Rookie is a force on the track, makes Gatornationals debut
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
In the Family Force, where competing and winning and pushing the envelope with great speed and power are a way of life, some friendly debates might occasionally flare up.
ABOUT THE EVENT
What: The 44th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories — Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle — earn points leading to the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
Where: Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, 11211 North County Road 225.
When: Today through Sunday
Ninety minutes of tape-delayed qualifying highlights will air Sunday morning at 1:30 a.m. on ESPN2.
Three hours of coverage will be televised Sunday on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
Like, who is the quickest off the starting line? Who's the best closer? Who is more likely to turn a potential loss into a sudden victory?
But one debate is no longer on the table, and it's the big one: Who is the fastest Force?
It's not the legendary John Force. He may be the winningest driver in NHRA history, but he's no longer the fastest in the family.
It's not Ashley, who now is more focused on raising her own family.
It's not 23-year-old Courtney Force, last year's NHRA rookie of the year and a rapidly rising star in Funny Car.
No, the fastest Force is the rookie in the family — 26-year-old Brittany Force.
Her father made/let that happen a year ago in Las Vegas when he put Brittany in a Top Fuel dragster and sent her hurtling down the track at more than 300 miles per hour.
“My dad threw out the idea of testing a Top Fuel car, maybe gaining exposure (for John Force Racing) that way, which was a big trick,” she said. “He knew once I got in that car, I wouldn't want to get out of it.”
And that's exactly what's happened.
“That moment I made my first pass in my Top Fuel car, I ran a 3.96 (seconds), and that's when I realized I was hooked,” Brittany said. “I was not going to hop out of that seat anytime soon.
“That was the ride I wanted, and it's just continued from there.”
John Force, who has made his living and reputation in Funny Car, has expanded his highly successful team into Top Fuel, and he's got Brittany doing the groundbreaking driving.
“I'm excited going into new territory,” John Force said. “It was a change that needed to be. When you look at Castrol, they have two (Funny Cars) out there in the same lane.
“It made sense to get a little bit of TV action with ESPN in that other lane (Top Fuel). It was a fitting time to turn over to Top Fuel, because we have four (Funny Cars).”
Brittany Force will make her Gatornationals debut this weekend at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville. While it may seem strange seeing a Force compete in Top Fuel, this is something that has been trending with John Force Racing for several years.
Force has been looking for more ways to get his brand out there, and Top Fuel seemed the way to go. Putting his daughter in the dragster seemed like a natural choice, given the three years of experience she had competing in Top Alcohol Dragster.
She is the Force who has chosen a different path.
“I've never had that urge to go Top Fuel,” John Force said. “I know they're the king of the sport. My daughter is now the fastest in the family. But you don't compare the two. Apples and oranges, (Top Fuel) and Funny Car.
“It's just what it does for you. It's a matter of taste. I like Funny Cars. The dragster is what did it for Brittany. Courtney likes the Funny Car, so did Ashley. Brittany likes the dragsters.”
Brittany said she has pretty much been preparing all her life for the challenge that lies in front of her.
She grew up around NHRA racing. She watched her dad win race after race. She watched Ashley make her debut in Funny Car, then Courtney. Now, it's her turn. The only difference is she'll be racing in a faster, more powerful category.
“I'm having so much fun,” Brittany said. “I'm excited to be out there. I'm running against these guys I grew up watching. A lot have come over, given me tips and advice, asked if I had any questions about anything.
“We just grew up out at the track. The racetrack is kind of like our second home. Everyone out there — teams, other drivers, crew members — they're all kind of family. So, it feels like home.”
Brittany, of course, is not just out there to have fun and feel comfortable. Being a Force, she's here to compete and win.
“We're going after our first win this year,” she said. “I've got so many goals. I'm going to try and qualify for every national event. The team's got my back, and we're all learning together.”
Brittany has been competitive so far in the first two events of the NHRA season. She qualified at both Pomona and Phoenix, but was knocked out in the first round of eliminations in both.
In her first elimination race (at Pomona), she was edged out by Brandon Bernstein. She had an elapsed time of 3.822 seconds and reached a top speed of 323.43 mph.
“The first two races were a great experience,” Brittany said. “At Pomona, I was very nervous. Everything was very overwhelming. At Phoenix, that feeling was still a little new. Overall, I'm happy. We qualified and raced on both Sundays.
“I raced against Brandon Bernstein in Pomona. I grew up watching him and his dad. He got the win. He beat me. Still, it was cool.”
John Force has put together a strong team behind his daughter, one that includes longtime Force crew chief Dean Antonelli, who started Ashley's career in Funny Car.
“I know my dad has put together a great team behind me,” Brittany said. “I know they all support us. I know that they're a really strong team and are going to build a fast car but a safe car to take us down the track in.”
Antonelli said Brittany has the right stuff to be successful. The Force stuff.
“I think she has unlimited potential,” Antonelli said. “Her passion is very deep. She really wants to do this and be good at it. She has her dad's bloodline.
“His other two daughters have shown to be natural at it. She will be, too. There is no reason she can't compete for a championship.”
That's kind of what you'd expect from the fastest Force.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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