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Courtney Force blasts into Norwalk on a tear

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Jun 24, 2018 at 12:24 AM

NORWALK — What a difference a year makes.

Sure, that can be perceived as cliché and nothing more. But not when the discussion shifts to star NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force.

The 29-year old daughter of legendary driver John Force recently won three out of four races, and enters today’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk looking for a fifth win in 12 races this season.

It’s been going so well that at last week’s Thunder Valley race in Bristol, Tenn., she lost in the semifinal round — and gained 20 points in the standings.

However, it was in Norwalk a year ago that proved to be a shocking and devastating blow to Force. For the first and only time in her Funny Car career, she failed to qualify for Sunday’s elimination rounds at the Summit Motorsports Park race in Norwalk.

Yet fast forward to today, and in dominating fashion, Force has a 201-point lead — over second place — as the NHRA season hits the halfway point today.

“Last year we actually had our career-best season, so it’s really hard to hang you’re head about that week,” she said. “We finished third in the points overall. But yeah, our outing at Norwalk didn’t go as well as we would have liked in not qualifying for the first time in my Funny Car career.

“Obviously it was not what our team was looking for,” Force added. “We’re excited to be back out here. We feel like we have a great race car with our Advance Auto Parts team.”

On Friday night, Force got only one pass at the new track surface at Summit Motorsports Park — and made the most of it. She took her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro to a 3.934-second pass at 327.66 mph — again earning the top spot in qualifying.

On Saturday, she secured her eighth No. 1 qualifying position of the season in a 12-race stretch. After the first qualifying run was rained out, she had to shut off early at 4.08 seconds in 254.18 mph in the third session around 5:15 p.m.

However, her sterling Friday time was still No. 1, as the rains again didn’t hold off and eventually canceled the fourth and final qualifying session at about 9 p.m. Saturday night.

“To be honest, I thought we were going to have a safe run, get it from A to B knowing about the weather and the rain coming — but I knew that (crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Dan Hood were going to shoot for a good run,” Force said after the Friday night run.

With eight No. 1 qualifying positions this season, Force broke the record for all female competitors in NHRA history in a single season.

“That was a fantastic run,” she said. “We had a chance to see what everyone else was doing, and Corradi and Hood, they were shooting for the moon.”

While talking about her 2018 success, Force has consistently praised her crew team and sponsors.

“It’s due to the fact that I’ve got a great team behind me,” she said. “It’s a great support system with my sponsors as well, and everyone has honestly just worked really well together, staying positive and focused at every event. And we’re just trying to take it round by round and not get too far ahead.

“We’ve got a great thing going right now, we have a consistent race car through qualifying and we’ve been getting it consistent on race day as well,” Force added. “That’s what we were kind of lacking last season — going rounds on race day. It’s been great, but there is still a long way to go. This is the halfway point to our year, so we just have to keep it going and focused.”

Force, who is married to IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, is attempting to become the first woman to win the Funny Car division title. To get a win at Norwalk on his way to that quest would be extra special.

Force is no stranger to Summit Motorsports Park, both as a kid while attending races with her dad and as a racer.

“It would be huge. I’ve been to this track countless times as a kid with my dad, and for the Night Under Fire match race,” she said. “I’ve had success at those, so we know we have a car capable of running down this track — we’ve just lacked the consistency of going all the way.

“We’re looking forward to it and really want to put our sponsor and team in the winner’s circle at the end of it,” Force added. “With it being the turning point of the season at the halfway point, it would be huge to really make this race count.”

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