“I get that Danica (Patrick) got the pole is a big deal, but it is not like she delivered the baby Jesus.” – John Force in an interview with Michael Knight of the Arizona Republic
The same weekend that Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500 – the first woman to do so in NASCAR’s top division – Force’s youngest daughter Courtney took the No. 1 qualifying spot in the Funny Car division at the NHRA’s season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in California – and won the event as well. While the sporting world was busy talking about Patrick, Force’s accomplishment – and that of Erica Enders-Stevens, who won in Pro Stock at the Arizona Nationals a week later in Phoenix (the day of Patrick’s top 10 finish in the Daytona 500) – received much less recognition in the media.
But then again, women winning in the NHRA is nothing new – they’ve been doing it for decades.
For the NHRA event at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville in Florida in a couple weeks, there are six women on the entry list in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ four pro divisions (as of March 4th): Leah Pruett and Brittany Force in Top Fuel, Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car, Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock and Katie Sullivan in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey are considered pioneers in the NHRA, and have race wins and titles to show for their efforts in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively, with Muldowney’s efforts dating back to 1976. Ashley Force Hood became the first female winner in Funny Car in 2008, while Enders-Stevens became the first woman to win a Pro Stock event just last season.
There are other minority drivers besides Patrick that will be getting attention in NASCAR in 2013: Nationwide Series driver Kyle Larson, of Japanese-American descent, is the most successful driver to come out of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program after winning the K&N Pro Series title in 2012, and another D4D graduate, Darrell Wallace Jr., will compete full-time in the Camping World Truck Series this season, only the fourth African-American driver to race full-time in one of NASCAR’s top tier national divisions. NASCAR counts among its international drivers Columbian Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose of Tasmania.
In the NHRA, Cruz and Tony Pedregon have enjoyed much success in the Funny Car division, Antron Brown became the first African-American to win a major auto racing title in North America after taking last year’s Top Fuel title, and Khallid alBalooshi of Dubai won his first Top Fuel event in 2012 for Al-Anabi Racing – these are only a few of the recent minority and international success stories in drag racing’s top league.
The diverse NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series gets back on track March 14th through 17th at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville, home of the historic NHRA Gatornationals. Stay up to speed with the NHRA at www.nhra.com.
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