny Car when ESPN asked me to participate in the prestigious issue. I had a lot on my plate, but my main focuses were learning how to drive my race car, take tips from my dad on how to drive, be the spokesperson for Ford Driving Skills for Life and just get through my first season while gaining as much experience as possible.
The year went better than expected, and I finished my rookie season in Funny Car. I locked into the points chase for the Countdown to the Championship, got the last spot for the Traxxas Shootout, picked up my first Funny Car win in Seattle, finished fifth in overall total points by the end of the NHRA season and even picked up rookie of the year, all in a male-dominated sport.
When I continued in 2013 as one of two females in the Funny Car category, I was able to pick up two more NHRA national event wins before being approached by ESPN again. This time I felt the Body Issue was an opportunity I could not pass up. I've worked really hard trying to prove myself as a driver, and although this is just the beginning and I still have a lot to learn, I'm proud of what my Traxxas Ford Mustang team has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. As a driver, I work hard in the gym to train my body so that I can be strong enough to keep up with the boys I compete against and handle my 10,000 horsepower race car.
My dad, whom I compete against every weekend in the Funny Car category, also participated in the Body Issue back in 2011. He has really been my mentor and my biggest supporter throughout my journey in Funny Car. I sat my dad down and talked to him about what his opinion was if I agreed to be nude. Of course, my dad was a little shocked, but he told me that he would support my opinion since I'm a grown adult. Obviously, my family's opinion is very important to me so I sat down with all of them nervously and asked for their thoughts. This is such a huge magazine and of course a huge honor to be asked, let alone be the one recognized in our sport. However, it is nude ...
After weighing the pros and cons for a few months throughout this decision-making process, I decided I was going to do it. What better way to showcase the athleticism of our sport to an unknown audience? Hopefully it could even draw a different audience into the seats of our NHRA races across the country for years to come.
I'm so proud of the fact that I get to drive a race car that hits speeds of more than 300 mph in just four seconds every weekend, and hope the strength our sport requires is highlighted in the photographs. I'm so fortunate for the opportunity, but am even more passionate about striving to be the best in my sport. I've got a long road ahead of me if I'm going to follow in my father's footsteps as a 15-time champion, but that's why I hit the gym hard and make it a lifestyle. I live and breathe racing and look forward to hopping into the cockpit of my Funny Car every weekend in hopes of learning something new, and taking home that Wally at the end of the weekend. Through all the blood, sweat, and tears, you need to have a thick skin in this sport and, as my dad likes to say, "I've learned how to manhandle my race car."
Being a female in a male-dominated sport, I'm so proud I did the issue and am even more proud to represent NHRA. This was definitely a huge step out of my comfort zone, and although the process was nerve-wracking, I'm thankful to have had such great support, unbelievable fans and amazing photographers, Williams + Hirakawa, who made this experience more amazing. A big thanks to them for capturing some timeless, bold shots.
I hope people can look at them and see the message: With enough dedication and hard work, no matter your shape or size, whether you're male or female, if you put in the time, effort, endless dedication and never accept failure, you can achieve your dreams like I did -- to be a professional NHRA Funny Car driver.
After getting beaten by my dad the previous weekend in Bristol, Tenn., on Father's Day, I was eager to get back out to the racetrack for a little revenge! My dad's win was great for the John Force Racing team, but he passed me in NHRA drag racing points. As a Father's Day present, my plan was to give my dad the day off, but clearly he had a better gift in mind for himself ... a Wally.
We celebrated together in the winner's circle at Bristol, but I made sure he knew I would be after him the next weekend. On the way to the race in Epping, N.H., I stopped at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., where I got to showcase my Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car for the employees, along with drivers Antron Brown and Allen Johnson. It was so exciting to be on "campus." The place is literally like the Disneyland of sports, it's awesome! We met with different employees and some of their families, signed autographs, took pictures, spoke with some media and even got to be on "SportsCenter" to discuss NHRA. As luck would have it, we picked the same day Darius Rucker was there for a performance.
From ESPN, we headed to the newly added racetrack on our circuit, New England Dragway. I was excited because I felt that all drivers were really on the same playing field because none of us had raced on this track before.
We picked up some points during qualifying and were set in the No. 3 spot going into race day on Sunday. I took a look at the race ladder and realized that, if the day went like I hoped for my birthday weekend, I would meet my dad in the final round. And, that's exactly what happened. Our Traxxas team made it all the way to the final round after defeating Alexis DeJoria, Tim Wilkerson and reigning champion Jack Beckman. My toughest matchup would definitely be my dad in the final.
I pulled up to the starting line, did my burnout alongside my dad, backed the car up and got ready to stage. It was nice to know one of us, no matter what, would be celebrating in the winner's circle. I pre-staged my car first, then Dad, and I decided not to play any games on him this time. Apparently, Dad had a different plan. I staged my car like normal, but Dad rolled his car in deep and had a killer light on me. That didn't stop our car from outrunning him. We both spun the tires down track right before the finish line at about the same time. Dad made the choice to try to pedal the car in hopes it would hook back up and fly, but I chose to just stay in the throttle. This seemed to be the right choice because my car stayed hooked up until I got to the finish line, with my dad out my window. Not letting up as the win light came on for my third NHRA national event win of my Funny Car career! I guess birthday wishes really do come true!
