Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BRISTOL, TN – The victories continue to pile up for Courtney Force during an impressive 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and another one at this weekend’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway would provide a noteworthy first for the surging Funny Car star.
With her win over her legendary father, John Force, last weekend in Virginia, Force now has four victories in 2018 and strengthened her points lead in the loaded class in her 10,000-horsepower Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS. But what she doesn’t have in her standout career is a victory in Thunder Valley, something she hopes to change as Force pushes forward in 2018.
“This is just the beginning of the season and we just have to maintain our focus,” Force said. “So much credit goes to my team and the job that they have done. They have done incredible. I am trying to keep up with them and perform well as a driver. It’s been a great start and we are in the points lead right now and we stretched it a little more with the win in Richmond. Our focus is getting to Indy and having a cushion and locking into the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship). That is when we are really going to need this momentum. Right now, it is amazing and feels great but we really have to keep it all season long if we want to end up on top at the end of the season.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 17. It is the 11th of 24 events in 2018 and comes as the second in a rigorous stretch of four straight race weekends. But that type of workload is welcoming for Force, who has been spectacular from the start of the season.
Adding Brian Corradi to a crew chief mix that also includes Danny Hood, Force has six No. 1 qualifiers to go with her four victories. It’s the best start Force, the winningest female in Funny Car history, has enjoyed in her career, and she has marveled about the way it has all come together. Force continues to improve as a driver and she has been strong on the starting line, while the team has meshed nearly flawlessly through the first 10 races in 2018.
“It was a great job by my Advance Auto Parts team,” Force said of her fourth win. “It was exciting to be in an all Force final and to see that PEAK team do so well. They have a good thing going over there. They had me nervous when I rolled up for the final round, and we had a great side-by-side race. But Brian Corradi and Danny Hood have just done a great job with this team and race car.”
Force will look to keep that going against the likes of Jack Beckman, defending world champ and John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight, Capps, Pomona winner Matt Hagan, and J.R. Todd, who has two wins in 2018. But grabbing that first Bristol win would be meaningful, especially if she can match up in the final round with her father on Father’s Day. John Force has four career wins in Thunder Valley, but Courtney was impressive from start to finish against him last weekend.
“My dad has his routine and I have grown up watching that routine,” said Force, who has 12 career wins. “I prepared myself that it was going to be a long tree and I just tried to play his game and not let it screw with me. He still made me wait but that is okay because we had a car for him.”
Clay Millican grabbed his first career NHRA Top Fuel win at Bristol a year ago, and now hopes for a third win in 2018. He’ll try to keep pace with points leader Steve Torrence, who has four wins this year. Other stars include Leah Pritchett, defending world champ Brittany Force, and Doug Kalitta.
Alex Laughlin won in Pro Stock last year and will try to become the ninth different winner in 2018. Points leader Greg Anderson is also looking for his first win, hoping to join a list that includes Jeg Coughlin, Bo Butner, Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Tanner Gray, Chris McGaha and Deric Kramer.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the sixth of 12 stops during its 2018 season in Bristol. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest 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 Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals include Shirley Muldowney, Roy Johnson and Allen Johnson.
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 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 15 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 16, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 17.