NHRA: Courtney and Brittany Force reflect on 2016, ready to go for 2017

Gary Nastase Photography
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When you think of NHRA drag racing and the name Force, you are most likely to first think of 16-time champion John Force.

But let’s not forget about the future of the sport, and that certainly encompasses the racing fortunes of John Force’s daughters, Top Fuel driver Brittany Force and Funny Car driving sibling Courtney Force.

The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series was one filled with highlights and career bests for both of the Force girls, including:

* They both finished sixth in their respective racing classes.

* They both won races, each led the point standings of their respective classes at some point in the season and each was in contention for the championship of their respective divisions.

To say the least, while disappointed at not winning the championship, both Force daughters are happy to have 2016 behind them and are looking ahead to 2017.

Courtney Force after winning the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout. Photo by Richard Shute/Auto Imagery.
Courtney Force after winning the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout. Photo by Richard Shute/Auto Imagery.

As for season highlights, Courtney Force called her win in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout the biggest achievement in 2016.

“We won that event against seven of the top Funny Car teams that were the most competitive last season,” she said. “To know that you have a team capable of rising up for the moment really gets you motivated for future success.”

Brittany’s breakout race was her first career Top Fuel win at Gainesville, Florida, in early spring.

“I had been chasing that first win since my rookie season in 2013 and finally capturing that is something I will never forget,” she said. “That day is one of the proudest moments in my career and was also (John Force Racing’s) first Top Fuel win and first ever double-up win with teammate Robert Hight.”

Both Force teams had major personnel changes heading into the season.

Courtney’s team promoted Dan Hood (husband of another Force daughter, retired racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson as co-crew chiefs on her Funny Car, while 11-time NHRA Top Fuel championship team owner and master engine tuner Alan Johnson was brought in to direct Brittany’s dragster effort.

“The entire team really gelled together starting in (preseason) testing and by the end of the season we were all working great together,” Courtney Force said. “We might not have won the championship but I think everyone on my team knows we have a great foundation to move forward into next season and beyond.”

Brittany Force after her first career NHRA Top Fuel win earlier this year in Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Gary Nastase Photography.
Brittany Force after her first career NHRA Top Fuel win earlier this year in Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Gary Nastase Photography.

Added Brittany Force, “We made quite a few changes at the beginning of the year but this team learned to immediately adjust to it so well that we were able to bring our first win home just three races into our season.”

But now that 2016 is behind them, Courtney and Brittany are both ready for 2017 to begin – even though they will have to wait two-plus more months to pick up where they left off from last season.

We were No. 1 (in the standings) for four consecutive races (and) picked up a win early in Houston so we just need to get our routine down better and be more consistent,” Courtney said. “That is what we are going to push for in testing over the off-season.

“That gets us excited for next season because we have a great team, a fast car and now we have a better handle on the new Chevrolet Camaro body. We are going into next season all together and we don’t have to adjust much. We can roll into next season with some momentum and consistency.”

As for Brittany, she noted: “Looking into the 2017 NHRA season, I am most excited to see how much our team will advance in comparison to previous years. I always set goals and push to improve each year and looking back on an impressive season I’m confident we will go further next season. We plan to win more races and go after that championship.”

Brittany Force ultimately won not just her first career race last season, but added two other victories as well. You can almost immediately tell the difference in her confidence going forward.

“I am more confident in myself and my team that nothing is out of our reach,” she said. “We will push harder and push for more because we all want that number 1 on the side of our car.”

As for 2017 goals, Courtney Force says she wants to qualify again for the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, to win the U.S. Nationals for the first time, and of course, to win the overall Funny Car championship – even if it means beating out dear old dad.

“I feel like we have a team over here that could really take that dream home,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Brittany’s goals are similar.

“I plan to improve in areas that I struggle with as a driver,” she said. “I want to finish this next season a step ahead of where I am now. As a team, our goals are to win more races and go after that championship title.”

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).