It was a close race again, but our team was able to get the job done, and my dad and I both moved up a little further in points! I'm currently fourth and Dad fifth. This was a huge win for our team and a big step forward.
When we pulled our cars off the racetrack and hopped out, it felt like one of those surreal moments out of a movie. My helmet was still on, and my dad ran over to hug me and try to tell me something, but the cheers and excitement around me was drowning out it out while I was being pulled away to do my interview for the ESPN cameras. I got my helmet off and hurried back to him. He congratulated me and reminded me to list all of my sponsors during my interview.
He's one of the toughest racers out here to beat, but at the end of the day, he's still just a dad, racing his daughter at 300 mph and trying to teach me the business.
I've had a pretty exciting week since our last NHRA race in Topeka, Kan. My family and I flew home as quickly as possible to see my sister, Ashley, and her husband, Danny, and to welcome my new nephew, Noah William Hood, to the family.
I was very fortunate to make it home in time to meet the new baby considering I only had about 24 hours before I had to hop back on a flight to start a two-week trip.
I flew to Dearborn, Mich., where I got the opportunity to tour the Henry Ford Museum, take in all of the history and learn how the Ford Motor Company began.
Seeing "Sweepstakes -- The Race Car that Changed Everything," was the highlight of the tour for me because it has so much history behind it.
I got to take a ride in a Model T through Greenfield Village, tour Ford Racing Headquarters and see the new Ford Fiesta. They even let me take it for a spin!
I met the staff behind the Ford Driving Skills for Life program, which was very cool because I'm in my third year as the spokesperson for the initiative.
We had a packed schedule, but we managed to make it over to AutoWeek Magazine where they showed me a sneak peek of their upcoming issue. Then we headed to Indianapolis to start the weekend.
Typically I'm racing each week, but somehow I always find myself at a race track, even when we don't have an NHRA race. I'm a fan of many types of racing, and I like to see different drivers in other forms of motorsports having fun and enjoying their jobs like I do. I headed for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Carb Day and ended the night at a dirt Sprint Car race in Gas City, Ind.
At the 500, I swung through the media center and talked some racing, toured the paddock and got to watch the final practice. Before practice I got to hang out with Chip Ganassi and his teams. It was so fun to hang out in their trailers and talk NHRA drag racing with legendary IndyCar drivers like Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Alex Zanardi.
Chip pulled me into their conversation, saying, "Courtney, you've got to hear this story ... Alex, tell it again," and Alex told us about his first NHRA experience. He said after being at the oval track next door to where we were racing, he was curious to see what all the noise was over at the drag strip. He explained how it affected him when one of our cars took off. He told us he was blown away by the run until he realized it was just the burnout! He watched a full run and said he got emotional from experiencing the power of our cars, which was amazing to hear. We talked about a lot of differences between Funny cars and Indy cars.
It was a blast to hear all of the questions and comments coming from a group of guys who I admire and look up to. I hope I get to make it back to the 500 next year!
So many amazing things have happened with just a couple weeks off in between races. I took a flight at speeds over 700 miles per hour, which is twice the g-forces and speed that I’m used to in a Funny Car. I was also recognized as rookie of the year by one of the most valued magazines. Great things have happened and it’s just the start of the 2013 race season!
I was named RACER magazine’s rookie of the year, which is such an amazing honor. I am the first person to win this award from the NHRA, which makes it that much sweeter. Being considered with top NASCAR, Indy Car and F1 drivers was an honor in itself. I’m so proud of my Traxxas team and everything we had accomplished my rookie season and am so excited we stood out with the NHRA and are getting recognition. It’s unbelievable.
This week I got to go even faster than my 300 mph Funny Car by getting the chance to take a ride with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels! The Auto Club of Southern California set up this amazing opportunity and I’m thankful that I took it. I have met U.S. Navy service people at drag races and they somehow convinced me to take a flight, even though I told them I was terrified. I might drive a 300 mph race car, but I like it to stay on the ground, driving in a straight line, unlike what they do in an F18 jet!
When we took off we immediately hit 6.1 G’s vertically and throughout my hour-long flight in the Blue Angel No. 7 we hit speeds over 700 mph and 7.3 G’s along with breaking the sound barrier and going Mach 1, which was crazy! Although I passed out for a second at one point on the flight, it will forever be a great story.
After flying with them, I’m wondering how my next trip down the racetrack in my Funny Car is going to feel in Gainesville, Fla. I will be pulling a “weak” 3 or 4 G’s off the starting line after the flight.
This was a chance of a lifetime, and more importantly, it really made me appreciate the talent and hard work of the Blue Angels and the U.S. Navy. Our U.S. armed forces make sacrifices for us to have our freedom. It’s always great to take a moment to appreciate those in the U.S. armed forces fighting for our country, so a huge thanks goes out to them and all they do for us! I will never forget my experience flying with the Blue Angels and a big thanks to my pilot, Lt. Ryan Chamberlain!
