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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Keeping Pace

Funny Car star Courtney Force returns to site of historic win at NHRA Kansas Nationals

Courtney Force has had an impressive 2015 season in her NHRA Funny Car. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (National Dragster)
Courtney Force has had an impressive 2015 season in her NHRA Funny Car. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (National Dragster)

Source: NHRA Media Relations

TOPEKA, Kan. — Courtney Force has already achieved a great deal in her young Funny Car career and seems headed on an impressive path that will include plenty of noteworthy accomplishments.


But the popular Funny Car star may have a tough time topping what happened a year ago at Heartland Park Topeka.


Force picked up her biggest victory in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at Topeka last season when she won the 100th race by a female driver. The thrilling moment was one of many highlights during Force’s strong 2014 season and one that will certainly be on her mind when she returns to Heartland Park Topeka in her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro on Memorial Day weekend for the 27th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals, May 22-24.


“It's exciting the memories I will always have when looking back at the 2014 Topeka race,” Force said. “It was a special weekend because my sister Brittany and I were number one qualifiers in each of our fields and I went on to get my fourth career win. Not only was it special for us, but also it was a big weekend for the women in our sport. 


“Getting that win marked the 100th win for women in the NHRA (Mello Yello Series) and that Wally (trophy) will always be special to me. I loved all the excitement it brought to the fans and drivers. It was a monumental win for the women, and it really shows how far our sport has come and how competitive these women really are.”


Spencer Massey (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also won the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2 and marks the eighth of 24 races during the 2015 NHRA season. Force’s 2014 campaign was one filled with a multitude of highlights, including a career-best fourth-place finish in her third Funny Car season.


Her four victories marked the most for a female driver in Funny Car history, and Force, who has seven career victories, also became the winningest female driver in the history of the class during the course of 2014.


With a new car and a number of off-season changes, the 2015 season hasn’t gotten off to as sterling of a start. Force suffered through three straight first-round losses before rebounding at the most recent event in Houston with a semifinal finish.


But good news could be on the way soon if her track record performance in Topeka one year ago is any indicator. She qualified No. 1 and knocked off two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon in the final round last year, kicking off an historic and memorable celebration.


“My Traxxas team has always qualified in the top half here, making improvements with our E.T. each year,” Force said. “After picking up a win at this track last year, we're hoping we can go into this race with the same confidence we left with.”


Force has had no problem qualifying well, posting sub-four second runs to start the year, qualifying first and second at Pomona and Phoenix, respectively. She was also the No. 1 qualifier at Charlotte, meaning all that is missing for Force and her team, led by crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, is a little bit of consistency on race day.


But Sunday consistency is easier said than done in this ultra-competitive category. Force has to contend with a loaded Funny Car field, which begins with 16-time world champion and father, John Force, who has nine wins at Topeka. Her John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight has two career victories in Kansas and last season’s runner-up, Pedregon, has four career wins at the track. Others who will give Courtney a challenge in her quest to defend are current series points leader Ron Capps, who has posted wins at Gainesville and Houston, Jack Beckman, who won the Charlotte event in March, defending world champ Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham, two-time world champ Tony Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Chad Head.


The slow start has Force currently ninth in points, something she hopes to change during this upcoming stretch of races in the Summer months.


“After a bit of a rough start, I feel like our Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS Funny Car has come around and is running more consistently which is what we need to keep up with our tough competitors,” Force said. “Since the start of this season, we got some test runs in and are starting to feel confident about the car we have right now. I think we are in a good position to be more competitive and going more rounds, especially after our semifinal round appearance in Houston. This is our time to start climbing back up in the points.”


In Top Fuel, Massey scored his second win at Topeka a year ago, defeating 2013 world champ Shawn Langdon. Three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon has two wins at the facility, while others to watch in the Top Fuel field include 2013 Topeka winner Langdon, 2012 world champ Antron Brown, defending and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, 2006 Topeka winner Doug Kalitta, Las Vegas winner Richie Crampton, 2014 Topeka No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, Dave Connolly and J.R. Todd.


Defending Pro Stock winner Johnson will be looking for a fourth career Topeka win, while Greg Anderson has a successful pedigree in Topeka with four career victories. Las Vegas and Houston winner Erica Enders leads the Pro Stock points and is looking for her 15th career victory and first at the NHRA Kansas Nationals. Jason Line, Vincent Nobile, Shane Gray, Larry Morgan, Jonathan Gray, V Gaines and Chris McGaha also figure to be major factors in the 200-mph factory hot rod category at the event.


As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.


Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 22, with sessions at 4:30 and 7 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 23, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 24.

Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.