Updated: Courtney Force earns 100th NHRA win by a female driver in Topeka

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While boyfriend Graham Rahal finished last in the Indianapolis 500, Courtney Force made history Sunday, earning the 100th win by a female in NHRA drag racing history.

Force rolled to the win in the Funny Car class in Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas.

“This is for all the girls out there in any type of sport, any motorsport,” said Force, who was presented a special trophy  with a commemorative pink 100th female win faceplate and design on the trophy’s bottom. “It’s an exciting day for us. It’s an honor to be number 100 on a list of the legends like Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey, Melanie Troxel, Erica Enders-Stevens, Shelly Payne, Ashley (Force Hood, sister), Alexis DeJoria, there are so many great names. … It’s an honor to be a part of it. We’ve hit 100, but there’s 100 more to go.”

The youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and sister of Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, the 25-year-old Courtney and her Ford Mustang Funny Car defeated Cruz Pedregon in the final round, covering the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 4.148 seconds at 306.46 mph to Pedregon’s 4.225 seconds at 250.60 mph in his Toyota Camry.

Force started as the event’s No. 1 qualifier and carried that advantage all the way to victory lane.

“There’s just a lot of emotion right now,” Force said. “I am happy to win this for all of the girls who have won races in NHRA over the years. They know how to win, and this win is for them.”

It was Force’s fourth career Funny Car win and her first of the 2014 season. She is one of just 14 females who have won races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The first female driver to win a national event was legendary Top Fuel driver Shirley Muldowney, back in 1976.

In a sense, Force took care of unfinished business, having just missed winning the 100th race by a female last week in the Spring Nationals in Commerce, Ga., losing in the final round to John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight.

“All day I was just trying not to think about it,” Courtney Force said of the milestone. “It’s a big deal. It’s a milestone for women, and every girl out here wanted to get it. Every girl put their heart out into it. I was crushed last weekend, because I thought that opportunity would never come around again. I’m still trying to soak it all in right now.”

Force managed to do what several other female drivers also aspired to, including sister Brittany, fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria and Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, the latter two having also won races this season.

In other pro classes:

* Spencer Massey earned his second win in a row in Top Fuel, defeating Shawn Langdon with a run of 3.871 seconds at 314.02 mph to Langdon’s run of 4.278 seconds at 233.68 mph.

“We didn’t want to beat ourselves,” Massey said. “We wanted to go down the track and make them beat us. When you can beat Alan Johnson’s race car, especially with a good leaver like Shawn Langdon in the seat, that’s saying something. You’re racing a championship-caliber team every time you race an Al-Anabi car.”

* Allen Johnson earned his third win of the season in Pro Stock. Johnson and his Dodge Dart covered the track at 6.663 seconds at 207.81 mph to teammate Jeg Coughlin’s run of 6.664 seconds at 207.05 mph. It was Johnson’s 23rd career victory.

“This team just keeps battling,” Johnson said. “Every single run, we’re just attacking the car. To have half the wins (from the class) in our camp this year is a pretty good feeling.”

The next race is this coming weekend (May 29-June 1), the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

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Here’s the final finishing order (1-16) at the 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.  The race is the eighth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

TOP FUEL: 1.  Spencer Massey; 2.  Shawn Langdon; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Brittany Force; 5.  Richie Crampton; 6. Terry McMillen; 7.  Doug Kalitta; 8.  Khalid alBalooshi; 9.  Antron Brown; 10.  Leah Pritchett; 11. Pat Dakin; 12.  Clay Millican; 13.  Bob Vandergriff; 14.  Tony Schumacher; 15.  Luigi Novelli; 16. Steve Torrence.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Courtney Force; 2.  Cruz Pedregon; 3.  Ron Capps; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 5.  Bob Tasca III; 6. Jeff Arend; 7.  Chad Head; 8.  Tim Wilkerson; 9.  Robert Hight; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Matt Hagan; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  Del Worsham; 14.  John Force; 15.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 16.  Jack Beckman.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Allen Johnson; 2.  Jeg Coughlin; 3.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Shane Gray; 6.  Dave Connolly; 7.  Jason Line; 8.  V. Gaines; 9.  Chris McGaha; 10.  Larry Morgan; 11.  Deric Kramer; 12.  Greg Anderson; 13.  Jonathan Gray; 14.  Rodger Brogdon; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Steve Kent.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Spencer Massey, 3.871 seconds, 314.02 mph  def. Shawn Langdon, 4.278 seconds, 233.68 mph.

