NHRA: Courtney Force still fighting as disappointing year nears end


It’s not an easy question to answer.

When you spend your life making decisions 1,000 feet and under four seconds at time, you have other things to worry about.

But still, in a movie about her life, who would play Courtney Force?

“Oh gosh. Never thought about that. I have no idea,” replied the youngest daughter of NHRA legend and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force.

The blonde, 27-year-old driver takes a moment. She then delivers an answer that’s surprising for someone who in recent years was photographed for ESPN’s Body Issue, has been glamorized in a commercial for Sunoco’s “Burnt Rubber” cologne and walked the red carpet at the ESPY’s.

Force thinks about character before looks.

“Somebody I guess that’s really determined, but sometimes stubborn,” Force says. “I get that from my dad. Someone I guess that’s kind of the girl version of my dad, unfortunately. Loud and crazy.”

She eventually settles on actress Jennifer Lawrence.

“I like her. She’s fiery,” Force says.

Anyone stepping into the fire suit of Courtney Force would be taking on the role of a drag racer that is employed by her father, but is also his teammate. It’s a dynamic that’s kept things interesting in the sport since she began racing in NHRA Funny Car competition four years ago.

“Dad and I butt heads a lot because we’re a lot alike,” Courtney says. “If we have a problem, we both kind of talk it out. I don’t kind of sit there and just nod my head in silence. We’ll talk it out pretty good.”

But then the moments come where the talking stops and the racing begins. Sometimes, you have to race each other.

Before last weekend’s 30th annual AAA Fall Nationals at the Dallas Motorplex, father and daughter had faced off 14 times in elimination rounds, having split their all-time meetings 7-7. Courtney won the first meeting between the two as a fresh-faced rookie, the victory coming in only her second FC event ever at Phoenix in 2012.

The excitement of the moment overpowered any nervous feelings she had about John being in the opposite lane.

“I remember just having fun with it,” Courtney says. “It was a very surreal moment, because it was the first time.”

For Courtney, “having fun with it” meant adding to the drama by “parking” on him as they staged in their lanes.

“I kind of sat up there and didn’t turn my light on yet and made him kind of sweat it out,” Courtney says.

That didn’t sit well with John, but it doesn’t go down as their biggest disagreement in his eyes. That came off the track.

“It was when she came home with her first date,” John Force recalls, having approached the table his daughter stood at in the team’s garage area.

“I wanted to meet this big ole’ football player and I looked at him. I said, ‘What’s your name, son?’ He goes, ‘Love.’”

“He wasn’t a football player,” Courtney interjects. “His last name was Love and Dad was …”

“I said he looked like a football player. He was a big guy,” her father counters. “But my real aggravation is, we’re drag racers…and she’s marrying an IndyCar driver?”

Behind his dark sunglasses, John Force gives a sly grin and slinks away.

“I’m so sick of that,” Courtney says of the almost daily joke aimed at her engagement to Graham Rahal. “I’m like ‘people are actually going to think you’re serious if you keep saying that.’”

But the time for jokes passes. It’s time for final preparations for the first round of eliminations, which would see Courtney and John face off for the 15th time. On this late Sunday morning, the stakes are John staying alive in the Countdown to the Championship and Courtney defending her 2014 win in the event.

It would be her first win of 2015 after earning four last year, which was a NHRA record for a female Funny Car driver.

It’s been a trying year. With a switch from Ford to Chevrolet, Courtney has only reached one final round and missed out on the NHRA Countdown to the Championship for the first time.

“Obviously, it’s a bummer,” Courtney said. “You don’t want to race teammates on race day ever, no matter the circumstance. Our team’s still looking to get a win this year, so that’s all on our minds.

“I was in there practicing on my tree this morning trying to go for the win. Like I said, we haven’t gotten a win yet. We struggled a little bit and it’s unfortunate we’ll have to run against him, but it doesn’t change our mindset at all. … There’s not much we can do at this point but look forward to a win.”

After Dallas, she would still be looking. In only their second meeting of the year, John took an 8-7 lead over Courtney, whose only run of the day ends in a puff of smoke as her tires spin halfway down the strip. John advances, only to be eliminated himself in Round 2 when a part brakes in his engine.

Dallas is just another stop on Courtney’s roller coaster of a year. But at each stop, no matter her rate of success, the youngest daughter of John Force returns to the JFR garage area to a familiar sight.

At any point in the day a horde of dedicated, enthusiastic JFR fans crowd around the team’s pit stall, watching crews prep the Funny Cars of Courtney, John and team president Robert Hight, as well as sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel car, waiting for a glimpse of their favorite driver.

