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Goss: Courtney, a chip off the old Force block

John's daughter hoping to make Funny Car noise at Route 66

Published: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 8:41 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 8:47 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo courtesy of Route 66 Raceway)
Courtney Force will drive her Funny Car during the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals this weekend at Route 66 Raceway.

NHRA legend John Force has been quoted that his daughter, Courtney, "looks like her mom and races like me."

That's good on both fronts.

Courtney, 25, competes in the Funny Car division, where her dad made his name. One of the exciting young stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, she will be at Route 66 Raceway this weekend for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals, hoping to move up in the standings. She is running sixth, 312 points behind leader Robert Hight, her teammate and brother-in-law.

John Force is third, 257 points down and three points behind Alexis De Joria.

Force's half-sister, Ashley, used to race in Funny Car. She had four victories on her resume, the same number Courtney has now, before exiting to start a family.

Force's sister, Brittany runs in the NHRA Top Fuel division and is ninth in those standings.

"It's a big family business, no doubt about it," said Courtney Force, the youngest of four sisters. "This will be my third time racing here [at Route 66] in a Funny Car.

"I remember we always had fun at that track when we used to come watch my dad. That race was how we started our summer. It's neat to be racing on the same track where we watched my dad race."

Who knows, father and daughter oppose each other this weekend, perhaps in Sunday's finals.

"My dad and I are pretty close against each other, something like 5-4," Courtney said. "That helps make this a fun job. When we get up to the line against each other, I always try to do something to screw him up.

"I'm thankful for where my career has taken me. My dad didn't believe it at first that this is what I wanted to do. I pestered him enough that he let me do it."

Force, who has a communications degree from Cal State-Fullerton, is athletic. In her youth, she danced and competed in gymnastics. She was a cheerleader In high school "but I also was in auto shop and welding," she said. "It was the best of all worlds."

She burst onto the Funny Car scene in 2012, when she earned Rookie of the Year honors after finishing fifth in the standings, the best finish ever for a rookie in Funny Car.

As much as racing is in her blood and racing against her dad is a rush, Force said her No. 1 thrill came in late May when she beat Cruz Pedregon to win the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. That was the historic 100th event won by a woman in NHRA history.

Shirley Muldowney, the grand marshal of the Route 66 Nationals and winner of 18 of those races, must still be smiling.

"It was pretty surreal, getting the 100th win by a female," Force said. "It could have been any of the females out here who got the win. It was true luck that I was in the right place at the right time. My team did a great job putting me in position to get it.

"I was close [to securing the 100th] the previous weekend at Atlanta, and I was crushed when I didn't get it. The 100th is definitely the top trophy for me. I'm the only one who will have No. 100 for women next to her name forever. It's huge to be able to represent women in our sport."

Women currently competing in the professional levels of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series are Force and De Joria in Funny Car, Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, points leader Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock and Katie Sullivan and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

When you're handling a 10,000-horsepower car that accelerates to 320 mph in about four seconds, you are an athlete, whether male or female.

Force's athletic build, coupled with her occupation, caught the attention of ESPN The Magazine, which had her on the cover of ESPN’s The Body Issue in 2013.

"The ESPN Body Issue was a cool thing," Force said. "They approached me earlier and I turned it down because I wanted to make a name in the sport first.

"They came back the following season, and I thought, 'Why not showcase what we do?' I work hard in the gym. I put my full self into it. Why not showcase that?"

Indeed, why not?

Dick Goss can be reached at dogss@shawmedia.com.

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