Funny Car — Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.148, 306.46  def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.225, 250.60.

Pro Stock — Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.18  def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.664, 207.05.

Top Alcohol Dragster — Shayne Lawson, 5.329, 269.19  def. Monroe Guest, 5.548, 250.04.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Dale Brand, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.639, 255.58  def. Brian Hough, Ford Mustang, 5.689, 251.39.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Khalid alBalooshi, 3.806, 292.71 def. Antron Brown, 3.844, 317.34; Doug Kalitta, 3.815, 321.35 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.859, 318.24; Spencer Massey, 3.862, 319.82 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.826, 151.10; Brittany Force, 3.872, 311.41 def. Luigi Novelli, 6.249, 85.64; J.R. Todd, 3.812, 320.74 def. Clay Millican, 4.041, 250.37; Shawn Langdon, 3.792, 321.96 def. Pat Dakin, 3.870, 312.86; Terry McMillen, 4.758, 247.47 def. Steve Torrence, broke; Richie Crampton, 3.832, 318.24 def. Bob Vandergriff, 4.368, 210.60.

QUARTERFINALS — Massey, 3.865, 317.94 def. McMillen, 3.881, 315.05; Todd, 3.808, 316.30 def. Crampton, 3.828, 317.64; Force, 3.828, 322.88 def. alBalooshi, 4.940, 147.10; Langdon, 3.777, 318.17 def. Kalitta, 3.886, 308.14.

SEMIFINALS — Massey, 3.874, 319.29 def. Force, 3.908, 279.38; Langdon, 3.820, 315.05 def. Todd, 3.862, 292.08.

FINAL — Massey, 3.871, 314.02 def. Langdon, 4.278, 233.68.

 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.099, 309.34 def. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.098, 308.57; Chad Head, Camry, 4.093, 311.70 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.157, 301.27; Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.108, 301.74 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 7.070, 106.21; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.147, 307.23 def. John Force, Mustang, 5.526, 135.32; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.090, 308.35 def. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.073, 313.44; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.170, 307.02 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.186, 301.47; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.128, 307.79 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.601, 195.73; Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.504, 278.52 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 11.276, 70.57.

QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 4.141, 310.05 def. Tasca III, 4.172, 303.91; C. Pedregon, 4.090, 308.21 def. Wilkerson, DQ; Johnson Jr., 4.673, 198.35 def. Head, 5.203, 202.48; C. Force, 4.114, 311.49 def. Arend, 4.406, 221.89.

SEMIFINALS — C. Force, 4.154, 294.11 def. Johnson Jr., DQ; C. Pedregon, 4.094, 302.35 def. Capps, 4.147, 302.55.

FINAL — C. Force, 4.148, 306.46 def. C. Pedregon, 4.225, 250.60.

 

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.691, 206.13 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.736, 206.80; V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.681, 207.34 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.727, 204.88; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.676, 206.95 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.690, 206.61; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.650, 207.56 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.656, 206.64; Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.653, 206.54 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.753, 195.08; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.651, 207.98 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.788, 182.03; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.664, 206.95 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GTO, 6.781, 202.67; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.664, 206.16 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, foul.

