Courtney Force, Enders make history
KENT, Wash. -- One is the baby girl of drag racing legend John Force. She learned to talk almost as fast as she drives by watching her motormouth dad become the sport's most famous and most successful driver.
The other is an unassuming Texan, a quiet but determined woman who had a movie made about her life as a teenage drag racer because she was regularly beating the boys.
Courtney Force and Erica Enders are as different as two young women can be until they get in a race car. They shared a memorable moment Sunday in the Northwest Nationals.
Both Force and Enders were winners, the first time in NHRA history that two women won on the same day in the pro classes.
And that's the big difference between the NHRA and other forms of motorsports. In the NHRA, women don't just compete. They win.
"It really shows that it doesn't matter if you are a guy or a girl out here," Courtney said. "My race car doesn't know if I'm a man or a woman. You still have to fight to get it down the track. I grew up wanting this. It's the moment I've been waiting for."
Courtney, 24 and Force's youngest daughter, is a rookie this season in Funny Car. Sunday was the third time she has reached the final round, losing in the first two. But she defeated 2011 NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan in the final this time, blasting down the track in her Mustang at 293 mph in 4.238 seconds.
"Seeing that win light, I really couldn't believe it," Courtney said. "As a kid watching my dad race I would always tell him I wanted to be out there one day and compete against him."
She beat her dad, a 15-time Funny Car champion, in the semifinals Sunday.
"I felt a little bad about beating him," Courtney said. "But it's his own fault. He's the one who taught me how to win."
She also defeated two other former champions en route to the victory -- Cruz Pedregon in the first round and Hagan at the end.
"Those are some heavy hitters," Courtney said. "Sometimes you have to take out the best. We're out here to win."
Just like the old man.
"I'm just proud of her today," John said. "She talks all wired up like me, but she has that coolness of her mother [Laurie Force]. It took me 10 years to win out here. It took her sister Ashley two years to win. Now Courtney just told me this is the first time she ever did something faster than Ashley."
Ashley Force Hood stopped racing to have her first child. She wasn't in Seattle on Sunday.
"We haven't told her," Courtney said. "She wants to watch it on TV without knowing what happened."
Enders, 28, was watching Courtney's final matchup from the top end of the track moments after Enders defeated Jason Line in the Pro Stock final.
"All the girls tend to stick together out here," Enders said. "Courtney is an awesome driver and heck of an interview, so I hate following her. I'm boring compared to her. But to be women winning in a man's sport means a lot to all of us. This was a heck of a day."
You have to feel a little for Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence, who won for the third time this season, but was almost an afterthought for the reporters at Pacific Raceways on such a meaningful day for women in motorsports.
"I'm watching from the burnout box in the final round," Torrence said. "Erica won and then Courtney won and I'm thinking, 'I definitely want to be the guy that gets to stand between them [on the winners' podium]. There is no way I'm losing this one.'"
Enders won for the second time this season, defeating Line in the final. One month ago in Chicago, Enders became the first woman ever to win in the Pro Stock class.
Another woman also joined Force and Enders in victory Sunday. Megan Ellingson, a local amateur racer from Seattle, won in the Super Street Sportsman's class.
Courtney's weekend started with a potential bad omen. She had a flat on her rental car and had to change a tire for the first time in her life. She was asked what was tougher, getting the win light or changing the tire.
"Probably changing the tire," Courtney said. "Man, getting all those [lug] nuts off took a lot of muscle. But driving one of these 8,000-horsepower cars is tough, too. You've gotta be on your game and be ready whatever it throws at you."
Courtney was born ready for this. She is so much like her dad that it's scary at times. They both talk loud and fast and have an energy level that's full throttle all the time.
But John was relatively calm when he came in the media center after the event, not wanting to detract from his daughter's moment, along with Enders.
"Let these ladies talk to you," he said. "You don't need me here. This is all about them."
Force wasn't calm when he finally greeted Courtney after she won.
"He was just yelling and throwing me around," Courtney said. "He told me right before I started the car, 'I did everything I could to teach you, and it's all up to you now.'
I felt a little bad about beating him. But it's his own fault. He's the one who taught me how to win.” -- Courtney Force
"I think he's a little overwhelmed. But I told him every day as a little girl that I was going to grow up and be like him. Hopefully now I've convinced him."
At least she convinced him to kill the team curfew Sunday night. John had given the entire John Force Racing group a 10 p.m. curfew over the weekend at Seattle so they would stay focused.
But it wasn't as bad as the one he tried to impose when Courtney was in high school.
"According to Dad it was like 9 o'clock," Courtney said. "My dad is still trying to figure out how to be a parent and a boss and a teacher all at the same time. But I'm with my dad in his decisions from the beginning of the day until the end of the day."
Enders had some big decisions to make the past few days after a public feud with Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson. He said she was unprofessional because she had posed with her winning trophy in Chicago in front of Anderson's hauler after beating him.
Enders said it was a misunderstanding, but it became a huge Twitter war of words.
"I don't like drama or conflict," Enders said. "It caught me off guard. I walked over to Greg and said. 'What's going on?' He didn't want to talk, but he called me on Tuesday and apologized.
"We both understand each other better now. I think he knows now there was no disrespect meant by that photo. But it was a very stressful week."
Enders knows those things come with winning. No one confronts you when you lose. But people will challenge you when you win.
"The head games of drag racing can make or break you," Enders said. "I don't mind the target on my back, but I do mind the drama. This is my job, and once you put the helmet on you have a lot to focus on. It's a dangerous job that we do."
She did it to perfection Sunday, beating three of the best Pro Stock drivers in the business in the process -- Anderson, Allen Johnson and Line.
"I'm so proud of my guys," Enders said. "They gave me the car to beat the guys that I've looked up to my entire life."
Women accomplishing great things in drag racing is nothing new. It started with Shirley Muldowney winning Top Fuel championships more than 30 years ago.
On Sunday afternoon, John Force, the man who has won more events than any drag racer in history, looked at his daughter and Enders. He saw where things are headed.
"Shirley started all this, but these young women are our future," John said. "And it's awesome where they're gonna be 10 years from now. This used to be a man's game, but things are changing."