Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – Brittany Force is set to return to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona just three months after winning her first Top Fuel world championship, and the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series star could not be more excited.
Force claimed the world title in Pomona last November, winning the race to put a thrilling conclusion on her magical 2017 season. Now, Force is set to open 2018 in her 10,000-horsepower Monster Energy dragster at this weekend’s annual iconic opener, the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Force, who became the first female Top Fuel world champion since 1982, expects a number of memories from that race to come flooding back when she arrives, hoping to use it as motivation to start her 2018 campaign on a high note.
“I’m excited to get back there and after what we accomplished, I know our energy is going to be there,” said Force, who has seven career wins. “I know our team is going to feel it. The last time we were there, we won the championship, won the race and we got our first Top Fuel championship. That’s only going to push us and motivate us more in Pomona.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 11. It is the first of 24 events during the 2018 NHRA season and the world title is only pushing Force, the daughter of iconic driver John Force, to do more.
She put together an incredible run in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, winning three of the six playoff races and advancing to four finals, to slip past Steve Torrence, who ended 2017 with a class-best eight wins. Getting off to a quick start in 2018 is the goal for Force, who didn’t win her first race last year until the ninth race of the season. But Force has other big goals she hopes to accomplish and she doesn’t mind everyone gunning for her as the reigning champ.
“I’m okay with that because it just pushes you and motivates you,” Force said. “Our plan is we want to win more races and we want to go after a championship again. I would love to double-up with my dad and Courtney. It would be great to share the winner’s circle with my sister. There’s still so many things left to accomplish and try to achieve. That’s just motivation and what pushes me.”
To grab another win in Pomona and her first victory at the Winternationals, Force will be pushed by the likes Torrence, defending event winner Pritchett, three-time world champion Antron Brown, veteran Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican and Terry McMillen, who both won their first career Top Fuel race in 2017, and Tony Schumacher, whose six wins at Pomona are tied for the most in Top Fuel history. But competing against such a talented field is part of the thrill for Force and her team.
“It feels good getting back in the car,” Force said. “It’s a new car and we’re trying to figure this thing to be ready (for Pomona). I’m always going to be learning and for me, I’m going to come out and start our season with a handful of goals in mind. I want to improve as a driver and there’s still things I need to work on. I want to better myself as a driver and always try to do that.”
Hagan will try to get the jump on the loaded Funny Car class for a second straight Winternationals, but it won’t be easy against a talented field that includes reigning world champion Robert Hight, 2016 champ Ron Capps, Courtney Force, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr.
Line won the Winternationals for a fifth time overall in Pro Stock, and the three-time world champion will look for another stellar start in the loaded class against standouts like reigning world champ Bo Butner Greg Anderson and Tanner Gray, who was NHRA’s top rookie in 2017.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills and the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports 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 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 10, at 12:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 11.