Courtney Force lost the chance to become the 100th female winner of a pro NHRA race last week in Atlanta.
The same opportunity presented itself on Sunday at Heartland Park in the Funny Car finals of the 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals.
And that’s all Force could think about in the tension-filled moments leading up to the 4 seconds of chaos of a finals race.
Force cleared her mind long enough to get the milestone victory she thought eluded her forever last week, with a pass of 4.148 seconds at a top speed of 306.46 miles per hour. Runner-up Cruz Pedregon finished in 4.225 seconds at 250.6 mph.
“I didn’t know who it was going to be, especially after last weekend,” Force said. “I was crushed. I thought to myself, ‘That opportunity will never come around again. That 100 will be gone forever.’ I’m still trying to soak it all in right now. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
It capped an eerie and serendipitous weekend for the Force family. Courtney and older sister Brittany, a Top Fuel driver, qualified first in their respective divisions.
Perhaps they knew it would be a momentous weekend when they checked into their hotel and got Room 414, an adopted good luck charm from the movie “Brokedown Palace.”
Courtney Force didn’t realize she won with a time of 4.14 seconds until she was told in the media center. When Brittany and her mother, Laurie, came up to see her during her interview, Courtney stopped midsentence.
“I ran a 4.14. Can you believe that?” Courtney said.
Courtney raced like the top seed throughout the day on Sunday, but the title she wanted almost slipped away at the start of the final.
She inadvertently crept too far forward at the start, throwing off her prerace routine and nearly disqualifying herself for starting too soon.
“As a driver, I almost failed my job,” she said. “I was so nervous… luckily I left when I was supposed to. There was a lot of pressure for that short amount of time and sure as heck wasn’t trying to screw (Pedregon) up. I almost screwed myself up and luckily we got away with it today. It’s not going to happen very often.”
Force was one of five candidates for the 100th professional female victory when the day started. Erica Enders-Stevens was eliminated in the semifinals of the Pro Stock division. She and eventual Pro Stock winner Allen Johnson ran the same 6.657 seconds, but Johnson’s .024 start advantage pushed him to the finals. Brittany Force was eliminated in the Top Fuel semifinals as well.
That left Courtney with the chance to make history for the second consecutive weekend.
“Just to get the 100th win for women in racing, it’s for all the girls out there in any type of sport, any motor sport,” Courtney said. “It’s an exciting day for us and it’s an honor to be number 100. There’s so many names on this list. It’s really an honor to be a part of it.”
Courtney did her interview clutching two “Wally” trophies. One was the traditional brass finish, honoring her victory at the Kansas Nationals. The other was a gleaming gold finish, honoring the 100th professional female victory.
“It’s one of a kind,” she said. “Nobody else will have this trophy, and it’s an unbelievable feeling. To put that in a case and look at it… it’s one thing I’ve taken from (older sister) Ashley (Force-Hood). She’s got every other record in the books. I know she’s excited. She was watching at home with the kids. This trophy, it’s unique and it has a special purpose. It’s a milestone.”
Courtney and Ashley are now tied with four Funny Car victories. Courtney’s next victory will give her one family record all to herself.
Courtney was originally supposed to do her postrace interviews in front of a banner depicting some of the female drivers who paved the way for her. The banner was eventually removed because of technical difficulties — namely the frame holding it refused to stay rigid.
Courtney grew up on NHRA tracks, just like her sisters, and she’s well aware of the female drivers who came before her.
“We’ve come a long way throughout the years in this sport of NHRA,” Courtney said. “It’s grown so much, and the diversity in it, the women coming up through the ranks, the girls at the ropes saying they want to be race-car drivers, I think we’ve come a long way from the start. When Shirley Muldowney (winner of 18 Top Fuel titles) was out here, she’s the one who paved the way for all of us. We’re all fighting to be like her, and it’s an honor to top off number 100.”