Courtney's Mustang Leads The Way At Winternationals
By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
POMONA, Calif. -- Courtney Force showed no signs of any sophomore jinx Saturday as she powered her Traxxas Ford Mustang to the top of the Funny Car qualifying order for Sunday’s season-opening 53rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The 24-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force sped through the 1,000-foot-timers in 4.036 seconds at 318.24 miles per hour, nudging reigning series champion “Fast Jack” Beckman by .009 of a second for the top spot and securing the third No. 1 of her brief Funny Car career.
That performance sends her into Sunday’s first round against journeyman Phil Burkart Jr., who held on for the No. 16 starting spot.
“It’s really exciting, especially because it’s my home track,” said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "I love coming out here. This Traxxas Ford Mustang has been running pretty good thanks to all of our sponsors. “We’re just hoping that tomorrow we can continue to do the same and maybe even a little better.
“I don’t ever let that (No. 1 spot) change my outlook on things,” she said. “We’ve got a good race car but there are guys who are right behind me. I really gotta watch out for them. We just gotta go out there and try to run consistently. I don’t want to make any mistakes as a driver. I’m still learning. I’m pretty excited that we got the No. 1 spot, but I still gotta focus, keep it going and just really not get distracted by anything and do my same old routine.”
Courtney said that while her dad can get a little over the top, she still values his input.
“He’s been here,” she said. “He’s started from the beginning. He struggled. He knows these tracks better than any of us. He’s got a lot to say. He’s been through it all, so we really do try to take his advice in.”
For last year’s Rookie of the Year, the biggest challenge at Pomona has been keeping her car moving in a straight path.
“It’s just trying to keep the car straight, keep it off the wall and off the centerline,” she said. “These lanes are tricky. They try to pull you to the left. You saw some of the other guys (including two-time series champ Tony Pedregon) bumping into the wall. The right lane has a little bit of a bump in it.
“(Before the last qualifying run) my crew chief, Ron Douglas, told me, ‘we’re going to pull you a little more to the inside. Do not let it cross the centerline. I did the best job I could doing that, and we avoided the bump, didn’t spin the tires and ran a 4.07. We’re excited about it. We just gotta make more passes, get used to these lanes and I’ll try to do the best job I can keeping this car straight.”
The other Fords in the Funny Car field face formidable first-round challenges.
John Force will roll his Castrol GTX Mustang to the starting line opposite the Dodge of Ron Capps; Tim Wilkerson will send the new look Levi, Ray and Shoup Mustang against the Dodge of former champion Matt Hagan; Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford will oppose two-time series champ Cruz Pedregon; and Bob Tasca III will draw 2011 NHRA Top Fuel Champion Del Worsham and the DHL Toyota.
Of that group, only Wilkerson will benefit from lane choice although none believe that there is that much difference between the left and the right. Force was just happy to get his cars into the show.
“At the end of the day, to put all four cars in with the changes that we made over the winter, it is all working,” said the 15-time series champion. “The Auto Club team struggled some with Robert and Neff and I struggled with the Castrol GTX Mustang but, bottom line, we are in the show.
“Courtney was low ET with the Traxxas Ford and, after the long winter and a year of testing, to get that Top Fuel dragster in at the first race just took the load off me,” said the 134-time tour winner. “I’m just excited because we did our job. We made Pomona. That’s the key.”
Wilkerson, who is starting the season with two crew members who never before have worked on a Funny Car, was generally pleased with their performance the first three days.
"The guys still have a ways to go, working as a unit and getting it done in the short amount of time we have between runs,” he said, “but today they bolted this LRS Ford together just right, both times, and we drove it right on down there two times in a row.
"The first run, we tried a few new approaches to the tune-up and it ran down there like it was as safe and conservative as it could be. It was truly never in any danger of getting in trouble. So, we came back to the pit and thought we'd step it up just a little bit. We were trying to run a little quicker than that, but just being a hair more aggressive made it a little squirrelly going down the track. Now, we just have to come out here tomorrow and keep growing as a team, no matter how it all turns out,” said the man who both tunes and drives the LRS Mustang. “It's a process and we have to see the big picture.”
Tasca, too, was encouraged by his team’s performance despite the No. 13 start.
“I’m not discouraged at all,” he said. “The runs we smoked the tires on were very close to making it, so it’s just a matter of getting the timing curve to work on the clutch set-up we have.
“Tomorrow morning’s a whole new ballgame. A 70-degree day. The racetrack will be 85-degrees -- something we’re very familiar with, based on what we’ve tested all winter. We’ve got some fine-tuning to do on a warmer race track (but) we’ll make the appropriate changes as we get more opportunities to run. I’m looking forward to running Del in the morning.”
Meanwhile, 26-year-old Brittany Force made a little history of her own Sunday by qualifying a Ford-powered Top Fuel dragster for an NHRA event for the first time since 1970. She hung on to the No. 15 spot at 3.845 seconds in a Castrol EDGE dragster powered by the Ford BOSS 500 motor.
“One of my goals for this year was to qualify for every race,” said the schoolteacher-to-be, “so I am definitely excited about racing tomorrow. We are going to have some fun. I am excited to be running Brandon (Bernstein, son of NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein). I have known him forever, and I have been watching him forever.”
Her's is the first Ford powered dragster to compete in the NHRA’s primary series since 1991.