I’m very fortunate to have been given this opportunity and to be recognized as RACER magazine’s rookie of the year. I can’t wait to see what my team can accomplish throughout the rest of the 2013 NHRA season!
Starting out the 2013 race season as a sophomore driver in the Funny Car category, I was surprisingly more nervous than when I started my rookie season at the Winternationals. The first race of the season is at my home track in Pomona, Calif., so it was exciting doing the NHRA media tour in Los Angeles and radio interviews near home. Even more, it was great having my closest friends come out to watch me race. As a California native, it almost didn’t even feel like race day. Driving from my home out to the race track, instead of coming from a hotel like normal, was very strange.
When my team got into town, I had them all over for a BBQ at my place to get them even more motivated to start the season and to show them how much I appreciate them. It must have worked, because we went into the race on Sunday at the top qualifying spot with a 4.03 at 318 mph.
My older sister Brittany debuted in the Top Fuel category and qualified for the race in one of the quickest fields in history. There was a lot to be excited for Saturday night, so our family went out, grabbed dinner and talked about qualifying.
It probably seems strange, but a normal family dinner for us is talking racing. We break down our competitors, and Dad gives advice to me and Brittany on how to drive, since all three of us are officially competing in a professional class.
Coming out to the track on Sunday, my nerves were racing. I had butterflies in my stomach like it was my first day of school. Although I was the quickest car throughout qualifying, it’s still nerve-racking whether you’re racing the No. 2 qualified car or No. 16. You never know what tricks they’ve got up their sleeve, and as a driver you don’t want to screw up on the lights or driving. My heart was racing as I was pulling through the staging lanes. As a team we’re still trying to get into the groove and get a routine, so everything always feels a little rushed and out of order. The moment you strap into your race car, you just have to shut everything out. You can’t think about your competitor, how they’ve run, or what could happen, you just have to focus on your own car and lane. We were able to grab the win first round and our luck continued all the way into the final round.
In the final, I was matched up against Ron Capps, one of the toughest guys out there. He’s had a consistent and fast race car. I pulled up, while dad’s underneath my Funny Car body yelling last-minute tips like “Don’t forget your parachutes,” “Get after that tree,” “Keep the car in your lane and straight down that alley,” and the infamous, “Amber step.” Imagine taking all of this in (and believe me, much, much more) during a 15-second time frame before the team fires up the motor and sends you through the water box to do your burnout ... it’s a lot.
My dad knows this sport and these Funny Cars better than anyone, so his words mean a lot to me, but he usually doesn’t have time to sit down and feed me all these tips until right before I’m about to fire up the motor. It’s great having someone with so much knowledge be there for you. My mom and sisters were also standing by on the starting line, cheering me on.
We started it up and they sent my car forward. I backed up from the burnout and prepared to stage my car. I took a deep breath and tried to just focus on myself and doing my best to cut a good light on him, since a lot of races can be won or lost on the starting line. There’s a lot of pressure on a driver, but that’s what makes this sport so exciting.
My car launched off the starting line at almost the exact time as Capps, and I blazed down there toward the sunset with fire coming out of my header pipes. My car started to veer over to the centerline and I pulled it back and kept it in time to get that win light down at the other end. My crew chief, Ron Douglas, tuned my Traxxas Ford Mustang to a winning 4.025 at 317 mph!
This was my second-ever Funny Car win and a great way to start the season. I got to celebrate with my hometown friends, family, teammates and sponsors in the winner's circle of my home track, which was icing on the cake. And even better, I'm going into Phoenix, Ariz., this weekend with the points lead! I’m excited but know that it all starts over in a few more days. We’ve got a pretty fast hot rod and I can’t wait to see what we’re capable of accomplishing!
My sister, Brittany Force, made a big announcement at our John Force Racing news conference at the beginning of January. She will be piloting the Top Fuel dragster during this NHRA season. She will be entering into her rookie season, just like I did in Funny Car, last year. I’m so excited for her and looking forward to our journey together on the NHRA circuit, traveling from race to race. There aren’t very many females that do what we do, but it’s exciting to see more entering the pro classes and breaking down those walls.
During an off weekend, I headed up to Tulsa, Okla., to experience the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals! My drag racing friends and I met up in Tulsa to get a taste of the different (and dirtier) type of racing. Being used to tire rub, clutch dust, nitro fumes and billowing clouds of smoke after a burnout at the drag races, we were a little out of our element. It was us three drag racing girls spectating at a dirt track event. We even made long sleeve shirts that read “From the Drags, to the Dirt” on them! When we got there I did a few interviews before walking through the pits and seeing what it was all really about.
It was so exciting to watch, but I wasn’t used to all the fumes inside of the Expo Center. I was wrapped up in a jacket with my hood on to rid off all the dirt being sprayed at me when they made the turns. We even wore clear glasses to keep dirt out of our eyes. I now officially understand what it must feel like to attend an NHRA event for the first time and try to grasp all the action going on around you. It was an awesome experience and I can’t wait to go back next year… a little more prepared.
