I get that Danica got the pole is a big deal, but it is not like she delivered the baby Jesus.
~ John Force
By Gary P Jackson
15 time NHRA Funny Car World Champion John Force, the winningest professional drag racer in history, is known for speaking his mind, and this weekend his mind was on the overblown media reaction over Danica Patrick capturing the pole for the Daytona 500.
You see, while everyone over in the roundy-round world was patting themselves on the back over having a single woman in competition at the highest level, John Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney, was in Pomona, California at the season opening Winternationals.
John’s middle daughter, Brittany, was making her professional debut in Top Fuel, as well.
Courtney not only qualified number one with a 4.036 second pass at 318.24 mph, she totally dominated the event, saving her quickest run [and career best] for the final where she defeated Ron Capps with a 4.025 at 317.12 mph. This is the second time she has defeated the veteran driver en route to a national event win, and the third national event win of her career [second since joining the professional ranks last season]
Courtney also stepped into first place in championship points, and earned a spot in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout that will be held at the U S Nationals on Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.
Courtney is actually the second woman in history to sit in the number one position in Funny Car points. Her oldest sister, Ashley Force-Hood, previously held the number one position several years back, and would go on to finish second in the world championship battle that season.
With all of this in mind, John Force talked with racing journalist Michael Knight before Sunday’s final rounds at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. From the interview, published on Arizona Central, titled Courtney Force gets win; Danica Patrick gets press:
How big is Sunday’s story line of Danica Patrick trying to win today’s Daytona 500 after becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup series pole?
“I get that Danica got the pole is a big deal, but it is not like she delivered the baby Jesus,” John Force said.
Forgive the 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion for being blunt.
His youngest daughter, Courtney, 24, won last Sunday’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series opener in Pomona, Calif. — from the pole, and with the weekend’s quickest pass.
But those accomplishments by last season’s Rookie of the Year went virtually unnoticed by the national media, obsessed with Patrick’s qualifying run, celebrity — and boyfriend, fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“I’m like a bear with his baby cub: I’m going to lean toward my kid,” Force said at Firebird International Raceway before today’s Arizona Nationals.
“But, in the big picture, they are NASCAR, and the world bows down to them. We don’t have that clout.”
Courtney admitted she was disappointed.
“It’s a little frustrating,” she said before qualifying third in her Traxxas Ford Mustang on Saturday.
“I guess I’m not too surprised because NASCAR is so huge. I wanted my team and NHRA to get the exposure. I didn’t really care if I got it or not.”
“I think it would be cool for her to win (Daytona), because it would bring a lot of exposure to her and NASCAR. I’m hoping for more. The only thing really left is to win the championship as a female, and maybe I can do that and it will shine the light on NHRA.”
Drag racing has a long history of successful female racers, like Shirley Muldowney.
“That’s the great thing about NHRA: It’s more widely accepted,” Courtney Force said. “It’s no big surprise, a woman succeeding. Maybe they’re (NASCAR) behind the game a little.”
Sister Ashley Force Hood, NHRA’s first Funny Car winner in 2008, agreed.
“NHRA is ahead of NASCAR on that,” she said. “I didn’t hear one person say to Courtney’s team, ‘Good job. You got a girl to win.’ It was, ‘You guys had a great car.’ That’s what makes us proud.”
“Sometimes you feel like you’re taking a step back when people make a big deal: ‘Oh, the first girl …’ That’s not what your goal is. You want to be better than everyone you’re competing against. It (Courtney’s victory) didn’t come out in the media the way we hoped but the people who know how hard these cars are to get down the track were impressed.”
I can understand NASCAR trying to milk Danica-mania for all it’s worth, but as a racer, it gets old. Sure, she’s a decent driver, and has certainly done well, but she has a long way to go yet. The good news is Danica herself knows this, and showed great maturity in Sunday’s Daytona 500. She didn’t win, but was certainly impressive in her finish.
That said, NASCAR is so far behind the NHRA when it comes to women and minorities, it’s rather sad. Women have won national events in our sport since the 1960s, and have won multiple world championships. Minorities, blacks and Hispanics, have also had great success in NHRA drag racing since day one. The current NHRA Top Fuel Champion, Antron Brown, is black, one hell of a race car driver, and a fan favorite.
Women drive roundy-round cars, and are plenty capable of winning in them, one wonders why it’s only a novelty in NASCAR.
By the way, the last person to win Funny Car Eliminator at the Winternationals from the number one position was the legendary Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, long before Courtney Force was born! Her outstanding performance at Pomona was a big deal, indeed.