* * * * *
POMONA, Calif. – First round pairings for Sunday’s 53rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, first race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:
FUNNY CAR – 1.Courtney Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Traxxas Ford Mustang, 4.036, 318.24 mph, vs. 16. Phil Burkart Jr., Yorkville, N.Y., Energy Options Chevrolet Impala, 4.640, 208.84 mph; 2. Jack Beckman, Norco, Calif., Valvoline NEXTGEN Dodge Charger, 4.045, 317.05 mph, vs. 15. Todd Lesenko, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, Uni-Select Dodge Charger, 4.250, 302.69 mph; 3. Gary Densham, Bellflower, Calif., Lawson Rock and Oil Dodge Charger, 4.053, 307.09 mph, vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Brownsburg, Ind., American Racing Toyota Camry, 4.225, 248.89 mph; 4. Del Worsham, Chino Hills, Calif., DHL Toyota Camry, 4.054, 310.20 mph, vs.13. Bob Tasca III, Cranston, R.I., Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang, 4.190, 305.08 mph; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Brownsburg, Ind., Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry, 4.064, 310.27 mph, vs. 12. Robert Hight, Yorba Linda, Calif., Auto Club Ford Mustang, 4.111, 311.20 mph; 6. Ron Capps, Carlsbad, Calif., NAPA Parts Dodge Charger, 4.073, 314.53 mph, vs. 11. John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 4.108, 306.05 mph; 7. Johnny Gray, Artesia, N.M., Pitch Energy Dodge Charger, 4.081, 309.77 mph, vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Venice, Calif., Tequila Patron Toyota Camry, 4.107, 302.69 mph; 8.Tim Wilkerson, Springfield, Ill., Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang, 4.095, 311.70 mph, vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Christiansburg, Va., Mopar Dodge Charger, 4.097, 304.46 mph.
TOP FUEL – 1. Tony Schumacher, Long Grove, Ill., U.S. Army dragster, 3.753, 328.14 mph, vs. 16. Sidnei Frigo, Deerfield Beach, Fla., Arivinco dragster, 3.858, 299.20 mph; 2. Brandon Bernstein, Zionsville, Ind., Protect the Harvest dragster, 3.761, 325.22 mph, vs. 15. Brittany Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol EDGE fORDdragster, 3.845, 293.22 mph; 3. Doug Kalitta, Ypsilanti, Mich., Mac Tools dragster, 3.763, 328.06 mph, vs. 14. Leah Pruett, Avon, Ind., Dote Family Racing dragster, 3.842, 316.60 mph; 4. Antron Brown, Brownsburg, Ind., Matco Tools dragster, 3.768, 328.14 mph, vs. 13. Larry Dixon, Indianapolis, Ind., Rapisarda Racing/Titan Cranes dragster, 3.829, 318.39 mph; 5. David Grubic, Ennis, Mont., Optima Batteries/Candlewood Suites dragster, 3.776, 308.19 mph, vs. 12. Morgan Lucas, Brownsburg, Ind., GEICO Powersports dragster, 3.814, 325.06 mph; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, Los Angeles, Calif., Al-Anabi dragster, 3.777, 326.26 mph, vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff Jr., Alpharetta, Ga., C&J Energy Services dragster, 3.813, 324.83 mph; 7. Shawn Langdon, Mira Loma, Calif., Al-Anabi dragster, 3.784, 326.56 mph, vs. 10. Clay Millican, Drummonds, Tenn., Parts Plus dragster, 3.799, 325.77 mph; 8. Steve Torrence, Kilgore, Texas, Capco Contractors dragster, 3.789, 322.58 mph, vs. 9. Spencer Massey, Fort Worth, Texas, Schumacher Electric dragster, 3.793, 323.97 mph.
PRO STOCK – 1. Mike Edwards, Coweta, Okla., Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevrolet Camaro, 6.528, 212.39 mph, vs. 16. Chris McGaha, Odessa, Texas, Harlow Sammons Dodge Avenger, 6.612, 209.04 mph; 2. Vieri Gaines, Lakewood, Colo., Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger, 6.538, 211.49 mph, vs. 15. Deric Kramer, Sterling, Colo., Dodge Avenger, 6.611, 209.01 mph; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, New Orleans, La., GK Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt, 6.539, 211.66 mph, vs. 14. Kurt Johnson, Lawrenceville, Ga., Mark Christopher Auto Group Pontiac GXP, 6.602, 210.08j mph; 4. Jason Line, Troutman, N.C., Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, 6.541, 212.43 mph; 6.528, 212.26 mph, vs. 13. Allen Johnson, Greeneville, Tenn., Mopar Dodge Avenger, 6.601, 211.06 mph; 5. Vincent Nobile, Dix Hills, N.Y., Mountain View Tire/NAPA Dodge Avenger, 6.551, 211.46 mph, vs. 12. Shane Gray, Denver, N.C., Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, 6.600, 209.95 mph; 6. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Delaware, Ohio, JEGS.com Dodge Avenger, 6.572, 210.97 mph, vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Phoenix, Ariz., Total Seal Dodge Avenger, 6.599, 210.60 mph; 7. Rodger Brogdon, Tomball, Texas, Protect the Harvest Chevrolet Camaro, 6.577, 210.97 mph, vs. 10. Steve Kent, Lottie, La., Kent Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, 6.594, 208.97 mph; 8. Greg Anderson, Mooresville, N.C., Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, 6.580, 211.03 mph, vs. 9. Greg Stanfield, Bossier City, La., MAV TV Chevrolet Camaro, 6.582, 210.11 mph.