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Courtney Force lands historical 100th female victory for professional racers

Courtney Force lands the historical 100th win by a female driver in the NHRA professional categories after a close race by 4 other ladies vying for the coveted spot in the history books.
Courtney Force lands the historical 100th win by a female driver in the NHRA professional categories after a close race by 4 other ladies vying for the coveted spot in the history books.
John Force Racing/ Gary Nastase Photography

Courtney Force raced into the history books Sunday, May 24 2014 at the 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka winning the Funny Car title and securing the 100th victory for female professionals in the premiere NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. It was Force’s second attempt at earning this important win. Last week Force fell to teammate Robert Hight in the Southern Nationals final round in Atlanta. Today against Cruz Pedregon the third year driver was not going let this opportunity slip through her fingers again.

“This is huge. You could see the emotion on my face after I lost last weekend. It is a big deal and it is a milestone for women. Every girl out here wanted to get it. It was close every girl put her heart out there to try and get it. I was crushed after last weekend because I thought to myself that opportunity will never come again and that chance to get 100 will be gone forever,” said an excited Force. “I am still trying to soak it in right now. I have to thank my team and all my sponsors. Once my dad and Robert went out today you could see all those colors coming over to our pit area and thrashing on my car. I want to thank all them and all the crew chiefs. They gave me a good consistent race car all weekend and that is what we were missing from the start of the season.”

The win was not without some self-inflicted drama. Force admitted that nerves and pressure were at an all-time high as she rolled her Traxxas Ford Mustang up to face the two-time Mello Yello Funny Car champion. As she tried to give herself every starting line advantage she inadvertently lit the pre-stage and stage bulbs before Cruz had a chance to pre-stage. This racing faux pas weighed heavily on Force both before and after she ran.

“I almost screwed up on the starting line. I almost failed at my job. I was so nervous and the pressure was through the roof. I was pulling up to the starting line and all I was thinking was Cruz got a hole shot on Robert (Hight). I didn’t want to lose on a hole shot, too,” said Force. “There was a lot on the line. I wanted to roll in a little deep on my pre-stage. I screwed up and rolled it too much and lit both bulbs before he was even staged. Luckily, I left when I needed to. I apologized to Cruz and I sure as heck wasn’t trying to screw him up. I screwed myself up. Luckily we got away with it today.”

This was Courtney Force's first win in three final round meetings with Cruz Pedregon to whom she lost in the final at the last race of 2012 at Pomona and the first 2013 race at Las Vegas. It's the second time she has gone wire-to-wire for a win as the No. 1 qualifier. She also won from No. 1 at Pomona in 2013. This was the first time in her career that she reached back-to-back finals. It was the 231st Funny Car win for John Force Racing and continued a streak of 15 consecutive final rounds for the team and now four wins in a row.

“Last week I was in seventh place in the points and now I have shot up to fifth with a shot at the top three. Everybody is close together. All I am trying to do is create the Grand Canyon gap between me and the No. 11 driver. That is all I really care about,” said Force. “We are inching forward every weekend. Two go to back to back finals for my team is huge. I think this is a big weekend for women all together. Brittany and I were No. 1 qualifiers Erica Enders Stevens was so close today in Pro Stock. It just shows that we can dominate fields.”

The fact that she had come so close to getting the 100th win last week Force was asked in the media center if that loss entered her head before the final. The 2012 Auto Club NHRA Rookie of the Year was candid in her response to the media.

“I was thinking about it. That was all that was running through my head. I was thinking about going to another final and thinking about what happened last weekend. That sucked and you don’t want that to happen again. I was telling myself to not lose my focus,” added Force. “Don’t think about the 100th win. So now I was already thinking about it. You try and not screw up. You try and clear your mind. You look at the fans and think I am in the greatest place on earth. I get to be at an NHRA track and I get to drive one of these hot rods and there are little girls coming up to my ropes to wish me luck.

Fourteen women have contributed to the victory total. Four in Funny Car, one in Pro Stock, three in Pro Stock Bike and six in Top Fuel. Shirley Muldowney secured the first pro win June 13, 1976 so it spans 38 years. There have been four wins by women this year prior to Courtney; two each for Erica Enders Stevens (Pro Stock) and Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car). Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Angelle Sampey, also a three-time world champion, has earned the most victories among the 14 women, claiming 41 Wally trophies during her distinguished career.

Force was the No. 1 qualifier, set low ET and Top Speed on the way to her fourth career win which ties her with sister Ashley Force Hood. The Traxxas Ford Mustang driver defeated Dale Creasy Jr., Jeff Arend and Tommy Johnson Jr. to reach her final round race with Pedregon.

