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Season starts with a win!

Courtney Force opened the season with a win at her home track in California. Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Starting out the 2013 race season as a sophomore driver in the Funny Car category, I was surprisingly more nervous than when I started my rookie season at the Winternationals. The first race of the season is at my home track in Pomona, Calif., so it was exciting doing the NHRA media tour in Los Angeles and radio interviews near home. Even more, it was great having my closest friends come out to watch me race. As a California native, it almost didn’t even feel like race day. Driving from my home out to the race track, instead of coming from a hotel like normal, was very strange.

When my team got into town, I had them all over for a BBQ at my place to get them even more motivated to start the season and to show them how much I appreciate them. It must have worked, because we went into the race on Sunday at the top qualifying spot with a 4.03 at 318 mph.

My older sister Brittany debuted in the Top Fuel category and qualified for the race in one of the quickest fields in history. There was a lot to be excited for Saturday night, so our family went out, grabbed dinner and talked about qualifying.

It probably seems strange, but a normal family dinner for us is talking racing. We break down our competitors, and Dad gives advice to me and Brittany on how to drive, since all three of us are officially competing in a professional class.

Coming out to the track on Sunday, my nerves were racing. I had butterflies in my stomach like it was my first day of school. Although I was the quickest car throughout qualifying, it’s still nerve-racking whether you’re racing the No. 2 qualified car or No. 16. You never know what tricks they’ve got up their sleeve, and as a driver you don’t want to screw up on the lights or driving. My heart was racing as I was pulling through the staging lanes. As a team we’re still trying to get into the groove and get a routine, so everything always feels a little rushed and out of order. The moment you strap into your race car, you just have to shut everything out. You can’t think about your competitor, how they’ve run, or what could happen, you just have to focus on your own car and lane. We were able to grab the win first round and our luck continued all the way into the final round.

In the final, I was matched up against Ron Capps, one of the toughest guys out there. He’s had a consistent and fast race car. I pulled up, while dad’s underneath my Funny Car body yelling last-minute tips like “Don’t forget your parachutes,” “Get after that tree,” “Keep the car in your lane and straight down that alley,” and the infamous, “Amber step.” Imagine taking all of this in (and believe me, much, much more) during a 15-second time frame before the team fires up the motor and sends you through the water box to do your burnout ... it’s a lot.

My dad knows this sport and these Funny Cars better than anyone, so his words mean a lot to me, but he usually doesn’t have time to sit down and feed me all these tips until right before I’m about to fire up the motor. It’s great having someone with so much knowledge be there for you. My mom and sisters were also standing by on the starting line, cheering me on.

We started it up and they sent my car forward. I backed up from the burnout and prepared to stage my car. I took a deep breath and tried to just focus on myself and doing my best to cut a good light on him, since a lot of races can be won or lost on the starting line. There’s a lot of pressure on a driver, but that’s what makes this sport so exciting.

My car launched off the starting line at almost the exact time as Capps, and I blazed down there toward the sunset with fire coming out of my header pipes. My car started to veer over to the centerline and I pulled it back and kept it in time to get that win light down at the other end. My crew chief, Ron Douglas, tuned my Traxxas Ford Mustang to a winning 4.025 at 317 mph!

This was my second-ever Funny Car win and a great way to start the season. I got to celebrate with my hometown friends, family, teammates and sponsors in the winner's circle of my home track, which was icing on the cake. And even better, I'm going into Phoenix, Ariz., this weekend with the points lead! I’m excited but know that it all starts over in a few more days. We’ve got a pretty fast hot rod and I can’t wait to see what we’re capable of accomplishing!