From Tulsa we flew to West Palm Beach, Fla., and got back to what we know best, drag racing. It was great to be back in the cockpit of my Funny Car after what felt like a long offseason. Just a few days of testing with my teammates (my dad, John Force, Robert Hight and Brittany) reminded me how great it feels to be back at the track with everyone. My Traxxas team had one of the quickest and fastest race cars during testing and I even ran a career-best elapsed time of 4.01 seconds and fastest speed of 322mph. It was a great feeling having such a consistent race car before beginning the 2013 season.
I have such a close bond with my team because they are like family to me. I’m with them more than any of my friends, or even my actual family. These are the guys I have learned to trust with my life, literally, and appreciate all of their hard work and dedication that they put into this race team. We all have to work together and I’m so proud to have every single one of them working on my race car. We are all looking forward to the start of the new season.
Every year for Christmas my family heads eight hours north to enjoy the snow at Lake Tahoe. It has been a tradition for years because it is the one time we all can get together as a family and enjoy each other’s company.
It’s hard to make ourselves relax during the year with our hectic schedules, so Christmas is the perfect time to do it. However, getting there is a pretty stressful routine. My dad seems to see it as just a “normal” eight-hour road trip. But, let’s not kid ourselves.
We have to double wrap all of our presents to cover them up so they don’t get ruined in the open-bed Ford Raptor we take as one of the cars on the trip. Keep in mind, there are six of us and a 1-year-old packed for a week in the mountains. Then, add all of our presents.
Dad has the job of loading the luggage and gifts into the cars. It usually takes a while because if anything is out of place or doesn’t fit right, he takes everything out and tries again. We are the epitome of the Griswold Family Christmas! I love my family to death, but I think we try to make every trip as confusing and stressful as possible. That’s how it’s always been, but if nothing else, it’s definitely entertaining.
My sister, Brittany, and I usually get stuck in my parents’ car for the trip. Dad talks business and racing the whole time, but Brittany and I try getting everyone in the Christmas spirit by doing our best Elvis Presley imitations of “Blue Christmas.” And we always stop at Erick Schat’s Bakery for sandwiches and cookies.
It was definitely a white Christmas up in Tahoe. There was snow on every corner and on every rooftop. It was beautiful!
On Christmas Eve, we went to church and came back to have our takeout Chinese food and watch movies by the fire. On Christmas morning, we all made a pancake breakfast and started unwrapping presents under the tree before a traditional turkey dinner.One day, Brittany and I decided to head outside in the snow and find a hill to sled down. Our backyard didn’t have very many hills, but I tried to make the best out of the situation. I told my dad to be ready with the camera and although he warned me my sled wasn’t going to go anywhere, I tried it anyway. I leaped onto the sled on my knees. The sled stuck into the snow and didn’t move an inch down the small slope, so I, of course, went face. It’s definitely the little things in life that make it the most fun and being out in the freezing cold snow, soaking wet and getting a laugh out of my family, was definitely worth it.
The next day I decided to find some real slopes and hit the mountain with my brother-in-law and co-crew chief on my Funny Car, Daniel Hood. We went boarding, and although I’m not the best, Daniel thought I was good enough to head straight for the top. My least favorite part about snowboarding is the chair lift, maybe I’m just afraid of being that high up. We headed for the highest spot on the mountain with fresh powder and got to see the most amazing view of the lake! We boarded down and made it back in one piece, being very careful since we start the 2013 season in only a month and testing starts back next week!
It was an amazing Christmas vacation with my family, but I’m definitely ready to take my snowboarding adrenaline rush to the race track and get back in my 8,000 HP Funny Car, alongside my dad! I still think the best present this Christmas was finishing off the 2012 season safely and having the time to enjoy the time off with my family and friends.
A couple of weeks ago our race team closed out a great season in Pomona, Calif. We finished in fifth overall in Funny Car and I won rookie of the year while my team was awarded the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award. It was a great way to finish the 2012 NHRA season and mark the start of the offseason.
My sister Brittany and I decided to do something unique, so we booked a trip to Thailand! We have never been on a vacation that did not include the entire family, so my dad, of course, was having a hard time accepting the fact we were going without them. My dad is the type who still sees his kids as 5-year-olds running around. It’s funny to think he will let me and my sisters drive race cars that go faster than 300 mph, but freaks out when we book a trip out of the country!
Our first stop on our trip in Thailand was Patong Beach. We hit the beaches and explored the town. We went bamboo rafting down a river, saw sea turtles and waterfalls, explored temples, walked through caves full of monkeys and went elephant trekking down a river and through a forest. This was probably one of my favorite days because we got to be so adventurous and see so many things that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
We took a boat to Phi Phi Island and stayed in a not-so-typical hotel. The lobby was outside and surrounded by trees and sand and located just a few steps from the water. This was a lot different than the hotels we stay at on the NHRA circuit. Our room had no front door, just a sandy path and a platform that went into our room. It was so cool to experience, even if we were only there for a night. We decided to hit the beach and took a boat out to different islands and coves to go snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and we saw so many different types of fish. We even saw a barracuda! We got to go to the very remote Maya Bay, where they filmed the movie, “The Beach,” with Leonardo DiCaprio. We went swimming and got stung by jellyfish -- but it was worth it!
