A Force to be Reckoned With
Once upon a time, there was just one driver named Force dominating the world of NHRA drag racing. And, for quite a few years that's the way it stayed because John Force was the lone ranger of the family when it came to racing.
And then everything changed for the sport's most popular and successful driver when his daughters decided to try their hand at the sport which he has dominated since he won the first of 16 Funny Car championships in 1990.
"They're a competitive bunch," said the 66-year-old Force, who owns a whopping 142 Funny Car wins. "I never asked them to get involved in racing, but I never told them they couldn't either. Since they were all little, they've been around it and they've always loved it. And then they started wanting to race."
And race they have. All three of his younger daughters, Ashley, Courtney and Brittany, have followed in their famous father's footsteps while oldest daughter Adria is the CFO of John Force Racing and is married to Funny Car driver Robert Hight. While only John and Courtney have found their way to the Wine Country Winner's Circle at Sonoma, and Ashley has now retired from racing, they all dearly love the California dragstrip that they consider their home track.
"I've won a lot of races at Sonoma," said Force who is anxiously looking forward to the 28th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals. "It's always been a good place for me - pretty much like home - so we always love going there."
Last July, John, whose seven Funny Car wins at Sonoma are the most by any driver in any class, was going after yet another win at the world-famous track when he found himself facing some pretty stiff competition in the form of daughter Courtney in the finals. Sure enough, she beat him to the line for her fifth pro victory, breaking a tie with sister, Ashley, for most career Funny Car wins by a female.
It was a career-defining moment for the 27-year-old.
"Winning in Sonoma was a highlight in my career because it was an emotional win for me for so many reasons," said Courtney, who has seven career victories and also recorded the 100th win by a woman last year at Topeka. "I had watched my dad and Eric Medlen win here in the past and celebrate with them, and this time it was my turn. It was a huge win for my Traxxas team because we broke the tie with my sister to become the winningest female in Funny Car history. After years of racing on such a familiar track, it was so rewarding to get such a memorable win here last year."
While breaking the tie with Ashley was pretty sweet, Courtney truly appreciated all her sister did to help her get to that point in her career.
"I have always looked up to my sister Ashley and have learned so much from her," she said. "This was a moment where I had gotten a win that meant a lot and marked something amazing in history and my sister was there to support me.
"When I went into Funny Car, my competitive side always pushed me to at least get as many wins as my sister did because I knew she had made a mark for herself in our sport from her accomplishments. I always wanted to do something as good as her so I never thought I would be able to pass her by winning that weekend in Sonoma. It was a proud and memorable win for me and for my team. But I know if Ashley ever jumps back in the seat, I have to keep winning because she is bound to catch up with me!"
Seeing Courtney set a new mark for women in racing was also pretty special for her father.
"Anytime you can set a record, it's an accomplishment, especially for women competing in a field mostly of men," said John. "Watching my girls grow up, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney were always very competitive, striving to outdo each other. Ashley always appeared to be the leader but she was also older by a few years.
"But I can tell you that the three of them celebrated together last year when Courtney got that 100th win at Topeka. Then she went on and passed Ashley at Sonoma for most Funny Car wins and that was a big thing in our family. As a parent you're always proud but what we say is get back out there and do it again. Keep winning.
"Ashley approves of all this, but, if she didn't, my words to her would be to get back in that car and start winning races because your sister is going to keep winning."
While sister Brittany is still looking for her first career NHRA victory in a Top Fuel dragster, like the rest of the family she has a special affinity for Sonoma.
"It's one of my favorite tracks on the circuit because it holds so many great memories for my family and me," said the 29-year-old. "Living in California it feels like home being on the West Coast. Sonoma is gorgeous and one of the many reasons my sisters and I have been going since we were kids. I remember packing our suitcases, loading the car up and taking a road trip with my entire family to watch our dad race. My dad would always make a stop and surprise us with coloring books to keep us busy in the car.
"Now that we're all older, we love heading into town early to explore and enjoy some wine tasting. We've cheered my dad on to many final-round wins from the grandstands, celebrated with Robert Hight in the winner's circle, pumped up Eric Medlen before turning on that win light and passed around Courtney's wine goblet trophy while taking pictures."
Brittany admits that Courtney's win holds a special place in her heart.
"Watching Courtney win in Sonoma last year was so exciting," she said. "As an older sister I was very proud of her because like myself, I knew she had always wanted a win at that track so she could make some more memories of her own.
"The Sonoma track always makes winning a national event special as they hand you a wine goblet trophy, the only one on our circuit. My sisters and I have all celebrated with my dad and teammates in the winner's circle, so being able to repeat that same excitement with Courtney is something we will never forget! Sonoma is a racetrack with years and years of memories and we plan to just keep adding to the list."
Brittany and Courtney both started their racing careers at Sonoma, competing first in Super Comp dragsters, then in Alcohol dragsters.
"Last year in Top Fuel I was the number one qualifier," she said. "With years of experience racing down this track I have always felt very comfortable and more confident there. The facility is beautiful and I have always loved that the track is long and goes up hill. It gives you a little piece of mind when flying down the track hitting speeds at 330 mph. I can't wait to get to Sonoma and hopefully make some winner's circle memories of my own."
One thing that will never change is how much the Force kids enjoy winning. Yes, just like dear old dad.
"They are very competitive," said Force. "Of course, Ashley's direction has changed. Courtney is focused on winning and Brittany is focused on winning. Ashley, after driving for 10 years - five of them professionally - decided to start a family and that's great.
"The thing is she still gets to take part in the glory for Courtney's wins because her husband Daniel Hood is one of the crew chiefs on that car. So, no matter what… no matter what happens with any of us, it's always going to be all in the family with this bunch."