There’s a simple reason Brittany Force didn’t want to follow in her father’s footsteps and drive NHRA Funny Cars.
She doesn’t want to compete against family.
“They bump into each other all the time in eliminations,” Force said. “That’s just a bummer.”
So instead of racing against her father, 16-time NHRA champion John Force, younger sister Courtney or her brother-in-law Robert Hight, she chose a different path.
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Four years later, Brittany Force now has something in common with all three – she’s a winner.
With three victories this season in the Top Fuel division, Force, 30, is fifth in points entering this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway – the first race in the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship.
While she’s in the Countdown for the third straight year, Force believes she’s better prepared – both in equipment and experience – to chase her own series championship.
“We have a great shot at it,” Force said. “I know it’s crazy to even say ‘win the championship,’ but I have a team that I know is capable of it, and that’s what we’re going after.”
Changing the team
It took some major changes within her race team to make Force a championship contender.
While Force didn’t lack resources within the John Force Racing organization, operating a single-car Top Fuel ride put her at a distinct disadvantage against the multi-car teams.
“That’s why we struggled,” said Force, who was 0-for-6 in final-round appearances her first three years racing Top Fuel.
“Having a teammate definitely helps. It was me, our team, solely out there by ourselves, just one dragster in a Funny Car camp.”
But Force picked up some major-league help this season when Alan Johnson, an 11-time Top Fuel champion as a crew chief and team owner, was brought on as a consultant, and car tuner Brian Husen was hired as crew chief.
“We changed the entire engine program and the entire clutch program,” Johnson said. “We brought in the right people, the right products and a commitment to running the team the way we’ve run teams in the past.”
It also gave Force a teammate of sorts – Steve Torrence Racing, which had also hired Johnson as a consultant for its Top Fuel toward the end of the 2015 season.
Johnson’s hiring was a welcome move by Force.
“He came in and completely changed everything,” she said. “Not just on the car and on the team, but even my routine as a driver.”
Changing the driver
As Johnson was putting the right parts and pieces together, he also began working on Force’s approach – both mental and physical – to driving a Top Fuel dragster.
“She didn’t really have a specific, consistent approach to each run,” Johnson said. “We just made that to where it was something she could do every single time, to where it became a habit.
“Another thing is, we created a whole new workout program for her, so she could be as fit and as explosive as possible to compete in a class that’s dominated by men. She committed to all that, and she’s done a very good job with it.”
Taking care of the physical side was the easy part, Force said; it took some time to get used to the mental changes.
“Mostly staging, how I staged,” she said. “I used to kinda be able to do what I wanted. Now, he’s very strict on exactly how I stage each run, what I do, especially on race day.
“Having to change that up was a little bit of a challenge, because I got used to doing in one way – the way I had been doing since 2013. To come in and completely change up what I was used to, it was difficult.
“But I adjusted and got used to it, and it’s seemed to have worked out so far.”
Force’s results improved almost immediately.
While she was eliminated in the season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Pomono, Calif., Force made it to the finals two weeks later in Phoenix, losing to Leah Pritchett.
Three weeks after that came the breakthrough – her first career Top Fuel event victory, at Gainesville, Fla., on March 20. She beat Terry McMillen in the final with a 3.772-second pass.
“That was huge for us – getting that first win,” Force said. “We had been to the final round seven times before finally bringing it home. We had been chasing it since 2013, and it took us until this year to get it done. But it made it that much more worth it; it’s probably one of my proudest moments ever.”
More victories followed – Force got No. 2 at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway on April 24, beating Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican in the final; No. 3 came Aug. 21 at Brainerd, Minn., beating Brown again in the final round.
That put Force solidly in the Countdown for the Championship, 60 points behind Brown in the Top Fuel standings (2,110-2,050) – a number that can be made up at this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals.
“We’ve come a long way since 2013,” Force said. “Now we have wins under our belt, but more than anything it’s experience and seat time. From when I was a rookie driver, I’m a lot more comfortable in the seat, and I’m only going to progress.
“I still have a lot to learn – I make mistakes all the time, but you learn from your mistakes.”
But Johnson said there’s more work to be done.
“She wants to win … but things aren’t perfect,” Johnson said. “But we’ve got three wins, we’re in the Countdown and we definitely have some momentum and a shot at winning this thing.
“Are we perfect? No. Have we come a long way? Yes. Are we excited about the future? Definitely, and she is as well.”
Want to go?
What: NHRA Carolina Nationals
When: Friday through Sunday.
Where: zMax Dragway in Concord.
Tickets: 704-455-FANS (3267).