It's been a challenging, rewarding and revealing year for America's first family of drag racing, the Forces of Yorba Linda.
John Force, the 64-year-old patriarch, was in fifth place in the Mello Yello Series funny-car standings in July before a switch to a new chassis on his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang vaulted him toward his 16th title, which he clinched in Las Vegas two weeks ago. He followed that up Friday by leading the funny-car qualifying at this weekend's season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
His 27-year-old daughter, Brittany Force is concluding her rookie season in the top-fuel class, where she ranked fourth after Friday's second qualifying round with a 3.787-second pass on the 1,000-foot course in 323.19 mph.
His 25-year-old daughter, Courtney Force, graced the cover of ESPN the Magazine's body issue in July. The photo of the driver sitting nude atop a racing tire in the desert led to marriage proposals from several fans along the NHRA circuit.
"It's a great sport, but we need more exposure to build it," said John Force, who led with a 4.015-second pass at 318.62 mph Friday. "You look at Indy and NASCAR, we're all struggling in this economy. People have so many things to choose from. I need this sport for the future of my family."
Force took a hit in August when two of his biggest sponsors, Castrol and Ford, announced they were leaving after the 2014 season. Force will spend much of the winter seeking new sponsorship deals.
"Ford and Castrol have been good to me — you never know, they might change their minds after I bounced back and won the championship," Force said. "But budgets are tough right now. They paid me a lot of money, so I have a lot of work to do."
A desire to bring more attention to the sport led to Courtney Force's cover shot this summer. ESPN had asked her to be in its body issue in 2012, but Courtney, a rookie at the time, declined because she wanted to establish herself as a driver first.
"It was definitely a big step for me," said Courtney, who has won two NHRA events this season. "I thought it was a way to tap into a whole different fan base. That's a major sports magazine — they cover the NFL, soccer, everything — and it's hard to get that kind of coverage every day."
Shawn Langdon and Antron Brown remained one-two in top-fuel qualifying Friday. Langdon, a Mira Loma native who is closing in on his first points title, covered 1,000 feet in 3.750 seconds at 327.03 mph, and Brown was timed in 3.775 seconds at 322.42 mph. … Courtney Force dropped to 10th in funny-car qualifying when a malfunction caused her engine to blow up at the starting line on Friday. She was not hurt.
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