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Sisters' success runs in the family

By JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 05. 2018 10:19PM
NHRA top fuel driver Brittany Force, right, poses for a selfie portrait with sister Courtney Force as they celebrate after winning the Springnationals in April. They're at the New England Dragway in Epping this weekend for the sixth annual New England Nationals. In photo at top, Courtney Force accelerates during qualifying last month. (USA TODAY SPORTS)



The correlation between boys and cars has made auto racing a perceived boys club for decades. Don’t go trying to tell the Force family anything about that though.

Sisters Courtney and Brittany Force are not only mixing it up and holding their own against the men in the National Hot Rod Association, but they’re also beating them. As the NHRA comes to New England Dragway in Epping this weekend for the sixth annual New England Nationals, the Force sisters are very much in contention for wins in their respective divisions of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Courtney, 30, is an overwhelming favorite in the Funny Car division, where she sits atop the points standings and has won four of 12 races on the season.

Brittany, 31, is poised to kick-start her season in the Top Fuel division after winning a championship in the division a year ago.

Success is not foreign to the Force sisters, who had a path blazed for them by legendary NHRA driver John Force, who own 148 career NHRA victories while still racing the Funny Car circuit at age 69. The eldest Force sister, Ashley Force Hood, broke barriers for her younger sisters and recent generations of female dragsters a decade ago. While pressure is always there for Courtney and Brittany to uphold the family’s pedigree, they agree it’s been nothing but a blessing to be a Force.

“Growing up around this sport, being a part of it and the whole team aspect has really just become a lifestyle,” Courtney Force said. “We’re very fortunate to grow up in a sport and have an interest in it to the point where we want to grow up and be like our dad. It’s a lot of fun for all of us and I’m sure my dad never thought his daughters would grow up wanting to be a part of this.”

Just as the last name has been far from a burden, being a female in a predominately male sport has left the Force women unfazed. The NHRA is no stranger to female dominance either, starting with Shirley Muldowney’s Top Fuel titles in the 1970s all the way up to Brittany’s title in the same category last season, where she bested 2018 Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence by 81 points.

“There were only two or three females out there when I watched growing up, and Courtney and I would always be rooting for them,” Brittany Force said. “Our championship last year will forever be the highlight of my career since I was the first female to do it in 35 years. That really shows how much we’ve grown and what direction we’re heading in.”

There are just seven females racing between the three car divisions of the Mello Yello Series while the Pro Stock Motorcycle division boasts six women. The Forces are helping take the sport to new heights in terms of gender and they’re happy to do so.

“Like I’ve always said, the car doesn’t know if you’re a male or a female,” Courtney said. “We’re not out here looking to be the best females in our sport, but really just trying to be the best drivers.

“It has been a lot of fun to help young girls get interested in junior drag racing. It’s nice to be able inspire them and show them that even as a girl you can get into one of these cars — as intense and crazy as they might be — and be capable of handling it all if you set your mind to it.”

Courtney is in the midst of her best season yet and her most recent work suggests things will only get better for the youngest Force sister, who started racing in the NHRA back in 2012. She’s been the No. 1 qualifier in six of the last seven Funny Car events while qualifying no lower than fourth for any race she’s been in this season. Courtney has also reached the final round of an event five times this season, which along with her wins has helped her build a 250-point lead in the standings leading into the weekend in Epping.

“I really just haven’t been getting too hard on myself,” said Courtney, who finished third in the Funny Car standings last season. “Making mistakes as a driver is something that hits you hard mentally and it really drags you down. You can’t take that stuff with you to the next race and I feel very fortunate that I have a team behind me this year that fully supports me and helps me block it all out.”

While Courtney will have a target on her back this weekend, Brittany will aim to make up ground in the standings. Brittany sits eighth in the Top Fuel ranks while being down 370 points to Torrence. She’s scored over 50 points in just four of 12 events this season, but Brittany is hoping Epping will be as kind to her this year as it was last year.

“We didn’t get our first win until Epping last year. We won that and ended up with a championship,” Brittany said. “I’ve learned so much from (crew chief) Allen Johnson and he’s taught this team so much. We’ve made our mistakes through the years, both as a team and with me as a driver. But we’ve figured it out when it really mattered, like last year in the last handful of races in the Countdown (to the Championship). It was game on and no room for mistakes, and then we went from No. 6 to No. 1.

“We’ve won this year already and we are very familiar with this track, so it’d be nice to repeat a little history and add to our wins this year.”

Joining the Force sisters among the top female racers in Epping this weekend is Erica Enders. The 35-year-old Pro Stock driver won last week in Charlotte, N.C., and will be gunning to repeat as winner at New England Dragway after a triumph there last summer. The two-time Pro Stock champion has four final-round appearances this season and enters the weekend in third place and 52 points behind current Pro Stock leader Tanner Gray.

jduball@unionleader.com


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