QUARTERFINALS — Enders-Stevens, 6.653, 206.92 def. Gaines, 15.614, 53.74; Nobile, 6.660, 207.27 def. Line, 6.674, 207.56; Johnson, 6.637, 207.21 def. S. Gray, 6.655, 207.62; Coughlin, 6.645, 206.23 def. Connolly, 6.665, 207.78.

SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.677, 206.54 def. Nobile, foul; Johnson, 6.657, 206.32 def. Enders-Stevens, 6.657, 206.51.

FINAL — Johnson, 6.663, 207.18 def. Coughlin, 6.664, 207.05.

 

POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 704; 2.  Antron Brown, 674; 3.  Spencer Massey, 566; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 559; 5. Steve Torrence, 543; 6.  Khalid alBalooshi, 466; 7.  Tony Schumacher, 442; 8.  Brittany Force, 407; 9.  J.R. Todd, 340; 10.  Richie Crampton, 309.

Funny Car: 1. Robert Hight, 770; 2.  John Force, 566; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 509; 4.  Ron Capps, 502; 5. Courtney Force, 492; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 452; 7.  Del Worsham, 433; 8.  Matt Hagan, 403; 9. Jack Beckman, 401; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 384.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 709; 2.  Allen Johnson, 624; 3.  Jason Line, 567; 4.  Jeg Coughlin, 553; 5.  Vincent Nobile, 531; 6.  Shane Gray, 525; 7.  Dave Connolly, 462; 8.  V. Gaines, 425; 9.  Chris McGaha, 376; 10.  Jimmy Alund, 282.

Maverick Vinales takes Qatar MotoGP pole as qualifying is rained off

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Maverick Viñales will make his Yamaha MotoGP debut from pole position after qualifying at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit was rained off on Saturday evening.

Viñales claimed his maiden MotoGP race win last year with Suzuki, prompting a move to Yamaha in place of three-time champion Jorge Lorenzo, who made a switch to Ducati.

After impressing throughout pre-season testing, Viñales laid down an early marker in Qatar by setting the pace in practice.

His performances would prove key as rain on Saturday in Qatar forced officials to cancel qualifying, leading them to combine the times from practice to form the grid.

Viñales’ time of 1:54.316 from FP1 handed him his first MotoGP pole by half a second from Suzuki replacement Andrea Iannone, while defending world champion Marc Marquez will start third for Honda.

2015 and 2016 Moto2 champion Johann Zarco will make his MotoGP debut from fourth on the grid, with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso fifth ahead of Scott Redding.

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will begin his search for a 10th title from P10 on the grid, two places ahead of perennial rival Lorenzo, whose Ducati debut will come from P12.

Sauber super-sub Giovinazzi stars in maiden F1 qualifying, takes 16th

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Sauber’s last-minute substitute Antonio Giovinazzi turned in one of the performances of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday by claiming 16th on the grid for his maiden grand prix.

Ferrari youngster Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber for FP3 and qualifying after Pascal Wehrlein was deemed unfit amid ongoing issues with his back following a crash at the Race of Champions in January that left him with a minor injury.

Giovinazzi was notified on Friday night that he would be replacing Wehrlein for the remainder of the weekend, but did not find out until Saturday morning as he had already gone to bed.

Despite getting less than an hour of track running in which to get to grips with the tricky Albert Park circuit, Giovinazzi starred in qualifying to finish 16th, narrowly missing out on a Q2 berth and ending up just a couple of tenths off experienced teammate Marcus Ericsson.

“That is a special day for me kicking off my first Formula 1 grand prix weekend,” Giovinazzi said after the session.

“I am really happy with my performance today, I was just a few tenths away from Q2.

“It will be a long race tomorrow; a lot can happen here in Melbourne. I will do my best to put in my maximum performance.”

The call from Sauber capped off a rollercoaster five months for Giovinazzi that started with a bitter defeat in the GP2 title race to Red Bull youngster Pierre Gasly at the end of November in Abu Dhabi.

Giovinazzi was then contacted by Ferrari and offered a deal to become its reserve driver for 2017, leading to a private test in its 2015-spec car at Fiorano.