At each NHRA national event when a JFR team qualifies No. 1 a lucky fan that has signed up at the JFR “Win with Force” display located in Nitro Alley will be eligible to win the BrandSource No. 1 Qualifier Award, a front loading washer and dryer set. If a JFR driver wins the event a different fan will win the 55” flat screen TV Winner’s Circle Award from BrandSource. At the end of the season a grand prize winner of the “Win with Force” Sweepstakes will be awarded a 2014 Ford Escape S-Series.

For the fifth time in 2014 JFR has raced to the Winner’s Circle. With this win, Courtney Force also put a 55” flat screen TV in the hands of Rolanda Fuemmeler, of St. Joseph, Missouri, compliments of BrandSource and the “Win with Force” promotion. This was the sixth TV given away in the first eight races of the season for JFR.

NHRA Mello Yello Series victories by female drivers: (from NHRA.com)

1. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 13, 1976, Columbus, Ohio
2. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 10, 1976, Ontario, Calif.
3. Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 12, 1977, Columbus, Ohio
4. Muldowney, Top Fuel, July 16, 1977, Englishtown, N.J.
5. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Aug. 7, 1977, Montreal
6. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Feb. 3, 1980, Pomona, Calif.
7. Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 8, 1980, Columbus, Ohio
8. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Sept. 21, 1980, Seattle
9. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 19, 1980, Ontario, Calif.
10. Muldowney, Top Fuel, March 15, 1981, Gainesville, Fla.
11. Muldowney, Top Fuel, April 26, 1981, Atlanta
12. Muldowney, Top Fuel, March 14, 1982, Gainesville, Fla.
13. Lucille Lee, Top Fuel, April 25, 1982, Atlanta
14. Muldowney, Top Fuel, June 13, 1982, Columbus, Ohio
15. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Aug. 22, 1982, Brainerd, Minn.
16. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Sept. 6, 1982, Indianapolis
17. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Feb. 13, 1983, Pomona, Calif.
18. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 16, 1983, Irvine, Calif.
19. Muldowney, Top Fuel, Oct. 15, 1989, Phoenix
20. Lori Johns, Top Fuel, Feb. 4, 1990, Pomona, Calif.
21. Johns, Top Fuel, April 22, 1990, Atlanta
22. Johns, Top Fuel, May 6, 1990, Memphis
23. Johns, Top Fuel, May 5, 1991, Memphis
24. Shelly Anderson, Top Fuel, Sept. 19, 1993, Reading, Pa.
25. Anderson, Top Fuel, Feb. 6, 1994, Pomona, Calif.
26. Anderson, Top Fuel, May 5, 1996, Richmond, Va.
27. Anderson, Top Fuel, Aug. 4, 1996, Seattle
28. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 15, 1996, Reading, Pa.
29. Cristen Powell, Top Fuel, May 18, 1997, Englishtown, N.J.
30. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 28, 1997, Topeka, Kan.
31. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 17, 1998, Englishtown, N.J.
32. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 20, 1998, Reading, Pa.
33. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 11, 1998, Memphis
34. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 21, 1999, Gainesville, Fla.
35. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 16, 1999, Atlanta
36. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 25, 1999, Englishtown, N.J.
37. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 27, 1999, St. Louis
38. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 10, 1999, Memphis
39. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 9, 2000, Las Vegas
40. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 7, 2000, Atlanta
41. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 18, 2000, Columbus, Ohio
42. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 16, 2000, Denver
43. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 9, 2000, Englishtown, N.J.
44. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 25, 2001, Houston
45. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 17, 2001, Columbus, Ohio
46. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 8, 2001, Pomona, Calif.
47. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 22, 2001, Denver
48. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 3, 2001, Indianapolis
49. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 7, 2001, Reading, Pa.
50. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Nov. 11, 2001, Pomona, Calif.
51. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 5, 2002, Atlanta
52. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 2, 2002, Chicago
53. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 30, 2002, St. Louis
54. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 2, 2002, Indianapolis
55. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 16, 2002, Reading, Pa.
56. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 27, 2002, Las Vegas
57. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 16, 2003, Gainesville, Fla.
58. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 13, 2003, Houston
59. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 1, 2003, Chicago
60. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 18, 2004, Houston
61. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 16, 2004, Atlanta
62. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Aug. 1, 2004, Sonoma, Calif.
63. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 10, 2004, Reading, Pa.
64. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Nov. 14, 2004, Pomona, Calif.
65. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 10, 2005, Houston
66. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, June 26, 2005, St. Louis
67. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 18, 2005, Reading, Pa.
68. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel, Feb. 12, 2006, Pomona, Calif.
69. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 19, 2006, Gainesville, Fla.
70. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 2, 2006, Houston
71. Troxel, Top Fuel, April 9, 2006, Las Vegas
72. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, May 21, 2006, Columbus, Ohio
73. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Oct. 1, 2006, Richmond, Va.
74. Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, March 18, 2007, Gainesville, Fla.
75. Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 1, 2007, Houston
76. Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, April 29, 2007, Atlanta
77. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel, May 6, 2007, St. Louis
78. Troxel, Top Fuel, Sept. 16, 2007, Memphis
79. Peggy Llewellyn, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sept. 23, 2007, Dallas
80. Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car, April 27, 2008, Atlanta
81. Troxel, Funny Car, May 18, 2008, Bristol, Tenn.
82. Hillary Will, Top Fuel, June 1, 2008, Topeka, Kan.
83. Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car, March 29, 2009, Houston
84. Force Hood, Funny Car, Sept. 7, 2009, Indianapolis
85. Force Hood, Funny Car, Sept. 6, 2010, Indianapolis
86. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle, July 24, 2011, Denver
87. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, July 1, 2012, Chicago
88. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Aug. 5, 2012, Seattle
89. Courtney Force, Funny Car, Aug. 5, 2012, Seattle
90. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Aug. 19, 2012, Brainerd, Minn.
91. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Sept. 30, 2012, St. Louis
92. Force, Funny Car, Feb. 17, 2013, Pomona, Calif.
93. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Feb. 24, 2013, Phoenix
94. Force, Funny Car, June 23, 2013, Epping, N.H.
95. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, Sept. 29, 2013, St. Louis
96. Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car, Feb. 23, 2014, Phoenix
97. DeJoria, Funny Car, March 30, 2014, Las Vegas
98. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, March 30, 2014, Las Vegas
99. Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock, April 27, 2014, Las Vegas
100. Courtney Force, Funny Car, May 25, 2014, Topeka

