In continuation of our special feature series, First Seasons, Speedway Media caught up with veteran Top Fuel drag racing star and 2017 Top Fuel Champion, Brittany Force. During this interview, Force discusses her rookie season in 2013, her first professional start at Pomona, first runner-up finish and first race win, as well as other memorable moments throughout her career.
SM: After spending a few years in the Alcohol dragster, you entered the Top Fuel ranks professionally at the age of 27-years-old. What was it like making your debut and why was it the right time for you to start racing professionally?
BF: “For me, I had already done six-years in the Sportsmans Division,” Force said. “I raced Super Comp, A-fuel dragster, and then I transitioned to the Top Fuel car when the opportunity came along. I tested for an entire year in a Top Fuel car, as I wanted a good year to really learn the car and feel comfortable with the car.”
SM: When you transitioned to the Top Fuel category from Alcohol dragsters, did you feel that you were already primed and experienced with high speeds and g-forces? I also read that you chose Top Fuel instead of Funny Car. Why Top Fuel?
BF: “No, not at all, she said. “When I look back to 2013 to where I am now in the series, I’ve definitely come a long way. It’s just really seat time and experience, that’s all it is. I could say, yeah, I had a year under my belt, but nobody was in the lane next to me, staging to me, there were no pedalfests which comes to that side of racing. Definitely, completely different when you’re on that end of it, but no, was definitely not ready. Those first few years, I learned so much just being in the seat.”
“There really wasn’t a specific reason (for choosing Top Fuel over Funny Car). Mostly, I drove Super Comp and A-Fuel so it made the most sense to jump into a dragster. That’s what I was used to and I was comfortable in since I already had the experience in dragsters.”
SM: Obviously, having the last name Force comes with a lot of pressure specifically in drag racing. When you were rising up through the ranks and then making your debut at Pomona in 2013, did you feel that pressure? Also, did you think that there might be some competitors or fans who thought you were moving up too quickly? If so, how did you handle that added pressure?
BF: “There’s always going to be added pressure,” Force said about having the legendary last name. “For me, it’s just focusing on what I want to do as a driver and not listening to the outside noise. My job is to come in there and win. Yes, I’m attached to the name Force, but for me, I never saw it (the name) as a negative. I saw it as a positive. I have his (John Force) guidance, I have his help, and I have him giving me last-minute advice.”
SM: Following up on that, what’s the best advice that John has given to you?
BF: “I would have to say, “drive from the heart”, Force said. “That is something he always says. He says it to me on the starting line, usually the final round on race day. Yes, there’s all this pressure and all this noise but it’s all about clearing the noise out, focusing on your goal. Don’t get sidetracked in all the commotion.”
SM: Entering the 2013 season, you ran full-time completing 24 races, securing one semi-final, eight quarter rounds and 13 first-round match-ups. What were your expectations at the beginning of the season? Were wins on your radar or even a championship? Or did you just concentrate on one race at a time and think, let’s see where we end up at the halfway point?
BF: “For me, 2013 was one race at a time to get more comfortable,” she said. “That first weekend out (Pomona, 2013), let’s get comfortable with having someone in the lane next to me, staging next to me. Not only that, but it’s also doing interviews, radio call-ins, dealing with massive fans, there’s a lot that goes into it (race weekend). My main goal was a win, but coming from Super Comp, A-Fuel, I knew how tough that was (transitioning from those series to Top Fuel). Basically, getting confidence in the car.”
SM: Your first professional start came at Pomona in 2013. What do you remember about making your debut? You qualified 15th but unfortunately lost to Brandon Bernstein in the first round. Do you think there is anything you could have done differently to perhaps advance further through the rounds?
BF: “Oh, I’m sure I could have,” Force said about advancing further. “I remember that weekend well. I mean, it was my first event. We had just unveiled my car and announced I would be driving in the Top Fuel car for John Force Racing. In addition, new sponsor, new crew chief, everything was new to me. For me, Pomona is one of the biggest races of the year since it is my home track as I grew up at that racetrack.”
“Looking back on it (Pomona), of all the people, I thought it was pretty special that my first run on race day was against Brandon Bernstein. I remember growing up watching Kenny Bernstein (Brandon’s father and legendary drag racer). Our family has always been close to them (Bernstein family). My first run against him will be something I’ll never forget.”