When Wehrlein was declared unfit for the first pre-season test in Barcelona, Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber for two days’ worth of running, preparing him for the shock call-up in Melbourne.

Giovinazzi will become the first Italian driver to start a race since Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi on Sunday, the pair making their final F1 appearances at the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix for Caterham and HRT respectively.

A lasting legacy: Eric Medlen’s death spurred NHRA safety gains

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) John Medlen remembers his son’s final seconds like they were his first steps.

Eric Medlen inched his dragster to the starting line and waited for the signal. John, also his son’s crew chief, made a couple of routine checks, looked in Eric’s eyes, gave him a thumbs-up and pounded on the hood twice.

“Neither one of us realized he had a little less than three seconds to live,” John said.

Ten years after Eric’s fatal practice run at Gainesville Raceway, home to one of professional drag racing’s premier events, John is still dealing with the demons that come from burying a child. Eric’s death became a defining moment for NHRA, mostly because of the way John reacted to it and the safety changes he fought for.

“Eric would not want anybody here on this earth that’s left to be burdened to the point where you can’t live your life because of his death,” he said. “… I hear his spirit tell me all the time, `Keep going, Dad. Make these cars safe. Keep somebody else from having these kinds of issues.”‘

Eric grew up around racing in Oakdale, California. His father placed his bassinet on a workbench in his garage, and he spent hours at drag strips. Even the school bus dropped him off in front of dad’s race shop.

John Medlen has left John Force Racing to join rival Don Schumacher Racing. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

John steered his son toward other pursuits, and to an extent, that worked. Eric was a champion calf-roper in high school, then a mechanical engineering major in college.

But the track always beckoned. The man nicknamed “Duff” spent eight years working as a John Force Racing crewmember before the team gave him his big break as a driver in 2004.

“I tried to talk him out of it, but he wasn’t going to have it,” John said. “If it had wheels, he was going to race it. Go karts, sprint cars, it didn’t matter what it was.”

Eric won six times in 72 starts in the National Hot Rod Association and finished in the top five in points in each of his three years at the pro level. His death shocked the series, even if everyone associated with it knew the perils.

Drag racing has always been one of the most dangerous forms of motorsports, whether it’s on backroads, city streets or professional strips. It became increasingly popular in the 1950s: Bigger engines, lighter cars, faster speeds – and increased risk.

Eric reached the top level, where nitromethane-powered dragsters race in side-by-side lanes and routinely top 300 mph in less than five seconds.

“You know what can happen. Everybody in the industry knows what can happen,” John said. “But we’ve never seen an injury like Eric’s before.”

On March 19, 2007, a day after the NHRA’s Gatornationals, Eric and his Force teammates stuck around to test at the historic track, a common move that allows teams to acquire valuable data while reducing travel costs.

As Eric, 33, pulled to the starting line, everything seemed normal. He released the trans brake, allowing his Funny Car to lunge down the track with the G-forces of a fighter jet. And in the blink of an eye, Eric endured a violent, mid-strip tire shake that snapped the chassis, caused his car to slide out of control and forced his head to whip side to side about 150 times. Goodyear later said something apparently punctured the tire at high speed, causing it to lose pressure and start jerking the entire car with more than 40,000 pounds of force.

John rushed to the crumpled car as it came to a stop against a concrete retaining wall, found Eric unconscious in the cockpit and started yelling at him to breathe. John could tell the wreck was bad. Then he saw a paramedic shine a flashlight into Eric’s eyes, turn to a colleague with a look of desperation and try again.

“I’ll never forget,” John said. “She threw that flashlight into the corner of the ambulance. You could tell this was serious.”

Eric’s head swelled so much because of a traumatic brain injury that he was hardly recognizable in his hospital bed. Doctors worked around the clock trying to relieve pressure and improve blood flow to his brain.

