Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – JOLIET, IL – A crash like the one Brittany Force experienced to open the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is not an experience she wants to go through again. But the ability to overcome some sizeable adversity the way the defending Top Fuel world champion and her team did also told Force a great deal about what her team is capable of this season.
After the crash in Pomona, Force was back behind the wheel of her 10,000-horsepower Monster Energy dragster at the next race, bouncing back in impressive fashion. She won her first race of the year just three races later and now looks to keep that momentum rolling heading into this weekend’s 21st annual JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
“It’s not something you ever want to do again, but (the crash) really brought our team together,” said Force, who is seventh in Top Fuel points. “They built a brand new car in a few weeks and we won in Houston. I definitely believe it made me a better driver, mentally overcoming that wreck. It was a big mental game to put that behind you and I think it proved my strength. Watching my team having my back, that was the biggest through all of it. It shows if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish anything. The wreck was awful, but something good came out of it.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the ninth of 24 races during an already tumultuous 2018 season, but Force and her team, led by crew chiefs Brian Husen and Ronnie Thompson, and consultant Alan Johnson, have shown tremendous resolve.
She qualified third in Las Vegas in just her third race back and won an event later in Houston, qualifying second there. Force has added her first No. 1 qualifier of the year since then, and remains focused on an important four-race stretch that starts at Route 66 Raceway. Even with the crash, Force remains ahead of last year’s championship pace, as her first win in 2017 didn’t come until early June. With a chance to make a big move in Chicago, Force is looking forward to seeing what her team can accomplish over the next four weekends.
“We’ve got a good chance to get some work done,” said Force, who has eight career Top Fuel wins. “Having four in a row, it’s good for the whole team. It keeps us moving forward and in a routine. What I’ve learned from last year, you want to be in the top half and feel your most comfortable going into the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship). The races now, you want to bring home wins, keep moving up in points and get everything prepared for the Countdown.”
Cracking the top five in Top Fuel will be difficult, as everyone, including Force, tries to track down defending event winner Steve Torrence, who has three wins and the points lead. Others to watch include Topeka winner Clay Millican, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, Atlanta winner Leah Pritchett, Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown and Terry McMillen. But Force likes the way her team has come together in recent races and always enjoys her time at Route 66 Raceway.
“I’ve got a lot of good memories there,” Force said. “It used to fall on my birthday and you always want to win on your birthday. The fans are incredible there and it’s just an awesome place. It has that big stadium feel and the facility is different than any other track. It’s a unique place and when you see it all and pull up there, it really pumps you up.”
Defending Funny Car event winner Ron Capps is after his first win of 2018 against class stars like points leader Courtney Force, Jack Beckman and defending world champion Robert Hight.
Drew Skillman hopes Chicago is again the place for his first Pro Stock win of the year. He’ll have to get past the likes of points leader Vincent Nobile and defending world champ Bo Butner to get it.
LE Tonglet is the defending event winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle, hoping for a fourth win at the facility against standouts Eddie Krawiec, who has two wins in 2018, and teammate Jerry Savoie.
The JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals also features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including the popular JEGS Allstars bonus event that pits the best NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racers from across the country in individual and team competition. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Pro Jet Motorsports Al Z’s Hot Blade and Team Heat Fifty Caliber jet dragsters. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals include Don Garlits and more.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, June 1 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 2, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 3.