KENT – It appears all temperamental Pacific Raceways needed on a hot weekend like this was a feminine touch.
Woman power rang loud and true Sunday at the 25th NHRA Northwest Nationals. For the first time on the professional drag-racing circuit, two female drivers – Funny Car’s Courtney Force and Pro Stock’s Erica Enders – won during the same event.
Throw in Texas driver Steve Torrence’s triumph over Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, and never before have all three top champions hailed from the 20-something crowd.
Yes, times are changing. Just ask 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, Courtney’s dad, who clearly sees the shift in the speed-thirsty sport.
“It has always been a man’s sport,” John Force said, “but, boy, the rules are changing.”
Courtney Force, a 24-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif., ran through her legendary father in the semifinals before upending reigning Funny Car series champion Matt Hagan in the final for her first NHRA professional win – in 4.238 seconds over Hagan’s 4.328.
Enders, a 28-year-old from New Orleans, went through a murder’s row of Pro Stock champions to earn her second career victory. She defeated four-time circuit winner Greg Anderson in the quarterfinals. Then she ruined 2012 points leader Allen Johnson’s bid for a “western swing” sweep in the semifinals.
And in the final pairing, she took apart defending event and 2011 points winner Jason Line, 6.614 to 6.631.
At the finish line, an ecstatic Enders stayed down near tow row to see how Force fared. The two had a chance to win in Chicago last month. Enders won; Force lost to Ron Capps.
“To share the stage with her (now), I was very honored,” Enders said. “I am very proud of her.”
If a big chunk of drag racing’s future depends on these two young women – they’ve shown themselves to be successful by doing things differently.
Force is almost a carbon copy of her father. She is animated. She is gritty. And she has never used any sort of indoor voice for an interview.
But after last week, John Force met with his drivers and crew members, including Courtney, and implored them to be more focused at the task at hand as the regular season winds down.
In fact, he laid down one big rule – a 10 p.m. curfew.
“I didn’t have a problem to abide by it – I am with my dad from the beginning of the day until the end of the day,” Courtney Force said. “I grew up telling him, ‘I am going to race. I am going to race just like you.’ And I don’t think he really believed it. Hopefully now I have convinced him.”
And she convinced him of another thing right after the win Sunday.
“I said, ‘Curfew is off tonight to celebrate, right?’ ” she said.
Enders is the consummate all-business performer. Rarely does she talk out of line. In fact, after she got into a postrace spat with Anderson last week over the way she celebrated her first win a few weeks back, it bothered her.
“I don’t mind the target on my back,” Enders said, “but I do mind the drama.”
When she debute in 2005, much was expected of Enders. And in her first six seasons, she reached two finals. By 2008, she was racing a part-time schedule in the NHRA.
Maybe that is why she is so humble now, and earnestly listens to whatever advice is given to her – even if she does not outwardly react to it.
“If you ask my dad (Greg), he’ll tell me all the time if we are fixing to go to the finals, he is like, ‘Act excited.’ And I’m like, ‘Daddy, I am excited,’
“That is just me. I am straight-faced all the time. Believe me, on the inside, I am going crazy.”
As for Torrence – part of that rare, successful single-car Top Fuel team, which has already won three times this season – he certainly enjoyed his postrace company on the podium.
“I saw Erica win, and then Courtney and I said I definitely want to be the guy who stands between them,” Torrence said.
Add Megan Ellingson’s victory in Super Street, and Sunday marked the first time three women won at the same event in the pro or sportsman ranks. Ellingson is from Seattle. Top Fuel’s Antron Brown was bidding to become the first NHRA driver to win the western swing twice, but he lost to Langdon in the quarterfinals when he smoked his tires. None of the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel dragsters (Brown, Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey) made the semifinals for the first time in 42 races. The city of Puyallup had a pair of sportsman runners-up – Brandon Huhtala (Competition Eliminator) and Jody Lang (Super Stock). Californian Chris Demke, whom Courtney Force defeated for her first national event win in 2009, won perhaps the slowest alcohol dragster finals in NHRA history – in 11.370 seconds, going 46.05 mph. Both drivers smoked their tires and coasted to the finish email@example.com