It would be great to borrow a line from Star Wars and to tell NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, “May the Force be with you.”
Unfortunately for the youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, the force wasn’t even close to being with her in 2015.
In 2014, Courtney was one of the most successful drivers in Funny Car. She won a career-high four wins (out of a career total of seven wins), became the winningest female in Funny Car history, and earned the 100th win by a female driver in NHRA history.
It was a dream season as Force finished a career-best fourth in the standings.
But as good as everything went in 2014, it was the complete opposite in 2015. She failed to win a race, never could mount any type of consistency, and failed to reach the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career.
Force ultimately finished a career-worst 11th in the final Funny Car standings.
Even worse, in 24 races, she was eliminated in the first round an unheard of 15 times.
But heading into this weekend’s season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., there’s only one direction for Force to go, and that’s up.
“Last year was definitely tough,” Force told NBCSports.com. “There’s really nothing I can point fingers at, but I definitely think it’s going to make us feel a little bit better going into this year. We’re staying positive.”
Force started off positive in Friday’s first day of qualifying, as teammate Robert Hight had the quickest run at 3.942 seconds (at 322.19 mph), while Courtney Force was second-quickest at 3.945 seconds.
Much like her famous father, there was a significant amount of change that occurred for the overall John Force Racing operation in 2015.
There was a manufacturer change (to Chevrolet after nearly 20 years with Ford), a primary sponsor change (to Peak AntiFreeze and Lubricants after more than 30 years with Castrol) and just a whole different mojo than she and everyone in John Force Racing had never experienced.
Not so much in 2016, Courtney Force said.
“I feel like the pressure’s off a little bit for all our teams right now,” said Force, a big fan-favorite in the NHRA world. “With Chevy coming on board, Monster, Peak Antifreeze and Lucas (Oil) as sponsors, it was huge for us.
“To have them all really behind us definitely kind of puts us back to having comfort and knowing that we have support out here.”
Now in her fifth full season in the NHRA Funny Car ranks, as well as with primary sponsor Traxxas, Force is ready to forget about 2015 and look forward to a big leap forward in 2016.
“We definitely had a little bit of a rough year last year, but there were a few things we were trying out with the car and I think it just took us a little longer to figure it all out,” she said.
Perhaps the most significant change for Force this season is having two new co-crew chiefs: Dan Hood (husband of sister and former racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson, who came over from sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team.
“I think the two of them are going to work well together and I’m excited,” Courtney Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We brought in a couple of other new people and switched a few positions.
“We’re definitely in our routine again, and the test at Phoenix (last weekend) definitely helped. We’re really just keeping a positive attitude going into this year.”
Father John Force expects big things this season from both Courtney and Brittany.
“I want this to be a big year for my girls,” Force told MST. “I want both Courtney and Brittany to have a big year.”
While that may put extra pressure on someone, knowing it’s your father who has high expectations, Courtney looks at it a bit differently.
“I think there’s always a little bit of pressure because he is my dad, but not really so much from him, maybe just more on myself,” she said. “I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself since I started racing. I push myself hard out here because I really love being in these cars and this opportunity, I’m just trying to take full advantage of it and really show these sponsors what we’re capable of.
“After a rough year like we had last year, I’m ready to get these things turned around and get back to how we used to be. We’ve won a lot of races, we know how to win and having the support of my dad, no, he doesn’t put that pressure on me, which is nice. I’m very lucky that I get to stay on as a driver for his team. I put pressure on myself more than anything.”
If there was one key to last year’s dismal season, it was missing the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that begins after the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Heading to Indy, Courtney was still within striking distance of making the Chase, but things didn’t work out the way she hoped they would.
“It was hard, for sure, every week, we went out there,” she said. “At the start of the season, we were like, ‘No, we didn’t have it this weekend, but we’ve always got next weekend.’ The time window to get in there started to get smaller and further away.
“(Not making the Countdown) was definitely a shock. We had Indy to try to make some magic happen and it was out of our hands. We couldn’t do much about it. We went out and that was just the way it was going to be.
“We just kind of had to take it, learn from it and move on. It was definitely a bummer. Since my rookie year, I’ve been in the top 10 every year. But I think it will only make us stronger for this year, which is probably the most important thing that came out of it.”
But now Indy and the entire 2015 season is and will remain in Force’s rearview mirror. It’s full speed ahead in 2016, starting with this weekend’s 56th annual edition of the Winternationals.
“I can’t wait to get back in the swing of things at the start of the season, at my home track in Pomona,” Force said. “I think 2016 will be a great year for our Traxxas Chevy Camaro team and we are ready to make it our year.”