They’re the kind of fans that don’t flinch when a nitro engine roars to life feet away from them. They’re also the fans that will ask you to sign a prosthetic leg or the arm of a baby if they have to. Or if you’re John Force, a pig.

But facing those fans after yet another disappointing day at the office is just what a “bummed out” Courtney Force needs.

“I think a lot of people think that’s the hard part, but it’s not,” she says. “You go out to the fans and all of them are still positive, they don’t have something negative to say. I’m very fortunate that they don’t, but just a few minutes ago I went out there and they said, ‘We still love you, we still think you’re the best.’ Just getting that little boost of confidence sometimes helps you feel a lot better about how your day goes.”

After one of many signing sessions, it’s back to work. John rejoins his daughter in the pit area and they begins talking amongst themselves about the preceding round. A photographer hovers nearby as they talk, taking pictures of them at both of their cars.

But Courtney says the best advice she receives from her father comes not after a round. He gives it when she’s strapped into her 300 mph workspace, in the moments before she takes off on another sub-four second, 1,000-foot trip.

What advice does one determined but sometimes stubborn person give another in times of struggle?

“You’ll see him walk by the front of my Funny Car and he’ll just hit his heart,” Courtney says making the motion herself. “(He) points to me and always tells me drive from the heart.”

But he also reminds her to do exactly what she did the first time she faced him in Phoenix four years ago.

“He just kind of gives a friendly reminder, ‘Have fun with it.’”

In tears after the Indianapolis 500, Santino Ferrucci is proud of his third-place finish


INDIANAPOLIS – Santino Ferrucci was in tears after last Sunday’s 107th Indy 500.

The AJ Foyt Racing driver from Woodbury, Connecticut had just driven the best race of his career, only to have the final yellow flag of the race fly just a second or two before he would have been in position for the win.

The field had just been given the green flag with four laps to go and Ferrucci was charging in the No. 14 Chevrolet into Turn 1, about to pass both Josef Newgarden for second place, which would have put him in prime position to draft past Marcus Ericsson for the victory.

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But IndyCar race control issued the third red flag stoppage in the final 15 laps of the race and with Ferrucci 2 inches behind Newgarden’s Chevrolet, he was lined up third.

When IndyCar had the remaining drivers refire the engines for three-quarters of a lap behind the Pace Car followed by a one-lap green and white flag dash to the finish, Ferrucci knew there was little he could do to get past the front two cars.

Newgarden passed Ericsson on the backstretch and went on to take the checkered flag for his first Indianapolis 500 victory. Ericsson was just 0.0974-of-a-second away from winning the Indy 500 for the second year in a row and Ferrucci was 0.5273-of-a-second away from winning his first career NTT IndyCar Series race.

It was a fantastic effort for Ferrucci, but to come so close to winning the biggest race in the world, the kid from Connecticut was heartbroken.

“We were so good this month,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports after climbing out of his car. “When you are that fast all month long, you just want it that much more. The way we did everything to finish the race under green, it’s great for the fans, IndyCar did the right thing, but sometimes it’s a tough pill to swallow restarting third like that when you are really second.

“It’s all timing and scoring. That doesn’t lie. If it says we are third, we are third. It’s very bittersweet.”

When Ericsson and Newgarden were both “Unleashing the Dragon” with the draft-breaking zigzag moves at the end of the race, Ferrucci admitted he was hoping it would play into his favor if those two made contact ahead of him.

“I was hoping and praying because when you are third, that’s all you can do – hope and pray,” Ferrucci said.

His prayers were not answered, but his determination to win the Indianapolis 500 remains undeterred.

He has never finished outside of the top 10 in the Indianapolis 500. Ferrucci was seventh as a rookie in 2019, fourth in 2020, sixth in 2021, 10th last year and third this past Sunday.

“I love this place,” the driver said. “I love coming here. I’m always so comfortable in the race. We are good at avoiding all of the accidents that happened in front of us.

“We will win it eventually. We have to.”

Ferrucci has proven he likes to rise to the big moments.

“I like the pressure,” he said. “We do well under pressure.

“But you have to take third, sometimes.

“We had a really good shot at winning this race. We made the most of it.”

Ferrucci continues to display the uncanny knack for racing hard and avoiding trouble. When he took the lead in the No. 14 car made famous by his team owner, legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 winner AJ Foyt, many of the fans in the crowd of 330,000 roared with approval.

Ferrucci was in front for 11 laps and was in prime position to pounce at the end, before the final 15 laps brought out red flag fever.

Because of that, and the timing of where he was when the last yellow light came on before the final red, put him in a difficult position to win the race.

“It’s just emotional, bittersweet,” he said. “It was emotional getting in the car, which was kind of strange because you feel like there’s a lot of people that really want this, the team really wants this.