Despite the aggressive treatment, Eric’s body lost the ability to manage its salt and water levels.

After four days with no improvement, the decision was made to take Eric off life support.

He died immediately.

“People were mourning, people were hurt, people were dying inside,” said team owner John Force, who stayed at the hospital with Eric’s family. “But they also were already thinking about moving ahead. They weren’t going to let this happen again.”

Force’s cars skipped the next race, and he canceled the reality TV show “Driving Force,” which focused on him and his three drag-racing daughters.

“We’re not going back to making movies,” Force said. “We’re going to learn how to build race cars.”

Eric’s father led the charge, meeting with NHRA executives, competitors, industry experts and even military and NASA engineers. They studied metal energy, seatbelts, tires, padding.

“As long as I’m on this earth, I’m not going to have Eric give his life in vain,” John said. “We’re the ones here that can make all that count for him and for his memory.”

Changes came quickly.

There were tighter tolerances for chromoly tubing used to build chassis. There were wider roll cages. There was thicker padding surrounding drivers’ helmets. There were now seven seat belt attachment points, keeping drivers more tightly harnessed for added stability and support.

John Medlen, 66, works for Don Schumacher Racing now. Returning to Gainesville every year is the hardest part of his life. Sights, sounds, smells, all come rushing back like the crash was a day – not a decade – ago. He welcomes questions about Eric’s triumphs and tragedy, mostly because they help remind him about the son he lost, the life they lived together and the reason he still works to make the series safer.

“It’s very difficult, but you have to do it,” John said. “You’ve got to face your adversaries and deal with the demons. They’re not going away.”

There have been a few NHRA deaths since Eric’s – Scott Kalitta (2008), Neal Parker (2010) and Mark Niver (2010) – but none of those were caused by tire shake.

Six months after Eric’s death, Force endured a similar tire shake during a race in Texas. The violent crash broke his left ankle, left wrist and several fingers and put a deep cut on his right knee. Force was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he spent weeks before leaving in a wheelchair.

But the 16-time champion avoided any head trauma, which he attributed to the NHRA safety modifications put in place following Eric’s accident.

Force responded by erecting life-size statues of Eric at his team facility in Indiana, and at his corporate headquarters in California. He created museums to house Eric’s race cars.

He sees the impact they have on everyone, even his 5-year-old grandson.

“He pointed at the statue and goes, `What is that, Grandpa?'” Force recounted. “And I said, `That’s Eric Medlen. That’s the guy that saved your Grandpa’s life and I ain’t never forgetting that.”

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Grosjean: ‘Unbelievable’ to score Haas’ best F1 qualifying result in Australia

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Romain Grosjean hailed Haas’ Formula 1 qualifying performance in Australia as “unbelievable” after picking up its best Saturday result since joining the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, with Grosjean leading its charge through its debut campaign.

Haas enters its sophomore year in 2017 looking to build on its eighth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, and made a strong start in Australia on Saturday.

While new driver Kevin Magnussen dropped out in Q1 following an error on his hot lap, Grosjean was able to take Haas into Q3 before securing sixth place on the grid for Sunday’s season-opener.

The result marks Haas’ best qualifying result to date in F1, beating Grosjean’s run to P7 ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix last November.

“It was quite an unbelievable qualifying session for us. It’s a shame that we didn’t get Kevin there, but the car is looking good, even better than what we’ve seen recently,” Grosjean said after the session.

“We’ve made some good progress over the weekend. There’s a lot more we can understand and analyze but, generally, it’s a great start for us.

“It’s always good to start with a strong qualifying session. It tells you that if you keep improving the car, you could be in a good place very soon. If that’s our baseline, and you can fight between sixth and 10th position, where it’s so tight, it would be great to be there most of the time and enjoy some good times.

“Tomorrow’s start is a big unknown. We’ve been practicing and some have been good, others not so much. Hopefully, we’ll get the first one right tomorrow.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.