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NHRA Top Fuel champ Brittany Force leaves Las Vegas in rearview mirror

It all happened so fast.

Two weeks before she would become the second woman to win drag racing’s Top Fuel championship and render her old man speechless, a feat even more unimaginable, Brittany Force sat on the starting line in Las Vegas with 10,000 ponies rumbling in her engine and destiny in her hand.

The lights on the Christmas tree counted down to blast off.

Red light!

In her haste to zip down the track and pull even with Steve Torrence atop the points, she punched the gas a split second too soon.

She was disqualified.

Brittany Force no longer held destiny in her hand.

It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Adversity overcome

She apologized to her crew, to her sponsors, to her fans. She didn’t have to apologize to her old man. John Force has been around long enough to know these things happen in drag racing. John Force, 16 NHRA Funny Car titles to his name (so far), has been around long enough to see everything that can be seen in drag racing.

With the exception of witnessing one of his racing daughters win a nitro division championship.

When Steve Torrence lost in the quarterfinals in the season final in California Sunday, and Brittany Force won her second-round matchup, she became the first woman to win the Top Fuel championship in 35 years. Since Shirley Muldowney did it in 1982, racing with a heart like a wheel.

The unflappable John Force dropped to his knees and wept. When a TV reporter approached, he was the one who red-lighted, deferring to Brittany’s mom, Laurie.

On Wednesday, Brittany Force slowed down just long enough to chat about making history and making her dad cry. Speaking on a conference call, she mentioned what happened at the Strip before you could punch *1 to ask about it.

“The hardest was coming out of Las Vegas,” she said.

“I thought I let everything slip through my fingers right there. Vegas, that was a tough one. When I left Las Vegas, I had to put that red light behind me. I couldn’t carry that into Pomona where we were sitting, No. 2 in points.”

It wasn’t easy. Despite setting fast time in qualifying, there were more rumblings at the starting line as final eliminations began.

This time it wasn’t the ponies in the engine compartment. It was Brittany Force getting sick to her stomach.

Leaving Las Vegas

“I tried to get rid of everything that happened in Vegas. If that were to happen (again), I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it,” said the 31-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate, who, like all the Forces, is engaging, and once thought she would be a school teacher.

Instead, she won the Top Fuel championship in her fifth year as a full-time driver. For a reference point, this was also Danica Patrick’s fifth full year in NASCAR. Both drive for championship-caliber teams. Patrick’s best finish in the NASCAR championship has been 24th. Apples and oranges? Perhaps.

Force said she hasn’t considered the historical significance of overcoming her anxious moment in Las Vegas by winning the championship, and then the race, in Pomona. She hasn’t even watched the TV show yet.

“To bring home a championship is something I never imagined,” she said. “It seemed too big an accomplishment to ever reach.”

Before she and her team got hotter than an exhaust pipe during the Countdown to the Championship — three of her four 2017 wins came during the six-race playoffs — many thought it probably would be sister Courtney, who drives a Funny Car, who would be first to try on the traditional championship jacket for size. (To those watching at home, it seemed a couple of sizes too large.)

Including Google.

On Sunday, the box that pops up when ones does an online search listed “auto racer” in the little gray letters under Courtney Force’s name. Under Brittany’s, it said “Courtney Force’s sister.”

Brittany Force’s Google box has since been updated. It now says she’s an auto racer, too.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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