COURTNEY FORCE ASSERTS HERSELF AS NO. 1 FUNNY CAR QUALIFIER
Courtney Force was not going to be denied.
The Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro Funny Car driver was not content to sit back and take the No. 2 starter label for the Arizona Nationals, especially not when she had the same elapsed time Friday as provisional leaser Jack Beckman – and especially when she clocked it first.
So she went back out Saturday evening on the 1,000-foot Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park course and grabbed back what she thought was rightfully hers. And she left no doubt it was hers.
Force, who said late Friday that “nobody technically outran us, other than speed,” set both ends of the class track record in the second session at 3.826 seconds and 335.98 mph.
That sets up a first-round match against Del Worsham in Sunday’s runoffs.
Force said she’s “excited to be in that top spot and get it back. Beckman, I was watching out for him, because they’ve got a great race car, too. But I’m really proud of my guys.”
Ron Capps was second to Force in qualifying, with a 3.844-second E.T., with Beckman one-thousandth of a second behind Capps. John Force, Courtney’s father, will start Sunday’s eliminations from the No. 4 position. Jim Campbell was the only racer to miss the Funny Car grid.
“It was pretty incredible,” she said of Saturday’s record-setting pass. “I love being back here in Phoenix. We tested on this track a few weeks back and had a killer number. So coming into this race, I was hoping we could lay it down again. And I saw Corradi make some changes on the car right before we got it started, and it flew down there. It felt good. This Chevy Camaro was pulling hard the whole way down.”
Courtney Force’s accomplishment Saturday was a first official triumph for her newly scrambled team and new, Top Fuel championship-proven crew chief Brian Corradi. And it signaled a turnaround overall for John Force Racing, which for the most part had a miserable season-beginner on home ground at Pomona, Calif., two weeks ago.
Courtney’s older sister Brittany Force, the reigning Top Fuel champion, crashed hard in her first run of the year and was hospitalized for a day. Her return wasn’t confirmed publicly until the eve of this return to Chandler, Ariz. Their dad, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, had an engine explosion in qualifying at Pomona that sent him also to the hospital for a check-out. Courtney Force and father lost in the opening round, leaving Robert Hight to carry the company banner to a runner-up finish for the team’s lone bright spot.
“It’s definitely a good boost of positive energy over here in our camp,” Courtney Force said of this weekend’s performance. “I think especially that run that my dad made earlier today is a great run for his Peak team. It definitely feels good, being back out here with my whole family and to be able to support Brittany out here. She’s done a great job. They’ve struggled with the car, but she’s doing her job, getting back in the seat and stepping on that throttle. That’s the most important thing.
“I’m excited to see our team do so well so far at the start of the weekend. It’s all going to come down to Sunday,” she said. “We’re hoping to have this Advance Auto Parts team in the winners circle.”
If that happens, it will mark Force’s first victory since the 2016 Houston race, nearly two years ago. Although she blanked all last season, she managed a career-best No. 3 placing in the final standings.
‘We had pretty good luck getting No. 1 qualifiers last year [seven]. I’m not disappointed about it,” Force said, “because we ended up with a career-best season. So nothing to hang our heads about. But hoping to turn this into a win, for sure. The most important thing was finding consistency. It’s a great start, being in the top spot, but we’ve got to continue to be consistent on race day. If for some reason we don’t have a long day tomorrow, we plan to be out here testing on Monday. The most important thing is to push our team and see if we can go rounds, take it step by step, and hope for a long day.”
Force has been stellar at this venue before. Last winter, she posted a 3.804-second elapsed time that dipped below the national record at the time but was unofficial because it did not occur at an NHRA national event. Two weeks ago, she registered the quickest Funny Car E.T., with a closing-day 3.839-second run.
Force said, “Another cool thing about today was I believe I heard it was Corradi’s top speed, running a 335. I though that was pretty cool [with him] coming from a Top Fuel team. I’m really proud that we were able to get it done in our Advance Auto Parts car.”
Driver Antron Brown’s career-best speed during Corradi’s tuning tenure with the Matco Tools Dragster team is 333.16 mph.