BRISTOL — It will be Force vs. Force racing in the opening round of eliminations at today’s NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
John Force was the No. 6 qualifier in Funny Car and will face off with his daughter Courtney, the No. 11 qualifier, in a battle of their Ford Mustangs.
Courtney Force is 3-1 all-time racing against her father, including a first-round win over him earlier this season at the Gatornationals. She talked about racing her dad on Father’s Day.
“Most people get nervous. They see the 15-time World Champion in the other lane,” she said. “You never know what he’s going to bring to the table and he’s got a strong team.
“To me, I just see him as just dad. When I’m matched up against him, I’m way more relaxed than against anybody else I compete against.”
Both of the Force cars adapted well to the changing conditions on Saturday. Track temperatures reached 131 degrees at 2 p.m. and were around 127 degrees later in the day. Those temperatures were nearly 40 degrees higher than ideal conditions on Friday night.
Courtney Force had the fastest run of Saturday’s first round at 4.161 seconds and 305.98 mph. She was even faster in the final round of qualifying and explained why it was so important to run well in the hotter conditions.
“You definitely have to be on your game,” she said. “We had a couple of problems didn’t get the 4.0 run we wanted last night, but today’s qualifying is more equivalent to what you will see on race day. It’s almost better that we’re out here in the heat.
“You know the conditions are different and you’re not going to have a killer run out there. When it’s hot, it’s tough to get the cars down the track. I was just praying we would have a decent lap, wanting to know we could keep up with everyone. Running quicker than everyone was a big step up for us.”
Her father was the second quickest of the round at 4.170 seconds (301.40), but he also ran quicker in the final qualifying session. The elder Force, a three-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner, told how both driver and crew have to be to adapt to the changes.
“It’s a real tricky business,” he said. “This is where the crew chiefs earn their money, then they hand it to the driver. My burnout was real short. I like to sell t-shirts with those long burnouts, but it can’t take the heat, especially when the track is greasy. You shorten the burnout try to keep the tire temperature down to help the crew chief, but it’s tricky.”
There are other adjustments which can be made with the car, although there is a sacrifice with every adjustment.
“You either have to choke the motor down or do it in the clutch department,” John Force said. “If you pull the motor back too much, it will hurt itself. You can tell when they pull the motor back because it doesn’t sound like a Ford, it sounds like a Hudson.”
There are other intriguing pairings for today’s opening round. Defending Top Fuel World Champion Antron Brown is pitted against his teammate Tony Schumacher, the seven-time NHRA champion and defending race champion.
Del Worsham, the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car, opens up with 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight. It’s a tough matchup considering Hight qualified No. 16 at both Phoenix and Charlotte, but still advanced to the next round.
“Our first-round matchup is truly one that could be a final-round matchup, racing Robert Hight,” Worsham said. “Robert is a great friend of mine and we spend a lot of time together, but he’s a fiercely competitive guy. To get him in the first round is going to keep everybody honest. It’s definitely going to be a great race, a great matchup and I’m looking forward to it.”
Defending Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson of Greeneville looks to have an easier first round. He’s matched up with Lewis Worden, a 56-year construction worker and occasional NHRA competitor, who will be making his first Pro Stock start of the season.
Spencer Massey, the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel, has a dangerous first-round opponent in Doug Herbert. Although Herbert is making his first NHRA start of the season, he once owned a streak of six straight IHRA wins at Bristol Dragway.
Massey said he must focus on getting down the track and winning one round at a time.
“You can’t be looking forward. You have to take it one round at a time and try to get the round win,” he said. “You can’t look forward to the quarterfinals, semifinals or the final. You have to look at right now, one round at a time.”
In his post-qualifying press conference, Mike Edwards remembered how former Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway President Jeff Byrd would assist him in the Young Life program, bringing inner-city kids to the race track.
He also took time to send well wishes to Bandimere (Colo.) Dragway track operator Larry Crisp, who had a fire incident while heating the excess rubber on the race track earlier in the week. It left him with severe burns on the left side of his body.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Larry and the Bandimere family,” Edwards said. “They’re very close to us and I would like say I hope everybody will keep them in their hearts and prayers, because Larry really needs our prayers."