Heartland Park Topeka is forever destined to be a special place for Courtney Force.
She made history there last spring with her Funny Car victory, the 100th professional victory by a female driver in NHRA history.
“It was a huge milestone that marked the history of women in our sport, and to have my name on that list with legends in our sport was incredible,” Force said. “It’s a memorable moment for me and my team, but mostly for all the women in NHRA just knowing that we’ve reached 100 wins.”
It also kick-started a strong summer for Force, 26, who went on to win four Funny Car events last season.
That set a single-season record for the most victories by a female driver in the Funny Car division in NHRA history, helping spur Force to a fourth-place finish in the points standings.
It has been a mixed bag for Force so far in 2015.
She qualified first at the season-opening Circle K Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., and again at the Four-Wide Nationals six weeks later in Charlotte.
Coupled with a second-place qualification at the CarQuest Auto Parts National in Phoenix, Force entered the elimination rounds with one of the two fastest cars at three of the first four races of the season.
The elimination rounds haven’t been as kind with Force, who has made it beyond the second round only once in seven races.
“We haven’t had a very consistent car,” Force said. “That’s been our main struggle.”
But Force and her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS team hope to rekindle some Heartland Park magic this weekend during the NHRA Kansas Nationals, where she eyes a season-reviving victory similar to last year’s.
“I feel a little pressure to get that win again, so we can get going on the right foot this season,” Force said. “It feels like we’ve come a long way in the last few years, but it also feels like we’ve struggled this year at the start. It actually makes me feel a little bit better, knowing that I finished so well last year and I didn’t get my first win until this point in the season.”
Force, who recorded the fastest Funny Car speed in NHRA history last season at Las Vegas Motorspeedway (325.37 mph), set Heartland Park records for elapsed time (4.009 seconds) and speed (322.96 mph) last season en route to victory.
Force’s father and team owner, John, owns a track record nine Funny Car wins at Heartland Park.
Of course, John — who is the all-time leader in NHRA Mello Yello Series wins with 141, all in the Funny Car division — also owns something Courtney doesn’t: a season championship.
That’s the ultimate goal for Courtney.
“It would be huge,” she said. “I’ve seen my dad do it 16 times, and I’ve always dreamt of becoming the champion. But it’s tough competition out there. We’re fighting hard. We had a shot at it last year. I truly feel like we had a shot at it. We won back-to-back races in the Countdown to a Championship … and were up in first at one point.
“We’re looking forward to coming back and hopefully getting back-to-back wins here,” Courtney said. “I hope Topeka is the place where we can get ourselves back in the Winner’s Circle where we belong and get locked into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.”
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▪ Jeff Gordon will join Fox as a full-time analyst in 2016, when he will join Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip in the three-man booth.