Courtney Force, the youngest daughter of team owner and 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car champion John Force, entered the series’ six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs seeded No. 1. Driving her Chevrolet Camaro SS, she had the best record of any driver over the first 18 races of the year, piling up four wins and a slew of “little” points for her prowess in each of four qualifying sessions during those 18 race weekends.
Since then, it’s been goose eggs for NHRA’s most successful female driver. At Reading, she was No. 1 qualifier but lost to Mike Smith in the first round. In St. Louis, she qualified No. 3 and lost to eventual runner-up Tim Wilkerson in the quarterfinals. For last weekend’s Texas race, Courtney Force had a miserable qualifying sequence, taking the No. 12 and losing a close, first-round race to Jack Beckman.
What can she do to change this? How can she regain the dominance that swept her through the first 18 races of the year? She who was No. 1 in the points standings as September began is now in fifth place, one of three drivers with four Funny Car wins. The others are her brother-in-law Robert Hight and Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd.
“We came into the Countdown number one,” co-crew chief Brian Corradi, new to the team this year, admitted. “We just have to find our stride over the next three races. We have to track down those gremlins, and we just can’t keep scuffing pistons. We know what the problem is and we are going to get it fixed. I am glad we will be racing this weekend.” The team, also led by Dan Hood, is now examining the “whys” of their issues.
After leading the mid-season standings with four victories and 11 No. 1 qualifiers, the team learned lessons at Dallas, where they discovered the scuffing issue. They are looking to rebound from these piston issues. As they encamp at a soggy Charlotte, North Carolina for the NHRA Carolina Nationals, Courtney Force declared, “I don’t believe our championship chances are over, by any means. I actually feel pretty good; our Camaro was able to get down the track in the heat” of last Sunday’s Texas race day.
“We made our best run last Sunday when it mattered the most, one of the quickest runs of the first round.” Unfortunately, Beckman was a bit better. “We are going into Charlotte looking to turn our luck around. We still have a shot at this championship; we just have to keep our focus.”
Charlotte was the first race of the Countdown last year, rather than the fourth. In that contest, Force qualified best battled to the finals, losing out to eventual champion Hight. It was her best result at zMAX Dragway and she’s hoping she can overcome the 155 point-lapse to Hight (and Todd) in NASCAR country. “I think we can definitely finish strong over the next three races,” Force said. Only time will tell if she’s right.