The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series hasn’t even started and already the series has been rocked by major news sure to disappoint many drag racing fans.
Courtney Force, the winningest female in NHRA Funny Car competition and one of the most popular drivers and fan favorites on the circuit, announced early Thursday morning that she is stepping out of her 11,000 horsepower, 330-mph Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS, effective immediately. The NHRA season is slated to begin Feb. 8-10 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
“This was a personal choice as I feel I’m ready to see what the next chapter in my life has in store for me, while spending more time with family,” Force said in a media release. “I intend to remain involved in the industry I love and continue to work with a few select partners as I go forward in 2019.
“I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to have such a successful career at John Force Racing and the privilege of working with so many incredible people while racing against competitors who pushed me to be a better driver.”
The news release, issued by John Force Racing, noted that: “While her driving duties will be coming to an end, Force will continue to stay involved in the NHRA by supporting her teammates as well as maintaining off-track partnerships.”
Team patriarch and Courtney’s father, John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history (149 wins, 16 NHRA Funny Car championships), has not issued any statement yet on his daughter’s decision, but it’s likely the elder Force will do so today. NBC Sports has reached out to John Force’s representatives for comment.
The JFR news release also did not include any information whether JFR will have a replacement driver for Courtney Force for the 2019 season. However, it’s expected that the team will make an announcement about Courtney’s car, as well as its sponsorship situation, perhaps as early as Friday.
A JFR team spokesman confirmed to NBC Sports that Courtney is not pregnant, adding that she will give further statements on her decision to step out of her race car in the coming weeks.
The youngest member of the Force racing family has competed in 167 NHRA pro races, earning 12 national event victories and 17 runner-up finishes. She also reached the semifinals on another 29 occasions. She also has been a No. 1 qualifier 28 times, including 11 times during the 2018 season, in which she finished sixth.
Force’s career-best marks include an elapsed time of 3.815 seconds and a top speed of 338.85 mph.
The 30-year-old Courtney Force, the youngest of four daughters of John Force, is married to IndyCar star Graham Rahal.
“I first have to thank my dad for encouraging me to live out my dream of being a Funny Car driver while getting to compete against him and learn from the best,” Force said. “I want to thank my family and my husband, Graham, for their support through the highs and lows and to my team for their undeniable will to win and for always keeping me motivated, confident and safe in my race car.
“Thank you to all of my sponsors from the start of my career with Traxxas and Ford to now with Advance Auto Parts, Chevrolet, Auto Club, PEAK, Monster, PPG and Mac Tools,” she continued. “I’m grateful for all of your support both on and off the track and the opportunity I had to represent your brands with pride.
“Last but not least, to my fans: thank you for all of your support throughout my career. I’m excited to see where this next chapter will take me and I hope to see you all at the track soon.”
Courtney Force is one of four daughters of John Force. Sister Brittany is a NHRA Top Fuel driver, having captured the 2017 Top Fuel championship.
Older sister Ashley Force Hood also became a fan favorite in a drag racing tenure that stretched from 2007 through 2011 before she retired from the sport to start a family with her husband, Danny Hood, who also works at JFR.
Neither Courtney nor Rahal have indicated whether her decision to step down is for a similar reason as Ashley Force Hood’s decision to end her racing career.
However, a JFR team spokesman confirmed to NBC Sports that Courtney is not pregnant, adding that she will give further statements on her decision to step out of her race car in the coming weeks.
Two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon told NBC Sports, “I wish Courtney well in her next chapter of life whatever that is. I’ve always found her to be a very pleasant and positive person so we’ll all miss that for sure.”
Here are more comments from social media including Courtney Force’s fellow drivers and others in the motorsports world: