Danica Patrick -- the Go-Daddy-rich, racing-accomplishment-poor media magnet not yet known for any driving distinctions -- can take heart.
Courtney Force, the latest in a long string of female winners in the National Hot Rod Association, offered the struggling Patrick some encouragement.
"I'm sure she'll get it soon. She seems like a very competitive person, and I think it'll come," Force said this week during an NHRA-sponsored teleconference.
One day Patrick might be able to achieve performance notoriety, like Force's drag racing predecessors Shirley Muldowney, Angelle (Sampey) Drago, Bunny Burkett, Shelly Anderson Payne, Karen Stoffer, Erica Enders, Melanie Troxel, Rachel Splatt, Hillary Will, Peggy Llewellyn, Ashley Force Hood, Cristen Powell, Lucille Lee, and Lori Johns. Add the sportsman classes and, starting with Shirley Shahan, the long list grows to include Megan Ellingson, the Seattle racer who shared the winners circle with Enders and Courtney Force a week ago.
"It's definitely cool that NHRA drag racing is a little bit more woman, a little bit different categories, and females are in so many different categories," Courtney Force said. "Over in NASCAR, I think it's only a matter of time."
In fairness, comparing drag racing and NASCAR is like comparing apples to oranges. The structure of competition is incomparably different. However, the form of motorsports --the environment, the culture -- that encourages women to compete and succeed and applauds their victories and their progress clearly is drag racing, not NASCAR.
And Courtney Force was one bookend of a two-female-winners-day at Pacific Raceways, a feat no other motorsports form could showcase.
"It's amazing to kind of be a part of history with two females winning in a pro class, especially next to Erica Enders getting her second [professional] win and my first, and being next to those two other women that have won it in Funny Car: my sister, Ashley, and Melanie Troxel," Force said.
"It's definitely an honor," she said, "and I really think that more and more women are going to be coming into the sport and not just out there to race. We're out here to win."
Enders gave a simple reason why females are victorious and confident in drag racing.
"I know it's a frequently asked question in every media outlet and every city that we go to about girls and why they're more successful in NHRA than any other form of motorsports and what's it like to be a girl race car driver," the most recent Pro Stock winner said. "And I guarantee you ... we all say the same thing: When you put your helmet on, it doesn't matter.
"I'm so proud to be one of them and have my name on a list with people like Shirley and Ashley Force and Courtney Force and Melanie Troxel," she said. "It's tremendous, and I'm totally stoked.
"I think it's awesome. I'm friends with Courtney and Alexis [DeJoria] and Hillary [Will], and I totally root for the girls on Sunday, there's no doubt about that. You know, there's no reason why we can't compete on this level."
Both said last Sunday after their victories that they see no reason they shouldn't compete for the championship, as well.
Barbara Hamilton, in 1964, was the first female to receive an NHRA license, and two years later, Shahan was the first woman to win an NHRA national event, in the Stock class at the Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. But Shirley Muldowney single-handedly stormed the male bastion of drag racing, battling the odds and behavior that the younger generation who benefited from them probably cannot understand fully. And the beat -- and the beating of the male racer from time to time -- goes on. Courtney Force had the confirmation: a congratulatory balloon and flowers on her doorstep from older sister Ashley Force Hood. - SUSAN WADE
And the Traxxas Ford Mustang driver had the evidence in her hand -- had carried it through the airport, even had slept beside it. And there sat the Wally trophy on her kitchen counter as proof she won the Funny Car final at the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways last Sunday.
Heaven knows her excitable 15-time-series-champion dad, John Force, had told her a dozen times -- and phoned about as many -- to tell her how proud he was of her for her achievement.
Still, she couldn't stop reassuring herself as she watched the videotaped replay of the race after she returned to her Southern California home.
"When I was watching the race on TV, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure it was there," Courtney Force said of the Wally on the counter, laughing at her own insecurity. "The ESPN show wasn't going to have a different ending."
She said, "I'm probably being a little ridiculous," but the historical significance of her first Funny Car victory -- made it all the more extraordinary.
"I think the first initial shock was seeing that win light," Force said. "When I came around the corner, Erica was the first person I saw, and she was clapping and giving me a thumbs-up. It was such a cool feeling. That was when I kind of realized, 'Dang, I really did get the win. That really did just happen.' It was really cool to watch her win the round right ahead of me. I was hoping I could stand in that winners circle with her and make history with her. It's really cool to have both our names on the board for that. But man, coming around the corner and see that Wally there, it was a really cool experience. But knowing that Erica had done it, too, it was awesome. "
Predictably, her father's reaction to her achievement was almost as dramatic as her final-round run against Matt Hagan.
She has gotten a laugh from playing the DVD that includes his reaction, the scream he let out while standing on the starting line Sunday, watching his youngest of four daughters knock off a third champion that day to earn her first Funny Car victory (and second overall at Pacific Raceways, following her Top Alcohol Dragster win in 2009).
"I was laughing pretty hard, because I've never seen my dad scream like that. I've never heard that sound come out of his mouth," Courtney Force said." It really shows that he was excited. It's really cool to be able to have that moment to watch and really see how he felt in his first reaction. I know he was more in shock than anything and just excited to see that win light.
