The dragway— a strip of asphalt once considered a man’s turf is turning into a woman’s playground.
On Sunday May 25, Funny Car driver Courtney Force secured the landmark 100th win by a female racer in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) history during the Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. In her second attempt to achieve the coveted milestone during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the 25-year-old outran veteran Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon. The finish landed her a spot in the history books.
Underneath her red lipstick and flashy smile, the bubbly blonde is a born competitor. Topping out at speeds of over 300 mph in four seconds, this dare devil shows no mercy on the track. Not even when going head-to-head against her dad, 16-time world champ John Force.
“Racing him actually gets me fired up even more,” says C. Force. “After the race it’s always a little bittersweet. You pull to the line… you want to get that win for your team, for your sponsors, for your crew chief… you’re not really thinking about dad in the other lane,” she adds when referring to her 4-5 track record against the “Brute Force”.
But her ultimate goal is to make history.
“I’m definitely trying to be that number 100. It would be an honor to have my name written next to it,” she exclaimed confidently before hitting the track at the NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta, GA a few weeks back.
It was at this particular race that all NHRA pro women competitors had the first opportunity to snag the 100th spot. Well known athletes including Force’s older sisters Ashley and Brittany Force, Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens and fellow Funny Car racer Alexis DeJoria all put their game face on to claim the title.
In the end it was C. Force who took home the 100th Wally Trophy for women at the following race in Kansas.
"It’s awesome, there are a lot of females that are out here and we’re not just competing, we’re winning races,” adds C. Force.
FC winner Courtney Force on 100th win by a female driver: “This is for all the girls out there in any type of sport, any motorsport." #NHRA— NHRA (@NHRA) May 25, 2014
The NHRA prides itself on diversity that extends beyond the celebrated success of female drivers. And it does so alongside Mello Yello— the official drag racing series sponsor.
After 18 years away from the track, the smooth citrus beverage brand returned to its racing roots last year. The not so mellow pair joined forces to drive diversity in the sport and fuel fans.
#GoOnYello is the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series slogan. It's a tagline that flows smoothly into the sport, says Top Fuel driver Antron Brown.
"It's how we live our lives every day," he explains. "When we see the yellow light, it’s not a caution or yield light to us. It means go!"
According to the NHRA website, “with more than 20 categories of competition including Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle at the Professional level, to a multicultural array of high-octane personalities it calls world champions, NHRA thrives on unique competitors accomplishing unique achievements.”
Brown is one of them. He became the sport's first African American champion after winning the 2012 Top Fuel NHRA Championship. Brown, who is well-known off the track for his contagious smile, says the partnership does the sport justice.
"When you have a brand that comes in a sport with high energy it’s infectious. Like the tagline, you just go on it," says Brown. "It gives us our drive to do what we do."
Besides brand sponsorship and nitro-burning engines, fans are also an essential component in fueling the success of this high-energy, high-intensity sport. According to the NHRA, there are over 16 million avid fans in the US, and a total fan base of almost 70 million worldwide. Why so many?
“[Races] are truly a unique sensory experience," says Al Rondon, Senior Sports Marketing Manager,
At the races, fans are able to walk right up to each driver's pit area where they can snap pictures and ask for autographs. The all-access experience is also a chance for race goers to see these beastly hot rods up close and personal. Curious on-lookers race towards the earsplitting roar of revving engines and the nostril burning odor of nitro filling the air for the chance to see drivers prepare for the track.
It's a unique driver-fan relationship that drivers enjoy too. Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens says from time to time when signing autographs at her pit,she will see a kid with the same passion she had in her eyes.
"It’s neat to be in the position to show them that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, you work hard and you surround yourself with a good core group of people," she concludes.
Click here to learn more about the sport and the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Race Series. And if you've never been to a drag race before, you may want to add it to your "bucket list". But don't forget your earplugs!