Courtney Force's perpetual smile, her conversation that runs 100 mph with gusts up to 150, and her love for National Hot Rod Association Funny Car racing draw natural comparison with her famous father, 15-time champion John Force.
But it's clear to see the one big difference. "She's prettier than me," her dad would wisecrack. Aside from being one of few fresh-faced representatives of drag racing's future, the obvious contrast is what leaps off her ledger sheet. She captured her first professional victory in just her third final race -- in her rookie season, winning the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals.
At the top end of the track, her father, feigning disbelief, said, "It took me 15 years to get my first victory! What's wrong with this?!" But John Force couldn't have been prouder.
And the sanctioning body struck marketing gold Sunday at Pacific Raceways, just south of Seattle, as Courtney Force celebrated Ladies Day in the winners circle with Pro Stock's Erica Enders and local sportsman racer Megan Ellingson in the Super Street class.
(Force and Enders also were finalists at Chicago, when Enders scored her historic victory and the Funny Car rookie was runner-up to Jeff Arend. This time they both got to hoist trophies. Ellingson won her first national event Sunday.)
It marked the first time in NHRA history that two women have won in professional classes on the same day.
The Traxxas Ford Mustang driver joined her father and older sister Ashley Force Hood as a Funny Car winner. That rewrote a chapter of the sport's history, too, for it was the first time the Funny Car class has had three female winners. Courtney Force, her sister, and Melanie Troxel form that club.
In making her third final round in the past five races, Force was seeking her second career victory and second at Seattle. She earned her first Wally statue in 2009 at Pacific Raceways in Jerry Darien's Top Alcohol Dragster.
She had said of Pacific Raceways as the Seattle race approached that she was "really hoping this is my lucky track." The year after she claimed her sportsman victory, in 2010, she rode out a scary incident here in which the right rear tire of her A/Fuel Dragster exploded as she raced Mike Austin. She was unhurt, and she had demonstrated her driving skills by keeping the car from hitting the wall or endangering Austin. This time the facility was her lucky track for happier reasons.
"I honestly am still in shock" she said. "I think I'm still shaking. I mean, coming back out here to Seattle, there are some good memories and some bad. I had my first win out here in Top Alcohol Dragster which was such a huge accomplishment for me just to even have a Wally in my house. At the moment I was telling my dad, 'I can't wait to have a Funny Car Wally in my house,' because you know what?" she said after defeating Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca, and her dad en route to the finals. "Dad has way more than enough. So he can't be mad at me for taking him out in the semis. It's been an amazing day."
Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, offered "a big congratulations to Courtney, the TRAXXAS Ford Mustang Funny Car team, and everyone at John Force Racing who has helped in Courtney's development." Said Allison, "That apple did not fall far from the tree. With her talent and experience, we knew she'd celebrate her first win sooner rather than later. We and all Ford fans are delighted to see her win the Wally as a rookie."
Courtney Force's dad has more victories at Seattle than anyone else (seven), cheered her on as she became the 13th different woman to win an NHRA national event.
"Shirley [Muldowney] started it all," John Force said of the women's movement in drag racing, "but these are the young kids. They're the future of the sport."
Her immediate future is heading to Brainerd, Minn,, in two weeks for the penultimate event before the Countdown. She's sixth in the standings after this 15th of 23 races on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour.
John Force, who Courtney said is trying to process the complicated job of "being a parent, boss, and teacher all at the same time, praised his daughter's professionalism.
"She really did it herself out there today," he said. "What amazes me the most about her is she really does talk --she is kind of wired up like me -- but she has that coolness like her mom."
For example, he said, "Before the final she said, 'Dad, my helmet has a big old scratch down the middle of the visor.' I went into full panic mode on the starting line. She said it was OK, because she could see the tree to the right of the scratch. Me, I would have been pulling my helmet off. I am just proud of her today."
So, actually, was Hagan.
"Every guy worries about losing to a girl, but I don't at all,” Hagan said after she won with a 4.238-second elapsed time at 293.54 mph on the 1,000-foot course to his 4.328-second pass at 276.58 mph in the Aaron's Dodge Charger. "She's a great driver and doing a heck of a job. She's driving the wheels off that thing."
Hagan, Don Schumacher Racing's last hope Sunday to extend its winning streak to nine events, moved him up to 11th place in the standings, within 42 points of earning that Countdown berth.
More importantly, he's trying to compile as many points as he can in his effort to break into the top 10 and earn a berth in the Countdown. Hagan started race day in 12th place, 91 points out of 10th. This second consecutive final-round appearance bumped him up the order one position. So as the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour shifts to Brainerd, Minn., in two weeks, Hagan is 11th in the standings, 42 away from No. 10 Bob Tasca and 49 behind John Force, who climbed to No. 9 with his semifinal finish.
"We still have to a lot to make up," Hagan said. "We're getting there. We're doing what we need to do. We have to keeping winning rounds, and the momentum is there. I'm just tickled to death to go some rounds today and have some fun doing it.
"That's the biggest thing you have to look at. We're having fun again. It's been a very humbling season so far, and we have a lot of making up to do," he said.
Hagan has struggled with a 4-12 round-win record that included eight first-round defeats and a DNQ and spectacular engine explosion at Charlotte during his anything-but-glamorous championship reign.
"You do appreciate it more now when you get a chance to run for the trophy," he said. "I feel for my guys, because they did the same amount of work the last two races as the guys on the winning teams, and we haven't gotten there. But that's just racing. We have to keep a positive attitude and keep this rolling.
"We have great guys and we are still a championship team," Hagan said. "It was just a matter of time until Tommy [crew chief Tommy DeLago] got a handle on it again. We're all human, and sometime we question ourselves. I'm not disappointed in this weekend or last weekend."
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