SM: Later on in 2013, you had some respectable runs such as beating Doug Kalitta in a first-round matchup at Las Vegas I. However, I want to talk about Houston just briefly. You qualified 18th, unfortunately missing the show for that event. Do you remember what was going through your mind at that moment when you missed out on racing that weekend?
BF: “There’s nothing worse than not qualifying. It’s happened to me a couple of times,” she said. “(Not qualifying) pulls everything out of you. To show up on race day and (not qualify) is kind of discouraging to see all these other teams out there. It’s tough being out there when you don’t qualify. I remember my team, we went up to the stands and watched (the rest of the action). (Houston) was definitely a tough weekend.”
SM: At St. Louis, you achieved your highest qualifying of fifth that year as a rookie driver and then made a semi-final appearance in the final race at Pomona 2. Late in 2013, you seemed to be making strides and seemed close to winning a race. Did it seem as though you and the team were starting to gel and click together at this point?
BF: “Yes, it takes a while until you really get into the routine,” Force said about getting comfortable with the team. “Everything, top to bottom, was new to me. Really, it’s when you start getting to those back to back races and then it starts becoming a routine to where you don’t have to think about it anymore. You just get out there and throw down the best you can. Looking at the season (2013), we did pretty well.”
SM: After your rookie season, in 2014, you had your first runner-up finish against Antron Brown in the finals at Phoenix. In your mind, was that race a breakthrough moment for you after the previous season?
BF: “Absolutely,” the 2017 Top Fuel Champion said about being runner-up. “The 2014 season, there were a couple of races to where we came close to winning. It’s funny because I remember in my rookie season we would go through some rounds and be like ‘Wow, we got past the first round and got to the second round. I was still pumped.’ However, that outlook kind of falls off when you get more competitive.”
“When you get to the semi-final runs, you’re like ‘Wow! We made it!’ You’re the runner-up and you’re pumped about that. But after you get so many of those (runner-up finishes), you’re not pumped about it anymore. Like, I want to win, and you’re so close. And then when you do win, it really sucks losing the first round because it’s hard to stay positive. The team I have now though, we are really good at staying positive.”
SM: Following up on the runner-up finishes, were those starting to get frustrating and not being able to get that elusive victory?
BF: “Oh, absolutely,” Force said. “We didn’t get our first win until 2016, so it took a while. Like I said, in 2013, 2014, we would be running good and hot. 2015 came along, and it was hard to hang onto that. It was starting to get frustrating. That starts weighing on you and you do question yourself and wonder if I’m ever going to get a first win?”
“When you do finally win, that first victory at the Gatornationals, there was no better feeling but now you’re more motivated to get another trophy.”
SM: Speaking of your first win at the Gatornationals. You won against Terry McMillen in the final round. Have you ever gone back and watched that race and what does the win still mean to you to this day?
BF: “(Winning Gatornationals) is one of the greatest days of my career,” she said. “The first win is something you dream about. It was such a big win. That was a track where my mom and my sisters, we all would load up and jump on a plane to go to the Gatornationals. That track was just one of the ones we picked on the schedule when we were kids. Gatornationals is one of the biggest races on the circuit, I think. To be able to win there was pretty outstanding.”
“I was actually runner-up the weekend before in Phoenix and got beat. So, to go out that next weekend and take it all the way, there was no better feeling to put Phoenix behind you.”
SM: After your first victory in 2016, you would go on to set the world on fire by securing 10 wins, 13 runner-ups, 18 No. 1 qualifiers, a championship, etc. Looking back at your rookie season is there any race that stands out where you thought, ‘I think we could have had this one had we done this?’ If so, what race and why does that race stick out to you the most?
BF: “In my rookie season, the biggest race that stands out the most is where we debuted in Pomona,” Force said. “Brandon Bernstein on the line next to me was really special. Just those small victories like the first-round win against Doug Kalitta at Las Vegas in 2013. For me though, the rookie season will always be Pomona.”
SM: Some racers collect their own merchandise and some don’t. Are you a driver that collects your own memorabilia and if so, what do you have in your collection that reminds you of your rookie season?