Women in NHRA Drag Racing, a brief history:
The following women (listed in alphabetical order by category) have competed in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel (18): Vivica Averstedt, Dannielle DePorter, Vicky Fanning, Gina Ferraro, Brittany Force, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Lori Johns, Kim LaHaie, Lucille Lee, Shirley Muldowney, Shelly Payne (Anderson), Cristen Powell, Leah Pritchett, Sue Ransom, Joanne Reynolds, Rachelle Splatt,
Melanie Troxel, Hillary Will

Funny Car (14): Alexis DeJoria, Vicky Fanning, Courtney Force, Ashley Force Hood, Rodalyn Knox, Paula Martin, Shirley Muldowney, Paula Murphy, Cristen Powell, Leah Pritchett, Susie Spencer, Melanie Troxel, Della Woods, Carol Yenter

Pro Stock (6): Erica Enders-Stevens, Grace Howell, Judy Lilly, Lucinda McFarlin, Shay Nicols, Shirley Shahan

Pro Stock Motorcycle (16): Dawn Matthews Baugues, Connie Cohen, Vicki Farr, Lori Francis, Linda Jackson, Anne Hansen, Elvira Karlsson, Peggy Lewellyn, Dawn Minturn, Stephanie Reaves, Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith (McBride), Karen Stoffer, Katie Sullivan, Valerie Thompson, Holly Wallace

Female leaders in victories:
1. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle 41 (first at Reading 1996, last at Houston 2007)
2. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel 18 (first at Columbus 1976, last at Phoenix 1989)
3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock 8 (first at Chicago 2012, last at Houston 2014)
4. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle 6 (first at Houston 2004, last at Denver 2011)
5. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel-Funny Car 5 (first at Pomona 1 2006, TF, last at Bristol 2008, FC)
6. Shelly Payne, Top Fuel 4 (first at Reading 1993, last at Seattle 1996)
Lori Johns, Top Fuel 4 (first at Pomona 1 1990, last at Memphis 1991)
Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car 4 (first at Atlanta 2008, last at Indianapolis 2010)
Courtney Force, Funny Car 4 (first at Seattle 2012, last at Topeka 2014)
10. Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car 2 (first at Phoenix 2014, last at Las Vegas 1 2014)
11. Lucille Lee, Top Fuel 1 (Atlanta 1982)
Cristen Powell, Top Fuel 1 (Englishtown 1997)
Peggy Llewellyn, Pro Stock Motorcycle 1 (Dallas 2007)
Hillary Will, Top Fuel 1 (Topeka 2008)

Female pro series world champions:
Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel -- 3 (1977, 1980, 1982)
Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)