The food in Thailand is a lot like the Chinese food back home, but with a little more curry. It was amazing and my sister Ashley, who is obsessed with Chinese food, would have been in heaven. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to trying new food, but I thought since I was in Thailand, I should probably be a little more open-minded. There was nothing too extreme on their menus, but we did enjoy eating pineapple fried rice (right out of a pineapple) with a fried egg on top, chicken curry, local fruits and lots of egg rolls!
The beaches in Thailand have turquoise water and white sand. We’re California girls who love going to Newport Beach, but the beaches in Thailand are so much different. Lush green forests, swinging monkeys, sharks and elephants surround the beach in Thailand and it has a tropical feel. It would be very humid and hot one minute and start pouring rain the next.
On our last stop in Thailand we headed back to the north side of Phuket. We relaxed on the beach, did a little souvenir shopping for our family and went into the town to have dinner on the sand. It was a great way to finish an adventurous yet relaxing trip before flying to China.
During our long layover in China we left the airport and attempted to buy some hot coffee and tea, but struggled with the language barrier before heading into the Forbidden City. We toured around China, ate authentic Chinese food, went to a tea shop and learned how to drink tea properly, then headed for the Great Wall of China.
It has always been a dream of mine to see the Great Wall of China so I was beyond excited when we got there. Although it was freezing cold, I didn’t care. I got to walk the Great Wall with my sister and our friend while taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. The Great Wall was exquisite because of the beautiful old architecture and the Wall went for miles! When we finished we headed to the airport and back home to California!
This was a trip I will never forget and I’m so happy I got to enjoy it with my sister, Brittany. We got to do something adventurous and see places we’ve never seen before while learning about the culture, meeting new friends and trying to learn new languages.
I wrapped up my rookie season in Funny Car with the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Cailf., last weekend. The race, which was on my home track, was full of excitement. I had fun promoting the race at the annual La Verne NHRA Fan Fest with my dad and sister and doing radio and TV interviews.
It was surreal coming back to the track where I debuted as a pro back in February. It felt like yesterday when I was pulling into the race track, feeling sick to my stomach, knowing this would be the first time the fans would see me drive an 8,000-horsepower car. I was just praying that I wouldn’t screw up and hoped to get my car qualified, which we did.
We’ve come a long way as a team since the first race. We went out to Pomona and on our first qualifying pass we went straight to the top spot. Although it didn’t hold, we went into eliminations on Sunday in the No. 4 qualifying spot. On race day our Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car went all the way to the final round to close out a great season.
Looking back, I can’t believe the success we had. Our team qualified at every national event, qualified in the No. 1 spot on multiple occasions, made it into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, picked up an event win in Seattle and clinched into the top 10 in points for the Countdown to the Championship. We finished the season ranked fifth in points.
When I pictured how my first season as a professional race car driver, I definitely surpassed my own expectations. It’s weird to say that I’m no longer a rookie. But I am still new in the sport and look forward to challenging myself and working hard to do even better next season.
The day after the finals, we had to get cleaned up for the NHRA awards in Hollywood, Calif. It was an amazing night celebrating the champions in all four pro categories. My team won the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award in the Funny Car category.
The most nerve-racking part of the night was having to go up on stage to find out who would win the rookie of the year. Backstage, Alexis DeJoria and I were helping each other get ready. It’s the one night a year we get to put on a dress and heels since we’re out at the race track in fire suits all day. She was a tough competitor all season long but it was great having a female friend to chat and hang out with out on the road.
I was lucky enough to receive the award, which was such a huge honor, especially since my teammates have earned that award in the past. However, I definitely think the other rookies did an amazing job this season as well and all have a bright future in racing.
Having to go on stage and make an unprepared speech made me so nervous! It’s funny to think that when I hop out of my race car after I make a pass down the race track I have absolutely no fear of the ESPN camera. I’m not sure if it’s the Full Throttle they hand you for interviews that suddenly changes my personality from shy girl to an extrovert or the sheer thrill of going 300 mph. But I felt completely shy and nervous when I had to make an acceptance speech that night. I did my best to regroup and went on stage to talk about my lifelong dream of being a race car driver. I watched my sister make this speech when she had won it a few years back, and Mike Neff and Robert Hight before her. It was crazy to join this prestigious group of drivers and I hope my career will be half as good as theirs. I’m so proud to be a part of an amazing team at John Force Racing.
