Brittany Force jumped on the back of the motorcycle Friday, and dad John drove her to the track, driving up the side to break down the layout.
John Force is a Funny Car legend, a 15-time NHRA series champion, and Brittany is a rookie in Top Fuel, and in many ways still his little girl.
He holds her hand as she sits in her car before each race and prays before Brittany or sister Courtney, who competes in Funny Car, speed down the track.
“People look at me and say, ‘I never knew you were religious, the way you fight and scream and cuss,’” John said. “I’m very religious. I just keep it to myself. I’ve told (my daughters), ‘You know you could lose your life. That’s why you’ve got to do everything we tell you.’ That’s why I’ll be on that starting line holding Brittany’s hand.”
Force is the first name in NHRA, which returned to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with qualifying Friday for the SummitRacing.com Nationals.
Ashley Force Hood, 30, last competed in 2010 and finished as high as second in Funny Car in 2009, but is on a break as her family continues to expand.
Brittany Force, 26, is tied for 15th in Top Fuel through the first three races and was eighth in qualifying for this race Friday with a time of 3.855 seconds.
Courtney Force, 24, is in her second season in Funny Car. She finished fifth last season and was named rookie of the year. She is third this season and was second in qualifying Friday with a run of 4.068 seconds.
John Force’s son-in-law, married to another daughter, Adria, is Robert Hight, the 2009 Funny Car champion. He is the defending Las Vegas spring champ and is first in qualifying after finishing in 4.053 seconds.
But John never dreamed his daughters would follow him into the sport. They discovered their love on their own, with Courtney drawing pictures of racecars while in elementary school.
She even drew one of racing her dad, an image that became reality at Phoenix last year when they lined up next to each other twice in qualifying and then in eliminations, which Courtney won.
“I remember it being such a surreal moment,” Courtney said. “Every time I get to race him, that same feeling comes up.”
The Force sisters spent their summers going from track to track following their dad’s career.
He didn’t take them seriously when they first mentioned wanting to follow him into the family business.
“Dad always thought it was about all the guys out here,” Courtney said. “So we were like, ‘No, we want to race the cars.’ Finally, I think we started to prove to him that this is really what we wanted to do and that we did have a passion for it like he did.”
Courtney developed that passion first. Brittany wanted to have a backup plan, taking a year off to get her teaching certificate.
Plan B, though, became Plan A, and Brittany is all-in for racing.
“Things can always change down the road, and I’m happy I have that to fall back on,” Brittany said. “But I’m happy with where I’m at and where I’m going.”
John Force has sacrificed a little of his career to make sure his daughters get started in theirs. He won the championship in 2010 but finished ninth each of the past two seasons.
Now he’s ready to start winning again, and is 12th in qualifying at 4.203 seconds, but his heart remains with his daughters.
John remembers when one of his drivers, Eric Medlen, died in 2007 while testing in Gainesville, Fla., and fears every time a Force gets ready to blast down a track. But he knows this is the career they chose.
“You don’t want to lose a kid,” John said. “All that I accomplished would have no meaning — trophies, championships — if I pushed a kid. If they didn’t love it, I’d see it in their eyes. They love it.”
John gets emotional when his daughters race, regularly going under the stands and tearing up.
But he also knows the sport’s business and competitive side, and understands at times that means stepping aside from the emotion.
“They’re my children, and I respect them as my children, but as a boss, they have a job to do,” John said. “They’re going to have to earn that right to win.”
■ TOP QUALIFIERS — The other top qualifiers from Friday were Antron Brown in Top Fuel (3.780 seconds) and Mike Edwards in Pro Stock (6.651 seconds).
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.