Sponsor dollars keep Force sisters on move

Two sisters got together in Las Vegas for lunch the other day. Happens all the time, right? Except these siblings didn’t meet at Olive Garden for soup, salad and unlimited breadsticks.

These sisters were named Force — Brittany and Courtney. Both are blonde, though Brittany has auburn highlights. They look like models — the fastest models on the planet, unless Barry Allen, aka The Flash, has a new gig with GQ magazine.

Brittany Force drives a Top Fuel dragster. Courtney Force drives a Funny Car. Both drive for their old man, the gregarious John Force, the 16-time Funny Car champion and an 18-time champion car owner on the circuit.

John Force is sort of famous even outside of drag racing, and his stylish racing daughters are getting that way, too. Force’s first racing offspring, Ashley, has married and retired to start a family.

The drag racing playoffs began this weekend at the Carolina Nationals, and that explains why the Force sisters were having lunch at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway dragstrip Wednesday.

The Toyota Nationals, set for Oct. 29 through Nov. 1 at LVMS, are the next-to-last Nationals of the season, the fifth of six so-called playoff races. The NHRA sends drivers to the various tracks to spur ticket sales for these playoff races, and to perhaps explain them — until recently, playoffs were a concept foreign to drag racing, NASCAR and golf, and also to fans of the Kansas City Royals.

So the NHRA sent Brittany Force, fifth in Top Fuel points and solidly in the 10-driver playoffs, to Las Vegas. Courtney, 11th in Funny Car points and thus not eligible for the championship, basically just came along to hang out with her older sister.

The Force girls wore big sunglasses, jeans and polo shirts with sponsor patches. (More on that to follow.) Brittany tucked her pant legs inside of stylish leather boots. The speedway people took them up to the suites, for a meet-and-greet with local drag racing fans; anybody could come and hang out with the Force sisters and have a free lunch, which was pretty cool, except the wind blew like crazy.

The local drag racing fans must have been asking pertinent questions, as the Force sisters genuinely seemed to be having a good time. They’re like their dad that way.

Brittany talked about almost crashing her Top Fuel dragster once, though she couldn’t remember if it was in Minnesota or Indianapolis. Courtney talked about her impending wedding to IndyCar star Graham Rahal; it’s literally a race to the altar now.

Somebody asked about sponsorship.

After the 2014 season, John Force Racing lost primary backers Castrol and Ford after 29 and 17 years, respectively. John Force losing Castrol was like the St. Louis Cardinals losing Budweiser; between them, Castrol and Ford accounted for more than half of Force’s operating budget.

“I thought I’d have people falling out of the sky wanting to sponsor me,” Brittany and Courtney’s old man told the Arizona Republic in February.

When no checks fell from the sky, Force used personal assets to keep the candles lit, as he used to say in those TV commercials. He trimmed expenses from $8 million to $5.5 million, and he still couldn’t attract new sponsors during the offseason.

So what does it say about the health and future of a sport when its most iconic and marketable personality has to trim expenses and can’t find sponsors?

“I don’t think it’s that,” Courtney Force said. “Because of the economy, (CEOs) just don’t want to hand you a bundle of money to run the cars.”

John Force has since lured smaller sponsors to replace Castrol and Ford, which has helped.

“We’re just trying to get our cars back to where they were on a tighter amount of money,” Courtney said. “We’re (still) looking for new sponsors to bring on board, and that’s why Monster (Energy drink) was so huge, being able to bring them. That was a huge deal for dad, and for all of our teams.

“You look at the fact that dad goes out there, loses his sponsors, and he’s going out trying to find money — and it wasn’t as easy as we thought. But Peak came on board, Lucas Oil, Chevy came on board, and we kind of pieced it all back together. And then Monster came on board as well.”

Remember when motor oil was the lifeblood of a 10,000-rpm drag racing engine? Now it’s sponsorship dollars.

Earlier this season, Brittany Force, 29, said she wasn’t running well, wasn’t getting results. Then Monster came on board. Then she started running well, and getting results. Now she’s solidly in the drag racing playoffs.

And that’s why she was wearing a Monster Energy crew shirt at lunch Wednesday, and her 27-year-old sister was wearing a Traxxas shirt. Traxxas is a company that makes radio control cars. Courtney said Traxxas came on board after watching her make a testing run at LVMS in 2011 after the sun had set and it was starting to get dark.

That was before her rookie Funny Car season. It was a lot of pressure for a young driver, but she kept the candles lit. Traxxas president Mike Jenkins wrote the check.

It did not fall from the sky.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him: @ronkantowski

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