I’m living the life -- driving a race car, traveling across the country, working with my family. I want to thank my team for all of their hard work and motivating words especially my crew chief Ron Douglas and assistant crew chief Dan Hood. They coached me, staying positive and encouraging through the ups and downs and always giving me a consistent race car. Most importantly, I need to thank my dad for being the person that I always looked up to and wanted to be like as a kid. He encouraged me to stay true to myself, stay grounded and be anything that I wanted to be. He and my mom supported me through all of my life decisions. Of course, a big thanks to my sponsors who believed in a rookie driver before the start of the season and supporting my lifelong dream of racing. And congrats to the Funny Car champ Jack Beckman!
I owe this to all of you and am so excited for next season, because 2012 was just the beginning!
With a few days back home in California, I headed into the office and caught up on a few things before a day off. It felt great to be back home, but having a two-week gap between races was painful. I couldn’t have been more ready to get back out on the racetrack. I’ve gotten so used to being out on the road with my team that I’m at the point where when I come home, it starts to not feel like home anymore. My team, my race car and my family are my “home.”
My friend and PR girl Sarah Adams flew into California early to help me bake some Halloween goodies for my team. I wanted to do something nice for them because they have been an amazing team and so supportive and encouraging all season long, even when I made mistakes. I think the most important thing to have out here is a team that is confident in its driver and supports him or her through the highs and the lows. I’m so fortunate to say that I have that with them. Not only are they a great group of guys, a lot of fun to be around and goofy, but they are amazing at what they do. These guys have the ability to tear apart and rebuild a Funny Car engine in a little over an hour between rounds, and with all the pressure on them to be very thorough at their job -- because one little mistake could cost us the race -- they handle it well.
We packed up and headed to Las Vegas -- which is a four-hour drive from home -- with two races left in my rookie year in Funny Car. We loaded all our suitcases, bags of shoes and goodies for the crew guys and headed for the Strip. With a carful of girls singing every '90s pop and rap song we could find on our iPod, we finally made it.
Bruton Smith built an amazing racetrack at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I always look forward to racing there because we get great conditions during night runs and the atmosphere in Vegas is exciting. We came in a couple of days early and toured the Las Vegas Strip, trying out restaurants in the Monte Carlo and even going to a nightclub. We had a lot of fun before it was time to get back to business.
On Thursday I headed out to Fremont Street in old Las Vegas with some of the other NHRA race car drivers for autographs and pictures with the fans.
We had a busy weekend at the track and even got to run the hot pink Breast Cancer Awareness Funny Car for one last race and finish off October. We made some great runs during qualifying and ended up in the top half of the field, gaining lane choice in the first round for eliminations on Sunday. We won first and second round, and I was up against Jack Beckman in the semifinal round. There was a lot of pressure because we really needed that win if we wanted to help our teammate, Mike Neff, move up in the points chase for the championship. I was so nervous and had practiced my lights all day long. I got so fired up wanting to get that win for our team; I ended up red-lighting. I was so bummed and hard on myself for letting these guys down but came back to a pit area full of support. I apologized for making a mistake, and they told me it just shows them how bad I want to win and shows how hard I’m trying for it.
It’s been a great season so far, and I’m proud of the way it has been going for my rookie year. I’ve learned that you will win some and you will lose some, but you have to make mistakes in order to learn. It’s about sticking together to come out on top the next weekend and keeping each other motivated. We’re testing after the race in Vegas, then heading to the Specialty Equipment Market Association auto show for an appearance before heading back to California to get ready for the biggest race of the season -- the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Calif.
My team has been nominated for the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award, and I’m going to do everything I can to help it win it. Please vote for the team.
It was an exciting weekend leading up to the Reading, Pa., race. I flew into Pittsburgh for an appearance. We started the day at the Pirates vs. Braves baseball game and got a tour of downtown Pittsburgh. Then we went to a PPG event. We talked about our race cars and their paint. I was with my brother-in-law Robert Hight. We went on stage, talked to the customers and signed autographs.
The race in Reading is always an exciting one. First, we are starting to close in on the points’ positions for those in the Countdown to the Championship. Second, this is one of the tracks with some of the best racing conditions! With such a cool race track, it lets our Funny Cars go after killer elapsed times and speeds, making it a very exciting and fast race. The race track is also set in one of the most beautiful and scenic areas, which makes it that much more fun.
This race kicked off October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’ve been waiting for this race all year long, looking forward to driving the hot pink Funny Car body. This was so important for me, because I am a female, but more importantly, because I was able to use my race car as a 300 mph billboard to bring awareness to all of those affected by or diagnosed with breast cancer. This was such a huge opportunity for me and I was honored that I was able to race a car with so much meaning with the support of all of my sponsors.
Throughout qualifying we had a great race car. I ran a career-best time of 4.02 seconds at 317 mph and then had a career-best speed of 319 mph. The Breast Cancer Awareness specialty body was fast! We ended up fifth going into race day and had a positive outlook on eliminations. Unfortunately, my tires immediately went up in smoke when I left the starting line during my first-round matchup and our day was cut short.
I’m proud we got to run the specialty car and hope we in some way helped bring awareness to help find a cure for breast cancer. The Action Racing Collectables die-cast of the Traxxas Pink Ford Mustang Funny Car is available to order on www.lionelracing.com. A portion of the proceeds from each car sold will benefit breast cancer awareness, research and prevention.
