Courtney Force races into the family business
Courtney Force was born into drag racing.
She's the youngest daughter of 15-time NHRA Funny Car national champion John Force. Her mother, Laurie, went into labor with her while her dad was on the road racing. It was June 1988 and he had just won his second national race in Columbus, Ohio.
"He asked Mom if she could hold me in a little longer," Courtney said, laughing.
John remembers it a little bit differently. He said he hurried back to Yorba Linda, Calif., the minute he finished "making a paycheck."
"I won, ran by the winner's circle, raced through media," said John, who at 63 still races full-time. "They picked me up in helicopter to get to the airport to get home.
"I wanted to be there, births are so important, and I wanted to support my wife. I got home just in time to see Courtney being born."
These days Courtney is learning about life on the road. Following in her father's racing footsteps, she travels with him every weekend for NHRA races. She is a member of his team and is in the middle of her first full-time season in the Funny Car category.
"I grew up announcing to everybody, 'I am going to be a race car driver,'" said Courtney, 23. "'I am going to be like my dad.'"
Courtney has spent her fair share of time at the track throughout the years. She said her dad was on the road racing for most of the year. But when summer rolled around, the rest of the family got to travel with him.
"I always joke about the early days at the track," John said. "Courtney was in diapers with a pacifier wiping down tires and cleaning the side of the cars. She always wanted to be a part of it."
Courtney said: "It's something that has been a part of my blood for a long time, and being able to get out there with my dad now and be a part of the sport is pretty awesome. I have looked forward to it ever since I was a kid. I used to draw pictures of race cars and had all my dad's sponsors on the side of it. I just knew that I wanted to be like him."
Courtney is not the first of the Force sisters to get into the family business. Her half-sister Adria, 41, runs the business side of John Force Racing, and Adria's husband, Robert Hight, drives for the team. Ashley Force Hood, 29, took driving lessons at 16 and worked her way up the NHRA ranks, becoming the first woman to win a Funny Car event and finishing second in that class in 2009. Brittany Force, 25, also races for JFR in the Top Fuel division.
"Ashley and Brittany were figuring out what they wanted and went to college and just kind of went through the steps," Courtney said. "I remember Ashley going to driving school and being a little surprised at first. But then I thought, 'That's awesome, if my sisters are going to do it [race], that is even more reason why I want to do it.' I just sort of followed right along in her footsteps."
Ashley stepped away from racing in 2011 to give birth to her son, Jacob, now 9 months old. She said she knows Courtney will inevitably be compared to her, but has told her sister to concentrate on what she can control.
"For Courtney, everyone will compare her to me; that's just how it works," Ashley said. "Because she is a girl. When I first started I got compared to Melanie Troxel, because she was the only other woman racing [in my class] at the time.
"You have to put that out of your head and just go out there and race. It's funny how they only asked questions about the other girls. You are not out there to be the best girl on the track. You are out there to be the best driver and team on the track."
And Ashley has cautioned her sister that becoming the best will take time.
"There is a learning curve," she said. "She has been wonderful so far but there are a lot of ups and downs in the beginning; they are not easy cars to drive.
"The biggest thing is learn from your mistakes. I hit cones in Phoenix and the wall in Seattle, I remember those mistakes but I didn't repeat them. Every driver goes through it."
After making it to the semifinals at the 43rd annual Toyota NHRA SuperNationals in New Jersey over the weekend, Courtney has qualified for every race this season and is in ninth place in the Funny Car standings. She said that is the key to continued success.
"I am happy with where [the season] is at, because going out I did not know what to expect," Courtney said.
"Having a consistent race car will get us going [through] rounds and get us qualified. We have been qualified at every race event this season, which is huge."
Courtney's goal for her rookie season is a top-10 finish in the Funny Car category. She has even bigger goals in the future.
"For my career, I want to get some wins under my belt, set some records," she said. "And obviously every driver strives to get that championship. I don't know if that is a possibility or not, but I don't see a reason why it couldn't be."
John said he has no doubt Courtney will live up to the family name.
"She loves the sport," John said. "That is what will make her a success."