“We worked so hard to be where we were. We ran out front all day long. It’s definitely one of the more difficult races that I’ve probably ever run, and just we also knew that we had a really good car.

“We got really close with Felix Rosenqvist when he was wrecking so very thankful, we were able to avoid that. And then yeah, coming to the end, I think on the second to final restart, me and Marcus battling it into 1, and obviously it going red when it did, it’s part of this place, it’s part of racing, it’s part of the Speedway.

“I’m just bummed. I’m sure Marcus Ericsson thinks the same thing I do.

“All three of us could have won it at any point in time.

“Yeah, it’s bittersweet.”

A few days have passed since Ferrucci was crying when he got out of the race car. He celebrated his birthday on Wednesday by mowing his lawn after a 12-hour drive back to his home in Texas. On Thursday morning, he flies to Detroit to get ready for this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Detroit.

It has given him a chance to reflect on the biggest weekend of his career.

“Everybody saw on national television I was basically crying,” Ferrucci said. “It’s just one of those competitor things in you that there was so much riding on that race, and it was going so well up until that — it finished really well.

“It wasn’t just pressure to perform but emotional pressure to just be there and to know that we probably had that race won, had it gone yellow two seconds later, it’s just kind of heartbreaking. But still, at the end of the day, you come home in third, to join Helio Castroneves and one other driver, (Harry Hartz, who finished second, second, fourth, fourth and second from 1922-1926), in five of your first five starts in top 10s. And, then you really start to look at what you’ve accomplished at the 500 in your first five starts with four different teams and what you did with A.J. Foyt — what we’ve done at AJ Foyt Racing, who hasn’t had a podium or top 3 since the year 2000 at the Speedway.

“There are so many positives, and that day could have been so much worse. We had so many close calls between pit lane and some of the crashes on track that at the end of the day I was just really, really happy.

“I went to bed that night knowing that I did the best I could, the team did the best they could, and that’s the track.”

Ferrucci stressed that he didn’t have a problem with IndyCar race control doing everything in their power to make sure the race finished the distance under green.

“The way that IndyCar finished under green was 100 percent correct for the fans,” Ferrucci said. “It didn’t affect anything for me. What affected me wasn’t the red, it was the yellow.

“The second it went yellow, had it gone yellow two seconds later had they waited, which you can’t wait when you’re crashing, so there’s nothing you can do, I was in third, I was about 6 inches behind Newgarden, and that’s very clear in the video.

“At the end of the day, nothing changed for me. The fact that they actually went red and restarted the race gave me that opportunity to win again. I just didn’t have a great restart because it’s chaotic when you just go. You’ve got to also remember there’s no restart zone.

“At that point when you’re going green for one lap, it was really cool to see the shootout, I’m not going to lie, but you know that they’re going green, so you were literally at the hands of the leader on a completely random — you could start going into 3 in the middle of 3 and 4 out of 4. He could start the race whenever he wanted to start the race instead of in the zone, so it was completely unpredictable.

“(Ericsson) had a really good jump, and I did not. That’s what took me out of the win at the end of the race. It had nothing to do with IndyCar or the red in my opinion.”

Ferrucci and rookie teammate Benjamin Pedersen helped put a smile on 88-year-old AJ Foyt’s face in what started as the one of the saddest months of Foyt’s life after his wife of 68 years, Lucy, died.

Foyt returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dealing with grief, but for the past three weeks, he was able to see his racing team return to prominence.

I think he was really proud,” Ferrucci said of Foyt. “There’s truly two people that understood my emotions and felt my emotions on Sunday. A.J. was one, and Michael Cannon (his engineer) was the other.

“If you look at some of the photos from that day, you can kind of see it in my eyes, just — you really have to have it in your hands and then lose it in your hands to kind of understand that feeling of when you work that hard. You have to understand you’re coming from a team with two cars, a budget that’s a quarter of the size of Penske and Ganassi, and that’s all month long. We wanted it probably that much more than everybody else that day.

“To come up that short, A.J.’s finished second and third on dominant days in the ’70s, and he talked about those races, where we had the car to win. We were by far the best car at the end of that race. Once the Team McLarens were out of it and the 10 car and the 21 had the incident in pit lane, that left us.

“We were the car to win, and yeah, just sitting third knowing there’s nothing you can do, after all that hard work, yeah, it’s a feeling that very few people would understand.

“But he was incredibly proud of I think what the organization accomplished. I’m very proud of Larry and what Larry Foyt has done with the team because Larry has had control of this team since 2007, and to see him get his first podium as a team boss and team owner at the speedway was huge.

“I think everybody was incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500