When they won at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, Funny Car’s Courtney Force and Pro Stock racer Erica Enders built on the storied history of women in the NHRA. With both women winning, it marked the first time in NHRA's 61-year history that two women won in Pro categories at the same national event.
The Seattle event was just the 15th Funny Car race for Force, and it was her third final-round appearance of the season. Force became just the third female winner in Funny Car and joins Melanie Troxel and her sister Ashley Force Hood as the only women in that category.
The Seattle victory was the second Pro Stock triumph for Enders, who became the first woman in that class’ history to win in Chicago in July. Enders also holds the distinction of being Pro Stock’s first female No. 1 qualifier and the first woman to advance to a Pro Stock final round.
Q: Courtney, what did Ashley say to you after the win and over the past couple of days?
Force: I think she’s just been really excited and really proud of me. I actually came home yesterday, and there was a congratulatory balloon and flowers on my doorstep from her. I know she’s just really excited. Her and Jake were watching the race, and she said she started screaming when she saw my win because we never told her what happened. I know she’s just really excited and really proud.
Q: What about your father, John Force? What has he said to you afterwards?
Force: I think he’s still been in shock. He’s like, "I want you to enjoy it, this is your big win, and you’ve looked forward to this your whole life." I mean, I think he’s kind of in disbelief right now. He keeps calling me saying, “You did it. Has it sunk in yet? You finally got that Wally, and you earned it, kid.” He’s just been really excited. All week long, he’s been calling me nonstop and just telling me how proud he is.
Q: Courtney, this is your rookie season. Does this make it a success if the season were to end today? Is it successful, or are you looking for more?
Force: I mean, yeah, it’s definitely been a huge accomplishment for us. I honestly didn’t see my rookie season going this well, this early on. I’m excited. I’m very proud of my team. I have a great group of guys and a great crew chief in Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, and I’m excited. It’s definitely been going well. To be sixth in points and three finals and to get that first win in my 15th race, I’m very excited. I’m starting to feel a little bit more comfortable in the car, but I’m still learning. I’m a new driver, still making mistakes and still learning from them. So it’s only a matter of time. But I mean, I’m happy if it ended today, but I have so many more goals set for myself that I know it’s only going to get better from here.
Q: Courtney, in NHRA you have females that have been winning, and in NASCAR they don’t yet, and obviously they want one over there really bad, but when do you think there will be a female counterpart to racing over at NASCAR who will win? And do you ever get tired of the gender questions?
Force: No, I don’t get tired of it. I guess, I mean, obviously, I’m the one that went into a male-dominated sport, so I’ve got to expect it. But over in NASCAR, I think it’s only a matter of time. Obviously, Danica Patrick is running over there. I’m sure she’ll get it soon. She seems like a very competitive person, and I think it’ll come close. It’s definitely cool that NHRA Drag Racing is a little bit more woman, a little bit different categories, and females are in so many different categories. But it’s amazing to kind of be a part of history with two females winning in a Pro class, especially next to Erica Enders getting her second win and my first, and being next to those two other women that have won it in Funny Car, my sister Ashley and Melanie Troxel. It’s definitely an honor, and I really think that more and more women are going to be coming into the sport and not just out there to race. We’re out here to win.
Q: Courtney, after watching your dad fight and scrap for so long before he got his first win, does it make it just that much sweeter to be able to do it so quick in your first season?
Force: Yeah, definitely. My dad was giving me a hard time. Right after that win, he goes, “You know how long it took me to get my first win?” He was giving me a hard time, but I watched my dad. I grew up in drag racing, so I watched him struggle. I saw him at the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. I know what my dad went through and how he fought for it. And he really created an amazing team, and I’m lucky enough and fortunate enough to be able to work with those amazing crew chiefs and crew guys and fellow drivers. Yeah, I mean, it’s really an amazing thing that I was able to get it so soon. It really is due to my crew guys and my team and really everyone at John Force Racing.
Q: How much more confidence does it give you going into the rest of the season?
Force: It definitely helps. I mean, I definitely have a little bit more boost of confidence in myself as a driver, knowing that I am capable of getting that win. Gosh, it sounds so weird to say. But yeah, it’s definitely an amazing feeling. I mean, you look at it from afar, and you just think you want to get there one day, and just this past weekend, holding that trophy over my head, it really shows that we can be a competitive team. Our Traxxas Ford Mustang has been running good, and we’ll be back out there. I think we’re just going to have to keep going after more and more wins.
Q: I want to get back to the reactions of your family. I was just wondering if you perhaps had a chance to see the ESPN video of your dad, who was back at the starting line when you won. Believe me, there was an audible sound that came out of his body that could come out of only a father, so I’m quite interested if you saw that.
Force: I did. I actually landed yesterday and went right home and put that DVD in and watched it. I was laughing pretty hard because I’ve never seen my dad scream like that. I’ve never heard that sound come out of his mouth. It really shows that he was excited. It’s always really cool. As a driver, you get on the racetrack, you don’t know who’s standing on the starting line behind your car. And it really was an amazing feeling to see my family standing there behind me as well as all of our four teams. It’s really a cool feeling. But seeing Dad that excited, you know, to learn about it two days later, it’s really cool to be able to have that moment to watch and really see how he felt in his first reaction. I know he was more in shock than anything and just excited to see that win light.
