Heading into this week’s Virginia Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park, a track that hasn’t played host to an NHRA tour event since 2009, reigning Top Fuel World Champion Brittany Force has her rivals right where she wants them.
Last year, on the way to becoming the first woman in 35 years to reign as champion in the sport’s premier category, the 31-year-old Californian reached this juncture in sixth place in points having directed her Monster Energy dragster to the winners’ circle one time in the season’s first nine races. She was then 281 points off the lead enjoyed by Leah Pritchett.
This year, after the same nine races, she is sixth in points with a win in the NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston and, when qualifying begins Friday on a Richmond-area track on which she never before has turned a tire, she will trail pacesetting Steve Torrence by 241 points
The similarities probably aren’t lost on those who were left in her wake last year when she won three of the six races in the Countdown and ran the table at the season-ending Auto Club Finals, qualifying No. 1, posting the quickest race day time, winning the event and securing John Force Racing’s first championship in a category other than Funny Car.
The message, which the 2014 winner of the Auto Club’s Road to Future Award delivered so eloquently a year ago, is that in the Countdown Era, timing is everything. The reality is that championships are won by those who peak at just the right time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton will just be going through the motions this week. In fact, she’ll have her rivals seeing red for the second time this month when she climbs into the cockpit of a red-hued, dual-branded Advance Auto Parts/Monster Energy hybrid.
It’s a car in which she also will race in next week’s Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn., and the following week’s New England Nationals at Epping, N.H.
Right now, though, the petite blonde is focused on winning on a Richmond racetrack on which her famous father, John Force, won four times in the 1990s and early 2000s and on which the late Eric Medlen won the last of his six tour titles in 2006.
“I’m excited about going to a new track,” she said, “(and) it would be awesome to get a win for the Advance Auto Parts Monster Energy team. We had a consistent car in qualifying last week at Chicago and that gives us some confidence going into Richmond.”
Even though a No. 2 qualifying effort failed to pay dividends in eliminations, Brittany already has put the experience behind her, which is one of the benefits of back-to-back-to-back events.
“We go straight to the next race and we don’t have time to think about (the previous race),” said the eight-time tour winner, “(plus) you get to stay in a race routine, week-to-week.”
Although every tour win is significant, the second youngest of the Force daughters acknowledges that a victory in June would be particularly meaningful if she could share the winners’ circle with younger sister Courtney, the current Funny Car point leader as driver of the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS.
“We have matching Advance Auto Parts race cars so we are hoping to get matching wins for the first time,” she said.
Nitro qualifying for the Virginia Nationals will begin on Friday with sessions at 3:30 and 6 p.m. and continue Saturday at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Single elimination finals will begin at noon Sunday.