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Brittany Force Roars to No. 1 Qualifier at NHRA Winternationals

Brittany Force paced John Force Racing in Saturday’s final qualifying effort for Sunday’s Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.

Force captured the No. 1 qualifier position in Top Fuel with an elapsed time of 3.711 seconds at 335.73 mph. The day was originally scheduled to have two rounds of qualifying, but rain in the morning and early afternoon forced NHRA officials to cut qualifying to just one final round for all professional categories.

Piloting the Mark Christopher Auto Center Chevrolet/Monster Energy dragster, Force, a two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion (2017 and 2022), recorded her first No. 1 qualifying effort since Denver last summer and the 47th of her career. This is also her fourth No. 1 qualifying run at the Winternationals.

“It was a killer run for our team, I’m real proud of them,” Force said. “It’s tough when you sit out and wait for the rain all day. We were hoping to get that run in. Thank you to the fans for hanging out with us all day. We’re hoping to show you some more good racing (in Sunday’s final eliminations).

“We’ve had a lot of number one qualifiers, but again, our focus is race day. That’s where the points really add up. That’s what matters at the end of this thing when we return here at the end of the season to try to chase down a championship. So, yes, we love those number ones. Great way to kick off the season.”

While she has a prior win in the season-ending World Finals at Pomona, Force has never won the Winternationals at her home track. Her father, team patriarch John Force, is a seven-time Winternationals winner in Funny Car.

“We’re definitely ready for tomorrow,” Brittany Force said. “We wanted three (qualifying rounds), but two is good enough. And they were two consistent runs, which is what we’ve been focusing on coming into this season.

“We need consistent runs that go down the racetrack. We’re not trying to do these crazy runs that light the board on fire. Let’s get down there, let’s get us in the show, and let’s go rounds on race day. So far, we’re in a good place, and we’re anxious to see what we can do tomorrow.”

Brittany’s father, John Force, was able to bounce back from Friday’s disappointing single qualifying run, which was disallowed because his PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car crossed the center line.

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Force worried that the weather might not cooperate on Saturday and he may not have qualified, which means he would have missed Sunday’s final eliminations. But Force’s fears were for naught as the weather broke and he was able to qualify No. 6 with a run of 3.996 seconds at 318.99 mph.

“All in all, you’ve really got to do your job, that’s really what it’s all about,” Force said after he was assured of a strong starting spot. “What’s amazing is how sick you can be all night (worrying about whether he’d get one more qualifying run) when you’ve done this for 100 years. Hey, we’re in the show at Pomona!”

Force’s fellow Funny Car driving teammate, Austin Prock, had a rough effort Saturday. He struggled to maintain control of the Automobile Club of Southern California/Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS, ending up with a time of 4.758 seconds at 229.31 mph.

“That was definitely the most embarrassing run I’ve ever made, Prock said. “It was definitely frustrating … but tomorrow is when it counts.

“We got a little bit of money from the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge (a special race-within-a-race exhibition event), but it’s just frustrating on my end. I could have done a lot better job. I don’t have many runs in these cars and every run is a new learning experience. We’ll go through everything tonight and I know these guys will give me a bad fast car tomorrow and I’m going to drive the hell out of it.”

Prock dropped from ninth-quickest on Friday to 15th on Saturday. He will face No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

Even though it occurred Thursday evening, John Force was still talking Saturday about the emotional celebration of life event honoring the late drag racer and team owner Roland Leong.

“The celebration of life has a lot of meaning,” Force said. “I always knew Roland Leong was loved by a lot of people, but I didn’t realize how many until I saw the crowd there. There were so many funny stories and how people felt about losing him.

“Seeing the emotion from Don Prudhomme, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cry and never saw him that emotional. The man must have been a true friend to him. And then (Leong’s) two daughters talked about him, things I never knew about him. He’s a great individual and he’s watching over us all now, but he got a great going away party. It was great.”

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Weather permitting, final eliminations for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals will start Sunday at 10 a.m. PT. FS1 will televise a qualifying recap on Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET. The Finals will also air on FS1 from 7 to 10 p.m. ET.

This story was originally published on March 24, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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