BF: “A lot of fans give me some memorabilia, specifically the Gatornationals (the site of Brittany’s first win),” she said. “There would be some oddball items like plastic replica toy gators, I also have a full blown gator necklace. Those items are kept in my office. I do keep my fire suits, helmets, and especially merchandise from my championship days.”
SM: Following up briefly on the 2017 Championship season, what is one thing you will always remember from that season?
BF: “There’s too much, you can’t just pick one thing,” she said about winning the championship. “We left Las Vegas where we could have won the race and moved up to No. 1 in the points but I lost to Terry McMillen in the final round after red lighting. I was carrying that with me through two weeks going into Pomona. There’s that fear of screwing up but if we can focus on round by round, we can win the championship. However, it all can be lost, just like that if there’s a mistake on my end or on a crew guy’s end. That’s a lot of pressure and I didn’t know how I was going to handle that pressure (running for the championship).”
“For me, it was like ‘Am I going to completely crack under this pressure?’ Maybe, I’m not one of those people that can handle it. A positive mindset is something that’s very important. Staying upbeat and focused. I went out there, did my thing and we ended up winning the race itself. Nothing can ever beat your first championship, but now that I have one, I definitely want more (titles).”
SM: I’ve been asking drivers what their favorite victories are out of all the years they competed. What is your favorite Wally out of your collection and why?
BF: “That’s tough (trying to pick just one favorite), I have three favorites (Wally’s, NHRA’s Winning Trophy),” Force said. “Obviously, Pomona in 2017. That race was when we won the race and the championship. Pomona 2017 was probably my biggest win, because there is a championship wrapped in. For most of that team, that championship was their first championship ever so winning the championship was huge for all of us.”
“So at the banquet, they had a handful of Brittany Force championship shirts made and I had no clue because that never crossed my mind. All of my guys showed up to the banquet with all of their Brittany Force championship shirts underneath their tuxedos, and they ripped them on the dance floor. That team was pretty outstanding.”
“Another one that stands out to me, I finally won at Las Vegas in 2019. Vegas has always been one of my favorite racetracks. Going back to my Super Comp days, Vegas has always been my favorite track. Vegas 2 is always special to me as well.”
SM: Is there a reason why Las Vegas is your favorite racetrack?
BF: “I think it’s because I raced there in Super Comp and A-Fuel,” she said. “Vegas is very familiar to me. It’s kind of a home track to me since Vegas is three and a half hours from me. I remember as a kid, jumping in the car and heading there with my sister and friends to watch Ashley (Force, Brittany’s sister) race, you know, watching my dad race in Funny Car. Friends go there, family always shows up there. Home away from home.”
SM: Wrapping the interview up, it’s hard to imagine your professional debut came seven years ago. However, if time travel were available, what would a 34-year-old Brittany Force tell a 26-year-old Brittany Force? Is there anything you would do differently?
BF: “I would say, trust in the path,” Force said. “Trust in the journey, because you definitely have those bad days in racing but those bad days made the good days really great. Those tough days made me stronger as a driver. A perfect example would be that championship run in Pomona. You know, we had a red light at Vegas and that day was a terrible, terrible day. I wanted to get home as I was so angry at myself. For me, it was, don’t focus on that, put those bad days behind you and use them as motivation for what you really want. I think the Vegas final round loss made me tougher going into the championship at Pomona the following weekend.”
So far in Brittany’s career, the Yorba Linda, California native has 10 wins, 13 runner-up finishes, 22 semi-final round appearances along with 58 quarter rounds and 63 first-round match-ups. In addition, Force also had 20 No. 1 qualifiers with her first No. 1 qualifier occurring at Topeka in 2014 where she went 3.746 seconds to set what was at that time, the national speed record. Other highlights include making the playoffs six years in a row since 2014 and having four wins, four runner-up finishes, seven semis, 10 quarter and nine first round appearances during the playoff run. With 170 races to date, Force’s overall record stands at 87.1% with a win-loss record of 179-156.
Special thanks to Sara Slaughter of John Force Racing for coordinating the interview and many thanks to Brittany Force for taking the time out of her busy schedule to conduct the interview.