Courtney Force: Wild weekend at zMAX
Editor's note: This is the first installment by drag racer Courtney Force, who'll be writing periodically for ESPN.com throughout the 2011 racing season. Force, the youngest daughter of 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, is next in line in the Force racing dynasty.
This past weekend at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals had a lot of ups and downs. I got into Charlotte, N.C., the Thursday before the race and the next few days just flew by. Thursday night I hopped off the plane and went straight to Town and Country Ford with my dad [John Force], Robert Hight and Mike Neff for an autograph appearance to promote the VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. We signed autographs and got to talk with the fans, who were really excited about the four-wide race format.
The race started on Friday, and even though I was not racing I got straight to work. I spent a lot of time talking with my dad, Robert and my sister Ashley about how they handled the four-wide. I was constantly around, watching them warm up and make their qualifying runs. I stood on the starting line for their runs to study the lane, the cars and the new Christmas tree.
This race was different, of course, because they were qualifying and racing four Funny Cars at a time, but you can still pick up tips on which drivers like to stage first and who does a long burnout versus a short burnout. Every driver has a different routine, and part of being a good racer is knowing and respecting the other person's routine, while sticking with your usual routine. I don't want to screw someone up because I get mixed up. I am sure I won't be perfect, but I am trying to learn as much as I can every time I come to the track.
I spent a lot of time at the ropes signing autographs, and again everyone was so polite. I think they were surprised a little by how many drivers were at the ropes signing. At a NASCAR race you might be able to meet a driver or two, but at an NHRA race you can meet just about every driver in all the classes from Top Fuel to Funny Car to Pro Stock all the way to the Lucas Oil racers. You could tell the fans were loving that, and it was great to see a combination of both NHRA fans and NASCAR fans at one track, watching the drag race.
Our Ford Mustangs did really well in qualifying, with my dad getting the No. 1 spot. He is only three No. 1 qualifiers away from being the all-time leader in that category. Warren Johnson, the Pro Stock racer, has 138 No.1s, which is the record. That is one of the last big records my dad can get and would be really awesome. Right behind my dad in the qualifying order was Robert, then Cruz Pedregon and Mike Neff. We had three drivers in the top four, which is what you want to do so you don't have to race each other early.
On race day we were feeling pretty good, but we had a tough first round. Even though all three of our Mustangs won, they did not get lane choice in the second round and that was a setback. All three Mustangs lost in the second round, which was disappointing to say the least. We were excited to see Ford drivers Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III go to the final four, and Tasca was the runner-up, which was great for his team.
After the race, my dad and I drove into Charlotte to do a live TV interview with Dave Despain on his show "WindTunnel." It was my first time to do his show, so I was really nervous. Doing an interview with my dad can be a little stressful since you never know where he is going to go with his answers. At one point they put my dad on a countdown clock to try and keep his answers short. It worked pretty well and I asked if I could take the clock with me to use every day.
I was tweeting about being on the show throughout the day and I got a ton of messages afterward from people who had enjoyed watching it. I enjoy tweeting and updating my Facebook page since it helps me keep up with my friends and the fans. It even gives a way for them to interact with me and get an instant response/post of where they will be able to meet our drivers in person or a chance to ask us questions. I talked to a number of people at the race this weekend who follow me or John Force Racing on Twitter, which was pretty exciting.
On Monday I finally got down to business. I got out to the track at about 8:30 a.m. and started getting ready to test. I wouldn't say I get too nervous before I test, but it is more of a combination of a little nervousness and excitement. I wish I could test every day, but that would be pretty tough on my dad's crew guys. I have to thank them because they just raced all weekend and now on Monday they were setting up my BrandSource Ford Mustang to run all day. I'm lucky to have the No. 1 qualifying team tuning my car on test day because they provide me with a good race car and a pretty smooth ride down the track.
We warmed up and I made my first test run at zMAX Dragway at about 10 a.m. There were a number of teams testing, so there were a few people around. My Mustang shook pretty hard, so I lifted. I talked to my crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dean Antonelli and I asked them if I should have driven through it, but they said I did the right thing. It did carry the tires a little ways, which is always a cool experience.
The next run was my first full pass in my Funny Car and it ended up running a 4.12 at 278 mph, which was such a rush! When we got back, we serviced the car and went back up, but our luck seemed to have changed on our third run. The car shook a ways out and took me over to the wall, where I scraped up my new BrandSource paint on the side of my car. On my last run of the day, it shook at the same spot, but I lifted and coasted through the finish.
These test sessions are all about getting as much seat time as possible and learning through the good and bad of every run. My dad, of course, was there the second I got out of my car, giving me words of advice and telling me what adjustments I need to make, which I will use in my next test session in Houston.
Ashley was even at the end of the racetrack helping me take off my safety gear and helmet. Being out at the racetrack with my family helps to give me the confidence I need to drive this 8,000-horsepower race car, and they're there to support me every step of the way. Like Auto Club always says, "We're always with you."