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Brittany Force gets 1st Top Fuel win at Gatornationals

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- An hour after her first NHRA Top Fuel victory, Brittany Force was clutching the trophy as tightly as she does her steering wheel.

She wasn't about to let go, either. The trophy was that special, even for a member of drag racing's first family.

Force earned her first Top Fuel win Sunday by beating Terry McMillen in the final at the prestigious Gatornationals.

"I've been chasing this for quite a few years," the 29-year-old Force said. "I've been wanting it since day one. It took a lot of work and a lot of time to get here. It's definitely not as easy as you think it is. ... This weekend was just it for us."

Robert Hight gave John Force Racing its first career double by winning the Funny Car class. Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners.

But Brittany Force was the story. One of 16-time world champion John Force's three racing daughters, Brittany was winless in her previous seven Top Fuel finals. She ended that skid at one of the NHRA's premier events by putting down the fastest run of each elimination round against what might have been considered favorable matchups.

The No. 5 qualifier, Force beat Morgan Lucas (12th), Tripp Tatum (13th), Dave Connolly (ninth) and McMillen (14th) en route to the winner's circle.

Hight was waiting for her at the finish line.

"The next one's going to come a lot easier," Hight said. "Until you actually win a race, you don't know that you can do it. There's always that element of doubt, and now she knows that she can do it. She knows that she's got a great car. She's going to believe in herself more, and the rest of these Top Fuel guys better watch out."

Force's mom, dad, sister and team celebrated at the starting line. John Force climbed on his scooter with his wife, Laurie, and daughter Courtney in tow and headed to join the celebration. John steered with one hand while waving his hat to adoring fans.

"Courtney looked like she was in tears," Brittany Force said. "She had her sunglasses on, so it was hard to tell. She was very excited. My mom was screaming and jumping up and down. My dad actually didn't say much, for once. He was a little speechless. He was a little emotional. I don't even think he said anything. He gave me a hug."

This was Force's second straight final and her 75th event. Coincidentally, John Force's first win came in his 75th event.

Brittany Force lost to Leah Pritchett three weeks ago in Phoenix in the first all-female Top Fuel final since 1982. Pritchett was knocked out in the first round of eliminations Sunday, along with top qualifier Richie Crampton and defending class champion Antron Brown. Not that Force needed them, but those upsets helped clear the path for her breakthrough win.

More important was her recent partnership with iconic car tuner Alan Johnson. Team owner John Force reached out to Johnson before this season, looking to give his daughter a better chance to win. Force hired Johnson as a consultant but put him in charge of the entire Top Fuel program.

Johnson has 15 NHRA national championships, including 11 in Top Fuel, and is considered one of the most innovative and successful crew chiefs in professional drag-racing history. He had some motivational words for Brittany Force on the starting line.

"'Girl, you've got us this far,'" Force said Johnson told her. "'Do it again. Do exactly what you're doing again.' And I really needed that. Sometimes, when you pull up there, it's all mental. It's all in your head. Having confidence and feeling that you can do it is a big part of it."

Brittany Force surely felt pressure to win. After all, Courtney has seven career wins in Funny Car. Their other sister, Ashley, had four before she stepped away from racing.

Now, Brittany is on the board. She trails her dad by 142.

JFR added its 242nd and 243rd victories to an illustrious resume. But the team's first trophy in Top Fuel went to Brittany, and she had no plans to add it to dad's collection.

"I'm taking this home with me," she said.