We’re now looking forward to the next race in Las Vegas, but we will be keeping busy in the meantime with appearances. This Saturday, I will be in Bentonville, Ark., with my sisters, Ashley and Brittany, and my dad, John Force at the Wal-Mart World Headquarters. We will then be at the Wal-Mart Superstore, 9-10:45am, where we will be bringing our John Force Racing Road Show full of iconic drag racing Funny Cars for everyone to see, so make sure to stop on by and visit us for autographs and pictures!
I've been the spokeswoman for Ford Driving Skills for Life for two years now, and I love being able to represent something so important -- safe driving. Last year I got the opportunity to talk to a group of high school students about the importance of safe driving and showed them cool videos of how we try to keep our Funny Cars as safe as possible with the help of Ford engineers.
Being race car drivers and driving at speeds well over 300 mph, we are very persistent about making sure our cars are as safe as possible, in case there is an accident. Safety is just as important when you’re driving in a normal street car. Car accidents are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in America, according to Ford Driving Skills for Life. The program helps teens learn about safe driving by visiting their website, which is full of tips, videos, games, resources, modules and the importance of eco-driving. They also have ride-and-drive events in which they bring trucks and trailers out to schools across the country and educate teens on the importance of safe driving through their academy.
I was able to take part in the program last year when I got behind the wheel and went through the exercises. This program helps teens gain knowledge and experience in the four primary skills -- hazard recognition, vehicle handling, speed management and space management. I had so much fun going through the program with the rest of the teens, while an instructor taught us the ins and outs of safe driving. This program was not only educational but also just plain fun. They had me drive through a series of cone courses while texting, drive with vision-impaired goggles and drive while the vehicle slides out, as it would in bad weather. I might be a professional driver on the racetrack, but I definitely got a reality check about distractions like texting while driving. It can take only a few seconds but immediately put many people's lives in danger. Teens are inexperienced drivers, so this program helps teach what can happen.
We continue to work on making our Funny Cars as safe as possible. I had contact with the wall this past weekend and can only learn from my experience. The more passes you make, the more knowledge you're gaining. My dad was very encouraging when I was feeling down this past weekend and reminded me that it is only my first year racing one of these 8,000-horsepower cars and that he had plenty of contact with the wall when he started. The only thing we can do is learn from it and be glad that we have made these cars safe so I was able to walk away unharmed. We are definitely making progress but are ready to get our focus back on track and just get ready for next weekend in Reading, Pa.
This race season is my learning season, and I'm definitely learning every time I get in the cockpit of this race car and gaining more experience. The same thing goes for teens who are learning how to drive a normal street car. Limit your distractions, wear your seat belt and do everything you can to practice and gain more knowledge by visiting www.Driving Skills For Life!
Flying directly from the Charlotte race right into San Antonio on a 6 a.m. flight made for a pretty exhausting extended weekend. Unfortunately, I'm not a morning person so I don't know how I get up for those kinds of flights. All I can say is, thank goodness for my iced green tea from Starbucks!
Dad and I landed in San Antonio, changed clothes and quickly reviewed some notes before going on stage for a PPG event. I'm the type of person who likes to prepare and be organized for a speech, but when I have to go on stage with my dad, I know we're not sticking to any lines or set plan. My dad is the type of person who can go on stage and, if you hand him a microphone, he will automatically start talking. He knows the business and how to entertain and talk with sponsors, which is something I'm learning. However, going on stage with Dad is always fun because you never know what to expect.
I got up there, prepared to say what I wanted. Most of our time was spent with Dad giving me a hard time. Luckily, I spun his statements and we had a great show. We talked about how we love using paint and how we thought, at the start of the season, I would be scraping up quite a few Funny Car bodies as a rookie driver.
After the event, we walked to the River Walk before catching a flight into Dallas. We flew in a few days before the race for media and sponsor appearances and did a little cowboy boot shopping along the way. We also went to the Texas Motorplex early and took part in the Traxxas customer race where we talked with the group and taught them a thing or two about drag racing. We taught them the basics of staging and understanding the Christmas tree, staying in the center of the groove of the race track, where to lift off the throttle at the finish line and, most important, how to get that win light.
After the customer race, my dad and I got to take a tour of the Traxxas headquarters in Plano, Texas. We got to see where all the magic happens at their company and got to meet with the people who are hard at work designing amazing radio-control cars.
When I arrived to the racetrack the day of qualifying, I was instantly in race mode. Now is the time to focus on picking up bonus points in qualifying to push closer to the top spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
I ended up the No. 1 qualifier for the second time this season, and my dad won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout. This was the first year for the shootout, so for our team to win it was huge! I went out of the race in the second round, but we had a great car all weekend. It just happened that when we were running our best numbers, the car in the lane next to us was running just a tiny bit better.
Although I was fully focused, I couldn't help but think back to when my dad crashed his Funny Car at the Motorplex in 2007. It was a nearly fatal crash. He was fortunate to have just broken his arms and legs and was taken to Baylor Hospital to be reconstructed and recover over the next few months.
