Courtney Force enjoying time away from drag racing, but still as busy as ever

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When Courtney Force stepped away from drag racing before the start of this season, it shocked competitors, the media and especially her fans. She was one of the highest-profile and most popular drivers during her seven years on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit — and seemingly just reaching her prime as a competitor.

At the time, Force made it clear that she wasn’t retiring. That’s why she continues to use the words “stepped away” to characterize her departure from drag racing – be it indefinitely or ultimately permanent.

Since then, while she admits she misses hurtling down the straight line at 330 mph in her Funny Car, Force is nearly as busy today as she was in chasing the win light at tracks from Pomona, California to Epping, New Hampshire. While she still has some off-track involvement with her former drag racing sponsors, she also is finally able to spend considerable more quality time with her husband, IndyCar star Graham Rahal.

I definitely miss wheeling a Funny Car,” Force said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports. “But you know, it’s kind of nice, after seven years of racing professionally and being on the road constantly between my schedule and my husband’s schedule in IndyCar, we never really got a lot of time to ourselves.

Courtney Force during her days as one of the most popular drivers on the NHRA national event circuit. Photo: Getty Images.

Any weekend I had off, I was doing either media or sponsor appearances. We were working hard through the entire season. It’s kind of nice to have a little bit of a break and to be out here, supporting him, and to be involved in some of the things I’m passionate about and be more hands-on with the Graham and Courtney Rahal Foundation.

We’ve got a driver’s golf tournament that will be before the Indy 500. Plus, I get to work still for Advance Auto Parts as a brand ambassador. And I’m also working with Hot Wheels. We have a lot of things coming up this summer that I’ll be excited to share soon.”

Then, she adds with a laugh, “I couldn’t just stop racing and do nothing.”

Admittedly, though, it has been a bit more of an adjustment than Force originally thought. She has even had a few nightmares where she fears not getting to the starting line in time for a race or not having the right equipment with her.

Yes, definitely,” she said. “Not being at the airport as much and being at home, I thought I’d be excited about being at home more, which I was for the first month, and then I started to get a little stir-crazy. That’s why I started getting involved in some of these other things.

It’s been real strange. And also getting calls from my dad during the season because he’s in my car, with my team and my crew chiefs that I had last year. It’s been fun getting to talk to him and he was getting pointers from me on how I drive this car and work with the team, and that was a little bit different.”

Given how busy she still is these days, as well as supporting her husband, one question invariably keeps coming up from fans and media: have we seen the last of her in a Funny Car?

I think it’s too early to say,” explained Force, who turns 31 on June 20. “I definitely struggle with not being in the car and definitely miss not being in the car and I’d like to keep my (competition) license up to date.

I just feel I’m in a little bit of a different spot right now. That’s why I hate to use the word ‘retirement’ first of all it makes me feel really old (she said with a big laugh) and I just feel like I’m stepping away from the car is more logical and makes more sense.

I feel ‘retirement’ puts a stamp and end on something that I don’t necessarily can say is the end. I still love the sport of NHRA drag racing, my family is out there, I’ve only been out to a few races and would love to go to more. But at the same time, I get to be out here with my husband and actually see some of these racetracks that I’ve never seen him race on before since I met him six years ago. I don’t think it’s a stamp on anything.”

Spending so much at home – her and Rahal reside much of the year in the Indianapolis area – particularly during the month of May is taking some getting used to, Force admits.

This is actually the first time I’ve been to the Indy 500 qualifying weekend. I’ve always been racing on this weekend,” she said. “This (past) weekend, my whole family was racing at Richmond and I was here in Indy.

It’s definitely a little bit of an adjustment. For me, it’s strange because I don’t have anything to worry about besides him on the track. Before, I was distracted, wondering how my car was running. … I don’t have to worry about right after this race, I have to fly out and get ready for my next race and get my mind back on my race car and what I can do to get it better.”

From left, Courtney Force, husband Graham Rahal and John Force. Photo: NHRA.

The youngest of four daughters of drag racing icon John Force, Courtney is obviously pulling for her husband to win his first Indy 500 title on Sunday.

It’d be huge, it would change your life, that’s what he always says,” she said. “I’m just happy that I’m able to be at races and support him and witness. At some of the wins he’s had, I’ve just been able to give him a phone call, I haven’t been able to be there for them.

So I’m excited about it. The Indy 500 is the biggest race of their season, it’s a huge spectacle and it’s a big deal. I think it would be huge if he could win it and being that I’m here for the 500, I’d love to be a part of it. It would definitely be awesome if I could witness him win it.”

While she’s not ruling out a potential return some day to drag racing, Force makes it very clear that the only IndyCar driver that will remain in her household is her husband. She’s not interested in becoming the next Danica Patrick of IndyCar.

Everyone is thinking I’m getting in an Indy car now,” she laughed. “I’m like, oh my gosh, some of these are the craziest things. It’s just a totally different type of sport.”

Then, she adds emphatically and with resoluteness: “If I’m going to get back in a race car, it’s going to be a Funny Car.”

Force has no concrete plan or timetable for what’s next, although there is one thing that could very well determine if she ever races again – or at least any time soon.

As much as I love what I do with drag racing, it’s nice to mix things up a little bit and have a change of pace,” she said. “Obviously, we’re hoping to have a family one day and that’s the biggest thing. It’s one of the hardest things as well. As a female, you can’t continue to drive a 330 mph race car if you want to do that.

It was my personal decision to step away from drag racing, and I’m not going to say it was an easy one, but it was the right thing for me and I had Graham’s full support in whatever direction I wanted to go. My dad and my family were the same and very supportive of that decision. I miss wheeling the car but I’m very happy where I’m at and I’m really excited for what’s to come.”

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IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500