As day turned into night and all the offices began to flicker with light inside the Monster Beverage Company’s corporate headquarters in Corona, California, Brittany Force sat in a swivel chair, while her father, John, paced around as he always does.
“She can do it,” he declared of his 31 year-old daughter’s chance to win the NHRA Top Fuel dragster championship this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway on the L.A. Fairgrounds in nearby Pomona. John, a winner of 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, knows what he is talking about. “She’s got a great sponsor behind her with Monster Energy and she’s got a great team and Alan Johnson, who is the winningest guy in Top Fuel history, as a crew chief. She has come a long way and has really evolved in the last couple of years. Champions aren’t born, they’re made. It’s the gut aches that you carry every day that will get her there.”
And if Brittany were to win the title and become the first female driver in 35 years to do so since Shirley Muldowney way back in 1982?
“That would really be something,” added John after a short pause. “What I try to do is not let that get in my head, and she doesn’t need to get it in her head. She just needs to keep running like she has been. She has run two races in the Countdown already and that is really amazing, and that shot her to the top. Like Alan Johnson said, ‘Time to let her out of the nest and let her fly.'”
This weekend, the younger Force and her title adversary Steve Torrence are both snake-eying the same thing: becoming the 2017 NHRA Top Fuel world champion. Only one driver can win, and it’ll all come down to three and a half seconds on Sunday afternoon in Southern California.
Q: You only won one regular-season national – the NHRA New England Nationals back in June – before heading into the Countdown to the Championship. Then something seemed to click and you could almost do no wrong. What happened?
BRITTANY FORCE: Yeah, we were struggling, and like you said, we didn’t bring home our first win of the year until Epping [New Hampshire]. That was further into the schedule than when we won in 2016. Looking at the year before, two or three races in, at the Gatornationals, we had our first win. This year, we saw nearly half the season go by before we brought home our first win. And really, our car was struggling. So we went testing in Indy and the team found a problem with the car, and they knew going into the next race that we’d be okay.
Really, we turned a corner at the right time. We turned a corner going right into that Countdown. That’s really where it all matters. It doesn’t matter how you do all season; as long as you hang in that top 10, and as long you can just kick ass in the Countdown. That’s all that really matters, and that’s what we’ve happened to do. Yeah, we may not have had wins early on this season, but we’ve had two wins in the Countdown. We had won right out of it [Pennsylvania] and we won at Texas. We should have won the last race [Las Vegas], but still, that was in the final round. We’ve been to the final rounds a few times in the Countdown, so all of it just adds up and pushed us right up to the top, and we’re sitting number two and just 20 points out from the number one spot. We’re ready for Pomona.
Q: Perhaps more than any other form of motor racing, drag racing is so psychological. The racer only has three to four seconds to get it all right. How do you mentally prepare for a race as big as this weekend’s?
BF: It’s tough. Any race weekend, it’s tough going into race day, because it’s not like other sports where if you screw up, you have time to fix your fault and make up for it. In drag racing, whether it’s the clutch guy, whether it’s the tire guy, whether it’s the driver, you have one little mistake, you’re done. It’s game over. You’re done right there. You have to lay everything out there on the line. You have to be ready. Nobody can screw up. No one can make mistakes. Especially going into Pomona.
But to try and mentally prepare for that, it’s tough. I like to take it round at a time. There is a lot of pressure – especially with this Countdown. The final race of the season, and there is a lot going into it, and you have to use that pressure, in a sense, to get you motivated and to get you pumped up, but not let it overweigh everything and not let it completely take over to where fear sets in. You want to be on the edge a little bit, but you don’t want to completely screw yourself up, because these races are less than four seconds and it comes down to the line.
I’ve never had to prepare for anything like this, and I’ve never been in this position, and I’ve never been number two chasing the number one spot. I don’t know. I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to give it the best shot I can. My whole team is going to throw down, and we’re not going to let this go. We’re going to chase down this number one spot, and we’re hoping to end up on top. That’s what we’re going for, and that’s what we’ve worked for all season long. That’s what we want more than anything.
Q: You’ve obviously raced against Steve Torrence a number of times throughout the year. He’s won eight nationals this season. What do you think of his driving and of him as a competitor?
BF: Actually, Torrence and I are good friends, so it’s funny that it has come down to between both of us. He’s an outstanding driver. He’s been out there longer than me. He’s just a few years older than me. He’s an incredible driver. Like you said, he’s won eight times this year, so they’ve really been on fire all season long. But so have we. We’re right there next to him.
Q: You’ve outperformed him, as well as pretty much everyone, in the Countdown. Could that momentum play a role in Sunday’s showdown?
BF: I think so. I mean, it’s going to come down to the best team, the best driver, the best car. It’s all going to be laid out there. Really, come Saturday night and looking at that ladder and seeing where we all line up, for me, I want Steve Torrence as soon as I can get him. I don’t want anybody else to take him out. Yeah, it would be easier if he had Anton [Brown] first round and Antron took him out, but I don’t trust Antron. I trust our team, and we want to be the ones to take him out.
Q: How has your dad been with all this?
BF: (Laughs) I think he’s kind of all over the place. There are days where I catch him where he won’t stop talking about this Countdown and what I need to do. Then there are other days where he completely leaves me alone and tells me, “I’ve never driven a Top Fuel car. I don’t know how to give you any advice. You’re doing a pretty good job.” Really, if I’m going to get advice from anyone, it’s going to be from him, because he’s been in this spot. He’s won 16 championships, so he’s really the best person to talk to. But I think he’s just as nervous as I am. I’ve had a gut ache since I left Vegas, and I know he has the gut ache just like I do. To be here and chasing this Countdown, I think he’s surpised and I think he is very proud, but I also think he’s kind of blown away by it all.