"I think he's still been in shock. He's like, 'I want you to enjoy it. This is your big win, and you’ve looked forward to this your whole life. 'I mean, I think he's kind of in disbelief right now," she said midweek. "He keeps calling me saying, 'You did it! Has it sunk in yet? You finally got that Wally, and you earned it, Kid.' He's just been really excited. All week long he has been calling me nonstop and just telling me how proud he is."
She said when they got back to Yorba Linda, "his sentimental side started to kick in, because he was just sitting there just staring at me. I'm like, 'What?' He's like, 'I can't believe you just did that. It took me years to achieve that.' It was a very gratifying feeling, seeing how proud he was of me. I mean, obviously he's still jumping up and down. He keeps calling me like it just happened two minutes ago. He's definitely excited."
She said he "was giving me a hard time. Right after that win, he goes, 'You know how long it took me to get my first win?' He was giving me a hard time."
Courtney Force was smart enough to recognize that her dad was goofing around to mask his overwhelming delight and exhilaration. He was flying as high as the Blue Angles performing over Seattle last Sunday as Courtney was writing her name in NHRA history. And she appreciated all that he has endured and accomplished so she might have that moment.
"I watched my dad as I grew up in drag racing, so I watched him struggle. I saw him at the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. I know what my dad went through and how he fought for it. And he really created an amazing team, and I'm lucky enough and fortunate enough to be able to work with those amazing crew chiefs and crew guys and fellow drivers," Courtney Force said.
"Yeah, I mean, it's really an amazing thing that I was able to get it so soon. It really is due to my crew guys and my team and really everyone at John Force Racing."
Like her dad, Courtney Force got a taste of victory and wants to order it from every race menu. And she still has an ambitious list of goals she wants to meet long before approaching the subject of the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award for NHRA's top rookie.
Force said she wants to get the last spot for the Traxxas Shootout that will be part of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Moreover, she wants to win the $100,000 bonus-race payout, rake in even more money and status with a triumph in the Labor Day classic, and fight for the championship.
"I have so many more goals set for myself that I know it's only going to get better from here," she said.
"I definitely have a little bit more boost of confidence in myself as a driver, knowing that I am capable of getting that win. Gosh, it sounds so weird to say," Force said.
She drifted off for a flashback of the days when she was the tomboy among the Force girls, the one who loved getting dirty, the one who was intrigues watching the mechanics of the car and absorbing all the activity and conversation of the ones working on it, and fascinated by her father. She loved his interviews and just the fact he drove a car at more than 300 mph.
"I just thought it was such a cool job," Courtney Force said. "And I saw him crash, flip upside down, catch on fire. And that was probably the moment where I was like; this is something I want to do, even though it is a dangerous sport. I was probably seven years old and I knew for a fact I was going to be a race car driver. I didn't see my dad a lot as a kid. He was traveling so much. But I think that was the moment I knew if I went into drag I'd see my dad all the time.
"It's definitely been more than enough, now that I'm racing with him," she quipped." I see him way more than I could ask."
However, she said, "I just knew. I knew that's what I wanted to do. I was so passionate about it. My sisters, on the other hand, I think they were still trying to figure out where they wanted to go in life."
Ashley was pondering becoming a veterinarian for a while, and Courtney said Ashley "sort of fell into Super Comp and started there and gradually moved up and that's why I followed in her footsteps ended up in Funny Car. That's where I knew I wanted to be." Sister Brittany Force is testing in the Top Fuel dragster this year and is set for 2013 debut. But along the way she studied to become a teacher and earned her teaching credentials. "So they've all had different so many different passions," Courtney said, "but it was always drag racing for me."
"You look at it from afar and you just think you want to get there one day, and just this past weekend holding that trophy over my head, it really shows that we can be a competitive team," Courtney Force said. "Our Traxxas Ford Mustang has been running good, and we'll be back out there. I think we're just going to have to keep going after more and more wins."
And one of her targets is the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
"I know I'm putting a little bit of pressure on myself, because now that I've gotten a win, now I'm just going to push to try to get another one. Being that it's Indy, there's pressure knowing that my sister won there back to back, two years in a row, so I'm a competitive person, so I want to get out there, I want to do the best I can. But I mean, being that it's the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, it's the biggest race of the season, and I want to do well," Courtney Force said.
"I want to get this Traxxas Mustang into the finals, if we can, and hopefully have another trophy. But it definitely makes me feel a little bit more comfortable as a driver knowing that we have one win under my belt, and we'll just go into it the best we can and try to stay focused," she said.
He dad has imposed a curfew to help the process.
"The main goal is to really get into that Traxxas Shootout, as well as getting into the Countdown For the Championship," she said.
What she has done so far, Force said, has "definitely been a huge accomplishment for us. I honestly didn't see my rookie season going this well, this early on. I'm excited. I'm very proud of my team. I have a great group of guys and a great crew chief in Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, and I'm excited. It's definitely been going well. To be sixth in points and three finals and to get that first win in my 15th race, I'm very excited. I'm starting to feel a little bit more comfortable in the car, but I'm still learning. I'm a new driver, still making mistakes, and still learning from them. So it's only a matter of time."
Then Courtney Force won't be looking over her shoulder to see if the Wally trophy still is real. She'll be looking over her shoulder at the Funny Car competition struggling to catch up with her.
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