Thankful for a successful rookie season

Courtney Force finished fifth in the standings in her rookie season of Funny Car. AP Photo/Jerry Foss

I wrapped up my rookie season in Funny Car with the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Cailf., last weekend. The race, which was on my home track, was full of excitement. I had fun promoting the race at the annual La Verne NHRA Fan Fest with my dad and sister and doing radio and TV interviews.

It was surreal coming back to the track where I debuted as a pro back in February. It felt like yesterday when I was pulling into the race track, feeling sick to my stomach, knowing this would be the first time the fans would see me drive an 8,000-horsepower car. I was just praying that I wouldn’t screw up and hoped to get my car qualified, which we did.

We’ve come a long way as a team since the first race. We went out to Pomona and on our first qualifying pass we went straight to the top spot. Although it didn’t hold, we went into eliminations on Sunday in the No. 4 qualifying spot. On race day our Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car went all the way to the final round to close out a great season.

Looking back, I can’t believe the success we had. Our team qualified at every national event, qualified in the No. 1 spot on multiple occasions, made it into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, picked up an event win in Seattle and clinched into the top 10 in points for the Countdown to the Championship. We finished the season ranked fifth in points.

When I pictured how my first season as a professional race car driver, I definitely surpassed my own expectations. It’s weird to say that I’m no longer a rookie. But I am still new in the sport and look forward to challenging myself and working hard to do even better next season.

The day after the finals, we had to get cleaned up for the NHRA awards in Hollywood, Calif. It was an amazing night celebrating the champions in all four pro categories. My team won the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award in the Funny Car category.

The most nerve-racking part of the night was having to go up on stage to find out who would win the rookie of the year. Backstage, Alexis DeJoria and I were helping each other get ready. It’s the one night a year we get to put on a dress and heels since we’re out at the race track in fire suits all day. She was a tough competitor all season long but it was great having a female friend to chat and hang out with out on the road.

I was lucky enough to receive the award, which was such a huge honor, especially since my teammates have earned that award in the past. However, I definitely think the other rookies did an amazing job this season as well and all have a bright future in racing.

Having to go on stage and make an unprepared speech made me so nervous! It’s funny to think that when I hop out of my race car after I make a pass down the race track I have absolutely no fear of the ESPN camera. I’m not sure if it’s the Full Throttle they hand you for interviews that suddenly changes my personality from shy girl to an extrovert or the sheer thrill of going 300 mph. But I felt completely shy and nervous when I had to make an acceptance speech that night. I did my best to regroup and went on stage to talk about my lifelong dream of being a race car driver. I watched my sister make this speech when she had won it a few years back, and Mike Neff and Robert Hight before her. It was crazy to join this prestigious group of drivers and I hope my career will be half as good as theirs. I’m so proud to be a part of an amazing team at John Force Racing.

I’m living the life -- driving a race car, traveling across the country, working with my family. I want to thank my team for all of their hard work and motivating words especially my crew chief Ron Douglas and assistant crew chief Dan Hood. They coached me, staying positive and encouraging through the ups and downs and always giving me a consistent race car. Most importantly, I need to thank my dad for being the person that I always looked up to and wanted to be like as a kid. He encouraged me to stay true to myself, stay grounded and be anything that I wanted to be. He and my mom supported me through all of my life decisions. Of course, a big thanks to my sponsors who believed in a rookie driver before the start of the season and supporting my lifelong dream of racing. And congrats to the Funny Car champ Jack Beckman!

I owe this to all of you and am so excited for next season, because 2012 was just the beginning!