John Force is among the most decorated competitors in drag racing history. But Sunday he was fine being the second-best driver in his own family after daughter Brittany became the first woman in 35 years to win a season title in drag racing’s top division.
“Ain’t that something,” said Force, a 16-time Funny Car champion who dropped to the track in tears after his daughter clinched her first top-fuel crown two races into the final day of the season.
“She struggled this year as a driver. And she’s really kind of a rookie at this,” he continued. “But to jump up here and get the win, I couldn’t be more proud.
“I can’t even imagine all this happened.”
Nor could his daughter.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” Brittany Force said. “And the only reason it is real is because of all the support I have around me. Today is huge. We made history.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”
It was one of two titles on the day for John Force Racing, which also captured the Funny Car crown before an estimated crowd of 30,000 on a cool, overcast day at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Robert Hight took home that one, pulling away from defending champion Ron Capps during the elimination races, then surviving a spectacular accident in the semifinals when his Chevy burst into flames at the end of its 1,000-foot sprint.
With his second drivers’ title clinched, Hight ran a backup car with a borrowed body in the final, finishing well back of Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Dodge Charger, which clocked 329.10 mph.
In Pro Stocks, Bo Butner got his Trans Am up to 210.70 mph to beat Tanner Gray in the final race of the year and pass Greg Anderson in the season standings, capturing his first career title by seven points. Eddie Krawiec closed out his championship season in Pro Stock Motorcycles with a runner-up finish to Andrew Hines, who clocked 196.02 mph in Sunday’s final.
Krawiec had clinched his fourth title during qualifying.
But top fuel, where 10,000-horsepower machines run at speeds of more than 330 mph, is drag racing’s marquee division. And Brittany Force, 31, a former school teacher from Cal State Fullerton in her fifth season driving a dragster, has dominated it over the last two months, winning three of the season’s final five events to make up a big deficit to Steve Torrence in the points race.
Neither had won a championship before and, with their crews working just 40 feet apart in the pits, Force and Torrence entered the final day of competition Sunday as the only drivers with a realistic shot at the title.
Quick qualifying runs by Force on Friday and Saturday left Torrence with no room for error, though, so when his fastest run of the weekend — 3.695 seconds at 328.46 mph — was four-hundredths of a second slower than defending Antron Brown in the quarterfinals, it opened the door even wider for Force.
And she wasted little time getting through it, beating Richie Crampton handily in the next heat to become the second woman to win NHRA’s most prestigious title after Shirley Muldowney, who won three titles between 1977-82.
Brittany Force celebrated her victory — worth $500,000 — by racing through to the final, where she hit 330.07 mph to beat Mira Loma’s Shawn Langdon in the gloaming for her fourth event win of the year.
Meanwhile, Torrence — a cancer survivor who couldn’t find a satisfactory ride with a major team — saw his quixotic bid to become the first independent driver to win the top fuel championship since Kenny Bernstein in 2001 come up just short.
“Some of these different team owners told me that I couldn’t do [it]. So now it’s kind of ‘well, look at us,’ ” said Torrence, 34, who won a division-best eight races this year, the sixth in which the Texan has been financed by his family’s oil and gas pipeline business . “It is the David against the Goliath.”
This time Goliath won. Because while Brittany Force may be the only top-fuel driver in her father’s stable, John Force Racing is among the largest and most successful teams in NHRA — one that added two more titles Sunday.
“We’ve had an incredible day,” Brittany Force said, clutching her top-fuel trophy. “This is something that I’ll never forget. And something that I’m so proud of.”