Being that I’m in my rookie year, I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been having a lot of fun in the process. Being able to go out and be full time on the NHRA circuit with Traxxas on the side of my race car, and racing against my dad, is a dream come true. However, I never thought in my first professional season I would earn my first national event win in Funny Car!
Growing up, I remember sitting in the tow truck with my giant earphones on, watching my dad race his Funny Car against guys like the Pedregon brothers, Kenny Bernstein, Ron Capps et al. I watched in awe and thought that NHRA drag racing was the most exciting sport in the world. Being able to stand on the starting line and witness a Funny Car launch at about 3 g’s and watching the driver fight to keep the 8,000 horsepower machine in the center of the racetrack while it’s reaching speeds of over 300 mph was unreal. There was so much adrenaline, strength and excitement. I watched my dad’s race car catch fire, blow up, crash into walls and flip upside down, but he always walked away and would come out on top the next weekend.
Seeing what my dad was able to accomplish throughout his career with 15 world championships and countless wins and records made me want to grow up and follow in his footsteps, even though they are some pretty big shoes to fill.
I told everyone I was going to grow up and be a race car driver just like my dad, and a lot of people just thought it was a phase. I set this goal at the age of 7 and I stuck with it, reaching that very goal this season.
This past weekend in Seattle, I was struggling to get my Traxxas Ford Mustang qualified. I was being challenged as a driver on this tricky, hot track, trying to keep my race car in the center of the groove and fighting it down at the other end when it tried to spin the tires. Saturday was our last chance to get qualified, and we were able to do that with a decent pass that barely got us in the show. We qualified 14th in the 16-car field that races on Sunday.
Sunday morning at the team meeting, my crew chief, Ron Douglas, said something that stuck with me, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Being that we struggled during qualifying, I thought it was the perfect quote to lead us into the first round. I had a tough competitor, Cruz Pedregon, who I grew up watching race my dad. I knew he was going to be hard to beat, but I knew I was tough enough to try to take the win. Having the confidence in myself, and my team, I was able to stay calm throughout race day, and before I knew it I was facing my dad, John Force, in the semifinals. This was a huge round. I wanted to go up and kick his butt, to show him the time he spent teaching me how to race and all those years I’ve watched him have paid off. Unfortunately for my dad, he needed to win that round to earn points and to stay in the top 10 so he can battle for the championship. With every race and every round, the spots are getting locked into the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. Every round counts, and my dad is getting close to being bumped out by some of the other competitors. But this is a drag race, and although he’s my dad and I love him, I couldn’t wait to show him what I could do after all he has taught me.
He left the starting line first, which gave him an advantage, but being that I had lane choice, I took the lane that seemed to let most cars get a clean run down the racetrack. His car went up in smoke and I made a great pass to get the win. There is no doubt in my mind that my dad will do well the next two races, and he’s going to fight to make it into the Countdown. With that win, I was able to get lane choice in the final round against Matt Hagan ... the 2011 Funny Car world champion.
This was the third time I had been in the final round this season, and I was nervous! We pulled the race car up to the starting line and I just tried to keep calm and focus on what needed to be done -- winning! I got into my race car and scratched my visor right down the middle in the process. I started to panic, knowing we had no time to change visors, but decided I needed to suck it up, ignore the problem and focus on getting that win.
Hagan had a great race car and good reaction times, so I knew it was going to be tough to beat him. I slammed on the throttle, drove my race car right down the center of the groove and never saw Hagan out my window. When I crossed that finish line and hit my parachutes, I saw my win light and was in complete shock. My team came on the radio, yelling that I had just won my first professional national event. I started yelling back with excitement, and as I pulled my race car off the track I could see shiny Wally -- the trophy given to winner of NHRA events -- waiting for me. I jumped out the roof of my car, slid down and held my Wally high in the air. My dad ran over, picked me up and spun me around while my mom was close by. This was the moment I had waited my entire life for, a moment I would never forget.
My team dumped an ice chest full of Full Throttle on me for getting my first win. I’m so proud of them and everything we have been able to accomplish this season as a brand new team with a rookie driver -- a girl driver at that. But I know they’re happy to have me driving this Traxxas Ford Mustang, and boy do I love my job! I fight just as hard as all those guys, and it finally showed this weekend in Seattle. We celebrated in the winner’s circle with the team, my family and Pro Stock winner Erica Enders. We made history that day with two females winning in the professional categories at one event.
It was so cool to be the third member in my family, next to my dad and my sister Ashley, to earn a Funny Car Wally! This truly was a dream come true, and I’m so thankful for the support of my fans, my family and my sponsors, because they are the ones who really made this dream possible for this California girl.