I will never forget the moment I heard about the crash. To this day, thinking about the crash and the feeling that I might lose my dad, still brings tears to my eyes. He was very lucky.
That Sunday in 2007, I was at home finishing homework with my sister and constantly checking the results for each round of the race. My mom was calling every round to let me know if my dad had won or lost. The round he crashed, I remember sitting at home thinking it had been too long since my mom had called. I called her but got no answer. I got on my computer and went to the NHRA website to check the race results. The opening page read, "John Force airlifted to hospital." I immediately started crying and yelled for my sister Brittany so we could read what happened together. It only said he crashed and was airlifted, but no information about whether he was dead or alive -- just a picture of pieces of my dad's Funny Car, a helicopter and him lying in it.
I tried calling everyone I knew at the racetrack, but no one had any answers, just rumors. We decided not to answer any calls unless they came from our team or our family. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life before my mom called to say she was headed for the hospital. My sister Ashley, who was racing with our dad that day, witnessed the whole thing. The one positive thing my mom and sister said was that Dad was yelling as he was being put into the helicopter, so they knew he was still his same self, just badly injured. His Funny Car had split in half at more than 300 mph and sent him tumbling into the guard wall.
After being in the hospital for a few months and going through physical therapy until the end of the season, my dad continued to recover until he was back on his feet and, to many people's surprise, back in his Funny Car. He ended up winning another championship a few years after his crash, even when everyone told him he would never walk again and would definitely never be able to drive again. He proved everyone wrong at the age of 61.
Now that I'm out at the race track with him and competing against him, it's always hard to block out the possibility of what can happen in one of these 8,000 HP race cars. Being in Dallas was a reminder of that, and this was the first time I would race in a Funny Car at the track of his crash. It was hard to mentally block that out and focus on winning the race, but I was able to do it.
Overall, it was a great weekend, though tough at times. Luckily, Dad and I officially made new, great memories at the Texas Motorplex to replace the old.
When your career takes you out on the road, it’s always changing and exciting. But it also requires a lot of patience, especially your first season out. I’ve taken on a full load this year and although it seems like a lot, I love every second of it!
However, things can become challenging when you have to work with your dad 24/7.
I love my dad and he has taught me everything I know about driving an 8,000-horsepower race car, but we definitely tend to clash at times because we’re a lot alike. Dad has a hard time walking the fine line between being my boss and being my dad, and it sometimes causes problems, especially at the racetrack.
Dad is a lot to handle as it is with his loud and charismatic personality, which, don’t get me wrong, is what we all love about him. But with that comes an overbearing, overcautious and overly worried parent. He does the best he can to make sure I’ve learned everything about driving the car, but he still finds it necessary to feed me advice 24 hours a day -- literally. Whether we are at the airport, on an airplane, driving out to the racetrack or even pulling up to the starting line while I’m strapped into the seat of my race car. For him, it always seems like the right time to give me a word of advice.
I’ve learned a lot from him, but there comes a point where I just need to get out there and experience it for myself and learn from my mistakes. I may not be perfect and I’m definitely not the perfect driver, but Dad’s so afraid of me not doing well that he forgets it’s just my rookie season and I will make mistakes. I just need to take it in, reflect and go back out there without making the same mistake twice.
When it came to a head-to-head matchup between me and Dad in the first round of eliminations at the first race of the Countdown to the Championship, there was a lot of pressure. At the same time, it’s so cool to have that moment. I find myself taking in everything I’ve learned. Just being out there racing against my dad, who inspired me to become a race car driver is huge, but most importantly, we’re out there to just have fun.
Dad and I used the time before the first round to play mind games and to try to find ways to throw the other off their game. For example, when I coughed, Dad immediately says, “You know, if you’re getting sick, as your boss I would be OK with you sitting out first round.” He knew I felt fine and he just wanted to see if I would take him up on his offer. We had a lot of fun messing with each other, but at the end of the day, we knew that one of us would advance and the other would be loading up their car on the trailer.
Being in my rookie season, I’m so proud of how far my team has come. Having to compete against my dad can be tough. At the moment I’m pulling up to the line, I’m thinking about how I want him to stay safe, but focusing on getting that win light for myself and my team. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the job done when my car smoked the tires on the hit, but I was still happy for him to advance into the second round.
Dad’s a handful to work with and it’s always tough losing to him, but it’s just another lesson learned. I’m nervous, excited, fired up, and ready to show him I’m fearless and ready to compete. I’m ready to prove to everyone else that I’m out here to win!
We have our moments, but at the end of the day, he’s always there for me. Whether I win or lose, he’s got my back and is the one standing next to me and my team, encouraging me to get back out there the following weekend and to learn to not make the same mistake twice. I’m so excited to get this Countdown to the Championship rolling and to see how far we can push our race car. Although it’s going to be a lot of time spent with Dad full of advice, pressure, nervousness and excitement, I wouldn’t want my life any other way.