FUNNY CAR FAN-FAVORITE COURTNEY FORCE ENTERS 2016 SEASON AND CIRCLE K NHRA WINTERNATIONALS WITH HIGH HOPES
POMONA, Calif. — After seven wins in her first three seasons, including four during a banner 2014 campaign, Funny Car star Courtney Force seemed primed for big things in 2015.
Instead, Force was dealt her most trying and frustrating season in her young NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career. Finding bumps in the road at almost every turn, Force failed to win a race and just missed qualifying for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Now an off-season removed from a year of disappointment on the track, Force is ready to rebound in a major way in her 10,000-horsepower Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro. She has put the 2015 frustrations behind her and has high hopes in 2016, starting with this weekend’s tradition-rich 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona
“Last season was a rough one for us,” said Force, who also finished a career-best fourth in points in 2014 thanks to the four victories. “We had many hurdles that we couldn't seem to overcome, but took it as a learning experience for us. We took away from it a positive attitude going into the 2016 season and we are motivated to get back on track.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including live coverage of Sunday’s finals at 5 p.m. (ET). The revered event, the first of 24 in 2016, kicks off a thrilling new era in the NHRA, and Force is ready to start fresh herself this season.
Unable to find any rhythm over the course of the difficult year, Force finished 11th in points and lost 15 times in the first round. When one bad thing happened, it seemed to snowball, and Force and her team never recovered. But the entire group has worked hard to find the solution in 2016, with a couple of new pieces joining Force’s Funny Car team.
The results have been immediate, including a solid test session last weekend in Phoenix, and Force has been impressed with how her team has rallied together to bounce back this year.
“We of course have the support of Traxxas as well as a few other sponsors who came on board with our teams last year and that is giving us that stability we need to do what we love,” Force said. “On top of this we made a few changes on our team and (we) now have Dan Hood and Ronnie Thompson as co-crew chiefs and a couple new crew members on board. After our test session in Phoenix this past weekend, and putting some good numbers on the board, we are definitely excited going into the season opener to see what our Traxxas Chevy Camaro can do.”
A quick start in Pomona would do wonders for her confidence, but Force feels as though she came out of 2015 stronger in a number of areas.
Plus, Force, who won the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award in 2012 as the top rookie, knows she’s capable of competing at a high level in the loaded Funny Car class. Force’s standout 2014 season made her the winningest female in Funny Car history, and one of her wins that year gave her the historic 100th victory for a female driver.
But there were plenty of lessons last year that should help Force in the long run.
“I think I've become mentally stronger as a driver going into my fifth year of racing and have learned through all the ups and downs,” Force said. “I think any mistake you make as a driver is only for the better and you can take so much away from that if you choose to look at it with a positive attitude, and that's what I'm doing this season.”
That positive attitude means Force is eager for Pomona to arrive. With a successful test session in hand and a solid off-season, Force is ready to throw her name back into the hat of championship contenders.
It’s a list that starts with reigning world champion Del Worsham, as well as national record holder and seven-time 2015 winner Jack Beckman, 16-time world champ John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight.
“The off-season feels way too long being out of the seat,” Force said. “Especially after getting back in the cockpit at testing I can't wait to get back in the swing of things at the start of the season, at my home track in Pomona. I think 2016 will be a great year for our Traxxas Chevy Camaro team and we are ready to make it our year.”
In Top Fuel, defending world champ Antron Brown will battle against a tough field of contenders including U.S. Army dragster pilot Tony Schumacher, talented Aussie Richie Crampton, Brittany Force, Langdon, Steve Torrence, Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, Clay Millican, Dave Connolly and Quaker State dragster driver Leah Pritchett, among others.
Line will try to win the Winternationals for a fifth time in the new-look NHRA Pro Stock category but will be challenged by two-time defending world champ Erica Enders and her new Dodge Dart teammate, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin. Others to watch in the 200-mph factory hot rod class include last year's top rookie, Drew Skillman, tough Texan Chris McGaha, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Bo Butner and veteran racers Allen Johnson and V. Gaines.
The sleek new Pro Stock cars will feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, removal of all hood scoops and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 13, also at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14.
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President of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Inc. Worked with Mike Hollander since Tapsis, Compuserve, etc. and has posted to the website since the beginning. First Female photo-journalist to be given a garage and pit pass for the NASCAR garage, 1972 at Ontario Motor Speedway. One of first seven female writers, photographers given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and pits in 1971. Past President of Greater Los Angeles Press Club, 1992-96, and first female editor of the 8-Ball publication for the Press Club