Judging by her debut, much-heralded rookie Courtney Force has a solid future as a driver in drag racing's elite funny car division.
After all, she's the daughter of 15-time NHRA funny car champion John Force and enjoys the reflexes and ambition befitting her 23 years of age.
But in the world of funny car drag racing, in which the cars rocket past 300 mph in a mere 1,000 feet, it was John Force who proved Sunday that there is no substitute for experience.
After Courtney was eliminated despite a strong showing all weekend, John Force went on to win his sixth NHRA Winternationals event by defeating Mike Neff, another of the drivers on Force's Yorba Linda team, in the finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Spencer Massey edged his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown to win in top fuel, the other premier class in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series.
Despite his legendary career, the win Sunday was something of a comeback for the colorful Force, who struggled last year with only one victory after winning his last title in 2010.
Force praised his crew, saying "a driver has got to be good to win, but he's got to have a [strong] car. I'm a blessed man."
Force also said he was proud of Courtney, who won her first round, against Bob Tasca III. Tasca jumped in front but lost traction, suddenly slowed and Courtney swept past him.
But on a cool, overcast day, Courtney lost to Neff in a quarterfinal despite making her best pass of the weekend at 4.143 seconds at 313.88 mph.
"I am very happy with how it went," Courtney said. "Getting qualified alone was a big accomplishment. I didn't picture [getting] this far into Sunday."
Massey's win came after he had set an NHRA national top-fuel speed record for 1,000-foot races of 328.62 mph when he defeated seven-time champion Tony Schumacher in the semifinal round.
Top-fuel and funny car races were shortened to 1,000 feet from the traditional quarter mile, or 1,320 feet, as a safety move in 2008 after funny car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a racing crash. The quarter-mile speed records in both classes had topped 330 mph.
Massey noted that he had to wait several seconds at the starting line for Schumacher to get set. With Massey's 7,000-horsepower engine burning fuel at a rapid clip, the delay made his car lighter and might have contributed to the record speed, Massey said.
Brown had defeated defending Winternationals top-fuel winner Morgan Lucas to reach the final with Massey.
"We wanted that win today, but our teammates were really good," Brown said.
Courtney Force had shared much of the pre-race attention with Alexis DeJoria, another funny car driver who competed in four races last year but is still deemed a rookie.
DeJoria lost in the first round to John Force, but she made the legend work for it, losing by only a few feet after shooting down the drag strip in 4.141 seconds at 310.27 mph.
"We ran a real solid run, he just ran a little bit better," DeJoria said. "I've been watching John Force race for years, and I've really been looking forward to racing against him."
Robert Hight, the 2009 funny car champion and fourth driver on Force's team, was a surprise loser in the first round to Todd Lesenko because Hight had arrived Sunday as the fastest qualifier.
In the pro stock division, four-time champion Greg Anderson won the Winternationals for the fifth time by defeating Jeg Coughlin, another four-time title winner, in the final.