Forces hope to double up on Father's Day

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Jun 15, 2019 at 8:17 PM

BRISTOL — Father and daughter standing together in the winners circle at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. It’s the dream scenario for 16-time NHRA Funny Car World Champion John Force and his Top Fuel driving daughter, Brittany.

They have thought about what it would be like to win both races Sunday at Bristol Dragway and achieve a goal set years ago. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Brittany led Friday’s first round of Top Fuel qualifying and her dad had the fastest Funny Car in the night session.

“It would be something to get our first win together in Top Fuel and Funny Car on Father’s Day,” Brittany Force said. “It’s something since 2013, when I first started, that we’ve been working on. It’s really hard to get a win here, yet alone double up. The reason I’m out here is because of my dad. He has taught me everything. To be able to share the winners circle with him, there would be nothing better than that — especially here at Bristol, where I’ve never won.”

She has excelled at other venues, winning nine races and making 21 final-round appearances. It includes a win earlier this season at Houston and two other final-round appearances as she ranks second in the NHRA Mello Yello point standings. She also claimed the 2017 Top Fuel championship, although her numbers pale in comparison to that of her famous father.

John Force is the winningest Pro driver in NHRA history with 149 wins and searching for that elusive 150 milestone since last July in Denver. He credits his daughters, including Ashley and Courtney, who have stepped away from the sport to concentrate on family, for keeping him on track.

“The reason I still have sponsors are because of these girls,” John Force said. “I’m trying to get to 150. You think you get jinxed on this stuff, but it will be there and the next win will be special. We’ve been low qualifier a number of times. It’s been exciting when we’ve had the fastest cars on the track. If I could get 150 on Father’s Day, it wouldn’t be sweeter than that.”

He liked the Father’s Day present, which Brittany showed him Friday morning. It was a helmet with her dad’s original “Brute Force” design from his early racing days on the back. She is giving the helmet to her father as a show of thanks after Sunday’s race. She admits it’s a different feel without younger sister, Courtney, at the race track and as a travel partner.

“This year is different. We don’t have Courtney out here, but I have my dad,” Brittany said. “It’s our season, our year and we’re going after wins. It was nice to have Courtney to talk to, not only about driving the cars, but the airports, hotels. She’s already called me five times today, checking in. I definitely miss her, but the times are special with my dad now.”

Both agree Bristol is a special place for them. John Force talked about match racing at Thunder Valley in the 1970s when it was an IHRA-sanctioned track. He and Brittany both agree it’s one of their favorite stops on the NHRA circuit.

“This is God’s country and it’s a beautiful facility. The fans are great here,” John Force said. “All the greats have raced here in Thunder Valley ... Shirl Greer, in the early days. It seems like I’ve raced five generations here. I’ve seen Don Prudhommes, Don Garlits, through Al Hoffman, Whit Bazemore, to Ron Capps and Matt Hagan to the young kids like Austin Prock and the Vandergriff boys. But I’m loving it. Being here with my daughter, that’s really special.”

After four-plus decades behind the wheel and at 70 years ago, there are times Force thinks maybe his racing days are coming to an end. Whenever he hears a motor start, his personality changes and he has the fire and energy to compete with much younger drivers.

He ranks third in the Funny Car standings, although he’s just now getting the feel for the car after taking over Courtney’s ride. While he misses his other daughters, including his other daughter Adria, being at the track, he’s enjoying the time with Brittany.

“With Brittany, it’s like it’s you and me. We eat together and go to the races,” he said. “I learn more from her because we communicate and it keeps my desire to be here. She loves it. So did Courtney and Ashley, but they’ve moved on to start families. But I love it being Father’s Day and how we get to be together. Then I get to go home and spend time with the others.”