Courtney Force shows some skin
Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
CF: A lot of people think that as a race car driver, you just sit in the seat and mash the throttle and it's just a 4-second run and it's easy. But there's a lot that goes into it. You need a lot of upper body and core and leg strength to drive a 10,000-horsepower racecar. I hope we can capture that. It bothers me when people think we aren't athletic.
How did you learn to handle these cars?
CF: My dad [Funny Car racer John Force] crashed in 2007 and broke all his arms and legs. When he got back in the gym after physical therapy, I copied him. They were getting back his arms, hands, legs, everything. Now I have a trainer and do a lot of strength training, especially core and legs. You want your legs strong enough to mash the throttle, and your arms and upper body strong enough to steer the car and keep it straight. It might seem like it's pretty easy, but you are really fighting the car in the cockpit. So I train as hard as possible to keep up with the guys and be better than them. So far it's working out pretty well.
When did you get interested in Funny Cars?
CF: I grew up with NHRA. I was out here in a pacifier and diapers. When I was young, I played with Barbies, but I also loved collecting race cars. When I was 7, I started telling everyone I was going to be like my dad and race a Funny Car for a living. People looked at me like I was crazy. I loved running around the race track, getting covered in grease and tire rub and helping shine my dad's race car. A month after I got my driver's license, at 16, I went to drag racing school and got my racing license.
What other sports did you play growing up?
CF: I was in dance, gymnastics, cheer and softball. In high school, I was a cheerleader, but I was also taking auto shop class, kind of like the best of both worlds. I like the girly side of everything, but I really love these race cars. My sisters were cheerleaders, too. Dad hated coming to our cheer competitions because he was afraid we would fall and break our necks. Yet he was supportive when we got into 300-mph Funny Cars! My dad wished he had four boys and ended up with all girls, and three of us went on to race professionally. I don't think he expected that at all.
What does it feel like to go 300 mph?
CF: It's an adrenaline rush. When we launch off the starting line, you're pulling three to four G's until you hit 300 mph in four seconds. It's like being strapped to a rocket; it's a 10,000-horsepower, eight-cylinder car.
How well can you see in the car?
CF: The first time off, I couldn't see a thing. You get off the throttle, and you can't see where you are because it happens so fast. In one second, you're going 100 mph. But the more and more passes I made, the more comfortable I got. My vision kind of slowed down; my eyes started to catch up with the rest of my body. Now I can pinpoint moments in the run and talk about it: "The first 60 feet this is what I felt" or "It tried to pull me to the outside 300 feet out." It's exciting how much I've changed after a year of driving.
How important is fitness to your sport?
CF: I remember when I first started, I used to walk away from the car -- I wasn't as strong as I am now -- and I'd be sore. Just from steering my arms would be sore, my shoulders would be sore and my legs would be sore from working the clutch and the throttle pedal. You are doing so much at once. But now I've pinpointed what to focus on at the gym so that I can drive better. It's pretty much all about strength training.
If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
CF: I used to have tiny, skinny arms, but ever since I started racing, they've gotten big and muscular. Now my crew guys make fun of me and call them my "man arms." Which I don't think is a bad thing. I try to be comfortable in my own skin. I'm pretty curvy for a girl, but I've grown to love it. I've got leg muscles that I use to my benefit. And I like having my big guns if it helps me drive my car better.
How about your most unusual training?
CF: Working with steering wheels would probably sound strange to most people, but I use this piece of metal shaped like a steering wheel to work my core and arms and legs. My trainer adds weight to the machine it's attached to, usually about 50 pounds. We do things like pulling it up or turning it using my whole body to work core and arms.
What would you define as your edge, mentally?
CF: I don't second-guess myself. In a four-second run, if I make a decision, it had better be the right one. When you're going down the track at 300 mph, once you make a decision you have to stick to it and go for it or you can end up hurting your car or running into a wall. You really have to feel and hear the motor and know how to react. No matter what, you can't regret it once you get back to the pit area.
What is a mental weakness you fight against?
CF: On the starting line, you can't let others distract you. You have to stay focused and alert. You have to stick to basics and do your routine. A distraction of milliseconds can cost you a run. Some people try to mess with me, especially my dad. He tries to screw me up to make sure I'll be ready when other drivers try. But I'm not afraid to race my dad. He's a 15-time champ, but he's just my dad. I've looked forward to racing him my whole life.
How do you get your adrenaline rush off the track?
CF: I did fly with the Blue Angels once, and that was an amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I broke the sound barrier, hit Mach 1, pulled 7.3 G's and even passed out at one point during the flight. It was an hourlong flight and it was the most amazing thing ever. But honestly, after a race, I like to be calm. Your adrenaline skyrockets, so I try to keep it mellow when I'm not racing.
Is there anything you're afraid of?
CF: My biggest fear is insects. When I see a spider, I do the best I can to not be a baby about it, but I usually call my dad or a guy to kill it. Now that I live on my own, I've taught myself to kill insects, but I still freak out a bit. I also could never be a surfer; I have a fear of sharks and being swept away in the ocean. My dad made us watch "Jaws" as kids, and now we're all afraid of the ocean.