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Father's Day special for the Forces

June 14th, 2014 6:23 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Father's Day special for the Forces

BRISTOL — The family that races together, stays together.

It is certainly the case for drag racing’s most famous family, the Forces, who will celebrate Father’s Day at where else but the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

At the center of it all is 16-time NHRA Funny Car World Champion John Force, who at age 65 still amazes his children and others with the energy he has.

“You would never guess he is in his sixties,” said daughter Brittany Force, a NHRA Top Fuel driver. “He has more energy than my nephew, Jacob, who is two years old. He’s always constantly going. Something is wrong if he’s not talking and energy all over the place. That’s who he is, and that’s why the fans love him, his energy and character like that. I’m lucky because I have him out here with me and I have the best teacher to learn from. It’s nice to have everyone’s support out here. His energy, though, it fuels us all and gets us pumped up and motivated.”

Even his youngest daughter, Courtney, a 25-year-old who also races Funny Cars, often has a hard time keeping up with her legendary father and a grueling travel schedule which sometimes includes five stops a week.

“I think he has more energy than I do and I don’t know where he finds it,” she said. “It’s exciting to get to race with him on Father’s Day weekend. Normally, Brittany and I were back home, making little Father’s Day cards and watching him on TV. It’s cool to be at the track with him and to compete against him. Hopefully, Brittany and I can do something to make him proud as a father.”

It is the family business as oldest sister, Adria, works in the office while her husband Robert Hight is currently the Funny Car points leader.

Another sister, Ashley, also raced Funny Cars and twice won the prestigious U.S. Nationals. Her husband, Danny Hood, now serves as Ashley’s crew chief.  

It’s sometimes tough racing against his daughters like last year when John Force beat Courtney in the first round on his way to a fourth Thunder Valley Nationals title, although she avenged the loss the next week in New Hampshire. However, the NHRA’s winningest driver with 139 career victories believes he ultimately comes out a winner every time.

“When I’m racing them, I can’t lose,” he said. “There are different roles. I’m a father so I want to see her win. But I’m an owner and I want to see one of my cars win. Then I’m a driver. My wife has been, ‘The last few races you’ve taken Courtney out.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t care. I have to win, but you know how much I love her.’ So we race and basically I’m teaching my kids a trade. You have to beat the best and I’m one of them.”

There’s no doubt which Force sister is most like her father. While Ashley is natured like her mom, Laurie, and Brittany feels she is a mix of both. The youngest daughter is the apple who doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“Courtney is exactly like my dad to a tee,” Brittany said. “It’s scary sometimes and I will call her out on it. When we’re driving to the track, she gets all anxious and freaks out about something. It’s like, ‘Calm down, we’re going to make it.’ I’m more of the laid-back, while she’s just like my dad, freaking out and stressing out. My mom is completely opposite of my dad and I feel I have a mix of both of them.”

Courtney disputes the claim to a point, although she understands where the comparisons come from.

“Brittany will get mad at me sometimes and she’s like, ‘You are so much like dad,’” Courtney said. “I’m like, ‘Don’t tell me that.’ It’s like oh great, your personality has turned you into your father. When you get older, everyone says you turn into your parents. I would be OK if they said I was like my mom, but if I’m fully turning into my dad that’s scary. 

“He’s loud and charismatic, and honestly, I’m a pretty shy person unless I’m in my realm of racing. That surprises a lot of people, but dad has that crazy side, loud and fun, and I’m told I’m a lot like him.”

Robert Hight appreciates being at the track every week with his family. He talked about how NHRA is a family sport and so many drivers have followed in their father’s footsteps. The son-in-law is an integral part of the family business, named the president of John Force Racing Inc. in January 2011.

“I’m obviously very lucky on a couple of fronts -- having the opportunity to drive a race car of this caliber and being able to enjoy the family part of it,” Hight said. “What you see on TV with John Force, it’s 24/7 with him all the time. It’s a lot of fun, but he’s definitely driven. There’s a reason why he’s a 16-time World Champ and he works real hard. I try to work hard and repay him for what he’s given me.”

Never was Force prouder than a recent weekend at Topeka, Kansas when Courtney scored the milestone 100th pro win for a female driver. Before that, she and sister Brittany became the first siblings ever to earn No. 1 qualifying awards in Funny Car and Top Fuel at the same event.

“That was a pretty big moment,” Brittany Force said. “I went into the tower and the media room to start doing interviews. They were like, ‘Your dad could be up here too because he’s been fast.” I thought that would be cool to have my dad up there with me. Then, Courtney had some outstanding run. It was really cool to share that moment with my sister. She was sitting right next to me as we were doing interviews and knocking it out. I’m lucky to have my best friend and sister on the road with me.”

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