The Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona was supposed to be the icing on top of Courtney Force’s most successful season.
Force grew up in Southern California and considers the Auto Club Raceway, where she watched her father John compete, to be her home track. And her upward trajectory — going from the 2012 NHRA rookie of the year to seventh in the points standings in 2013 to fourth place in 2014 — made her a favorite to win the funny car championship this year.
Instead, Force failed to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, the NHRA’s version of the playoffs for the top 10 riders through 18 venues. So she is treating this weekend’s event as an opportunity to regain some confidence for 2016.
“I’m kind of at peace with it,” Force said of her performance this year. “I think the hardest point was not making it in the top 10. That was a huge deal. It was kind of a big letdown for my team. As a driver, you don’t want to let your sponsors down like that. I took it pretty hard.”
There are signs, however, that Force is returning to her previous form. She achieved a new career-best time at Las Vegas two weeks ago and was encouraged by her 3.988-second qualification time at Pomona, which was good enough for ninth-quickest in the funny car category.
“It makes me feel better — I feel like we started picking up on it and getting better toward the end of the season, and I’m hoping that we’ll carry over to next year,” Force said.
Looking ahead, Force knows she’ll always have the added expectations and pressure that come with being the daughter of a racing legend, but she insists having her father around is ultimately a benefit, not a hindrance.
“My goal out here is always to perform well as a driver, and I don’t really think about having that last name,” Force said. “I think about being a good driver.
“The good thing is [John] is my dad and I get to learn a lot from him. I’m very fortunate that I get to have him out here and get to work with him. I’m pretty lucky.”
Season championships are still up for grabs in the pro-stock motorcycle and funny car categories. Elimination rounds at Pomona will be held Sunday.
—In pro-stock motorcycle, Jerry Savoie (currently second in the standings) qualified first with a time of 6.803 seconds. Points leader Andrew Hines qualified fifth at 6.837 seconds. Savoie trails by 38 points overall.
—Funny car points leader Del Worsham qualified third, and Jack Beckman, who’s close on his heels, qualified second. Beckman is 36 points back. They’re on the same side of the 16-person elimination bracket and could meet in a head-to-head matchup Sunday.
—Greg Anderson is the qualifying leader for pro stock, and Erica Enders, who already clinched the 2015 title, qualified second.
—Top-fuel champion Antron Brown continued his season-long dominance, qualifying first.