After defeating Terry Haddock in the opening round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in overcast Pomona, California, Brittany Force watched on while her crew wrenched away in getting the 500 cubic inch mill nestled in her Top Fuel dragster in fighting shape for what would be the all-conclusive second round.
Meanwhile, her father, 16-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force, gave a quick speech to an ad hoc group of friends, family, sponsors and well-wishers who had gathered in the team’s pit area.
“We all know Brittany is about to go back out there to try and win the championship,” he said. “We’re going to do it. But if we don’t, we ask that you support us. Take it from me, if things don’t work out, it can be real hard on a driver. One time it didn’t work out, and I was sick for a week.”
And with that, Brittany Force, the team and the Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster all made their way to the staging lanes for what would ultimately be a two-act drama in her Top Fuel destiny.
First, Steve Torrence, the most dominant driver of the 2017 season and basically in a dead heat with Force in the championship fight, got taken down by multiple champion Antron Brown. From there, all Force had to do was take the measure of competitor Richie Crampton and the NHRA Top Fuel World Championship would belong to her. And in her next 3.679s run, that’s exactly what she did.
Observing from immediately behind the Monster Energy Top Fuel car, John Force watched the win light go up on his daughter’s side of the 1000-foor drag strip, dropped to his knees and began weeping with tears of joy.
“Richie Crampton, the kid she raced in that round to win the championship, is a great ‘leaver’ and somehow she left on him,” began Force Sr. “She needed everything she could, but that’s how championships are decided sometimes. You know there has been no woman to win this championship since Shirley Muldowney. Did I really expect this? As much as I believe in my kids and I pray and we teach them…”
Chocking back some emotion, John caught his breath and continued.
“What she did is bigger than my championships. My first championship was won here at Pomona, and to see her come here to Pomona and win it in a category that we’ve never raced in… man. Top Fuel is not what John Force Racing does. It is now. We’re learning how to win.”
And of the moment where he saw the win light go on?
“Her mom was there with me, and I dropped to me knees,” he said.
“I got embarrassed and I got emotional, and they wanted to interview me. I didn’t want an interview! Enough said! There ain’t nothing you can say. Monster Energy gave us the financial backing, they put us into this fight, they’ve been with us three years and it’s just a great company and they gave her a chance. A chance that a lot of people won’t give a rookie in this world. She showed them that she could do it. I just can’t believe it.
“And, you know, it ain’t because of me that she won. She found it. You have to find it. You know, I said to her, ‘If you had a bellyache when you were little, I used to take that bellyache. I’d say, ‘Give me that bellyache!’ It always made her feel better and made her laugh. Coming here, I said, ‘God’s already made the call. The rest is destiny so we can sit here and think about what we want, but just go out there and have some fun.
“And I told her, ‘You have to find your happy place and ask yourself, “Do I even have a right to be here? Do I even have a right to be this good?” Because the pressure is what will take you down. What I’m saying is that you’ve got to find yourself, because it’s you all by yourself out there. They give you that car and you and that car have to become one like Obi-Wan Kenobi! I’m full of s**t and you know it!”
Just like the 35,000-plus fans that showed up to see what was going to shake out, Brittany Force really had no idea of what the day would hold for her, her father and the race team that backed her.
“I was confident, but I was so nervous,” she said later back in the pit area after she knew the title was hers. “Man, I mean I thought I was going to lose it. I felt like I was losing my mind since Vegas. I was just carrying this gut ache around where you’re thinking every single scenario: where will Steve Torrence and I match up? Who is going to have him in the first round? What if we have him the first round? What if it’s the final round? What if you red light in the first round? A million different things were going through my head, and you can’t come in here with that mindset.
“The first round was tough because the red light kept popping in to my head because I thought, If something like that happens, it’s game over for my whole team. I knew it all falls on me as a driver. I thought, ‘just get past that first round’. And we got past it. Going into the second round, I had a different confidence. I went in with a different attitude. At that point it was, ‘We want this championship. That’s what we are fighting for. We are already off to a great day.’
“We got past that first round and I went in with a different attitude. I was like, ‘Let’s get in this car and let’s frickin’ kill out there and let’s have some fun.’ We needed that. Especially in that run against Richie Crampton. They ran pretty great.”
Brittany then reflected on the two rounds of racing that created NHRA drag racing history.
“I was in my car and I knew Steve Torrence was in the lane in front of me and it came down to that round. I didn’t know he lost. I didn’t want that pressure of, ‘OK, he won. Now we have to do it.’ That would just put this whole new gut ache in. I just kept my focus. I didn’t care. I didn’t focus on it. It was all about me in that seat as a driver and keeping my focus.
Next up came her elimination round with Crampton and, less than four seconds later, the most beautiful light she had ever seen.
“I saw the win light and I just kept thinking, ‘This can’t be real’. I probably said it a million times to myself, ‘There is no way. There is no way. This can’t be real. This can’t be real.’ Not that I ever doubted this team, but just the fact that we are here… I mean, 2013 was my rookie season and I made my first run at a race track in a Top Fuel car,and now five years later to be the champion is just huge.”
A few hours later, way back in the darkened staging lanes of Pomona and surround by countless, deliriously happy team members, friends and fans who all congregated around her race car, Force, who had also managed to ace the last round of the day and win the Auto Club NHRA Nationals to really put a sheen on things, shook her head.
“This whole day seems unreal,” she smiled, looking around. “Everything went picture perfect. Number one qualifier; got past that scary first round; won the championship; won the race. It all seems unreal. And you know, it’s pretty incredible to be the second female in Top Fuel to bring home a championship, so that’s huge. I’m very proud of that and it’s pretty cool to do that for the ladies. Again, I still can’t wrap my head around it.”