Q: We constantly use the term "rookie season" with you in this car, and to those that are not quite too familiar with NHRA racing, if you could just give a really quick synopsis, but we know that you started a long, long time ago. At what age did you start to get to where you are now?
Force: I started at the age of 16. That was when I got my driver’s license, and my parents let me go to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School. I raced in a Super Comp dragster that goes 170 mph. I did that for three years. It wasn’t very consistent. It wasn’t every weekend. I was still in high school at the time. And then from there, I moved into the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks, got licensed, and I ran that category for three years, also part time. Couldn’t do it full time, I was in college at that point, so I did that for three years. And then this last year, I was able to test in a fuel Funny Car, and that’s where I kind of learned the ropes of driving a Funny Car from my dad and my teammates. We got a sponsor with Traxxas back in January, and that’s where it all started. This is officially my first season as a Professional Funny Car driver.
Q: Where is the trophy now?
Force: It’s on my kitchen counter. Actually, when I was watching the race on TV, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure it was there, that the ESPN show wasn’t going to have a different ending. It’s definitely a cool feeling. I was actually going to bring it into the shop today, and then I thought, "I’m probably being a little ridiculous." I slept next to it on the first night, carried it through the airport the next day, and haven’t let it out of my sight until just this moment.
Q: Can you explain the differences maybe? You’re the one in the family that I’ve always heard that was the racer if there’s going to be a racer in this family. Can you talk about the differences maybe between your sister in that respect?
Force: Yeah. I mean, I grew up in racing, as did my sisters, but I was the one out there. I loved getting dirty. I loved watching the mechanics of the car and watching the crew guys go to work on it. I was hanging out with all of them, listening to everything they had to say. But I was really intrigued by all of my dad’s interviews growing up as a kid and loved listening to him, loved watching him race a 300-mph car. I just thought it was such a cool job, for one, and I saw him crash, flip upside down, catch on fire, and that was probably the moment where I was like, "This is something I want to do, even though it is a dangerous sport. I was probably 7 years old, and I knew for a fact I was going to be a race car driver. I didn’t see my dad a lot as a kid, he was traveling so much, but I think that was the moment I knew if I went into drag racing that I’d be able to see my dad all the time, and it’s definitely been more than enough, now that I’m racing with him. I see him way more than I could ask. I mean, compared to my sisters, I’ve always kind of been the tomboy and loved watching these cars, and I just knew. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was so passionate about it. My sisters, on the other hand, I think they were still trying to figure out where they wanted to go in life, and Ashley sort of fell into Super Comp and started there and gradually moved up, and that’s why I followed in her footsteps ended up in Funny Car. That’s where I knew I wanted to be. Brittany is testing in the Top Fuel dragster right now, and she got her teaching credentials. So they’ve all had different, so many different passions, but it was always drag racing for me.
Q: What about the pressure of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus? Does this win help kind of alleviate some of that? Does it get a little more relaxed going into the biggest race of the year, a little bit of the edge off of it?
Force: Yeah, a little bit, but I know I’m putting a little bit of pressure on myself because now that I’ve gotten a win, now I’m just going to push to try to get another one. Being that it’s Indy, there’s pressure knowing that my sister won there back to back, two years in a row, so I’m a competitive person, so I want to get out there, I want to do the best I can. But I mean, being that it’s the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, it’s the biggest race of the season, and I want to do well. I want to go out there, and I just want to look good out there. I mean, I want to get this Traxxas Mustang into the finals if we can and hopefully have another trophy. But it definitely makes me feel a little bit more comfortable as a driver knowing that we have one win under my belt, and we’ll just go into it the best we can and try to stay focused. The main goal is to really get into that Traxxas Shootout, as well as getting into the Countdown to the Championship.
Q: Courtney, how was it after the race, after the cameras were gone, and you had some time to spend alone with your dad? Was he as animated in the coach as he was on TV?
Force: I think his adrenaline might have dwindled a little bit. I think he was so in shock and so excited that when we got back, I think his sentimental side started to kick in because he was just sitting there just staring at me. I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “I can’t believe you just did that. It took me years to achieve that.” It was a very gratifying feeling, seeing how proud he was of me. I mean, obviously he’s still jumping up and down. He keeps calling me like it just happened two minutes ago. He’s definitely excited. It’s great hearing him jump up and down like that. It was a good day for us.
Q: Erica, talk about your day and winning and then seeing Courtney follow up behind you. Talk about what a neat kind of afternoon that was for you.
Enders: It was a tremendous afternoon. We had a really great race car all weekend long, and Seattle was a very tricky track for Pro Stock being that it was so hot. We definitely had the car and were able to get it done, and I made sure to stay down there because I was cheering for Courtney to win. And when she came around the corner, it was just really exciting to see her and the guys celebrate. Definitely cool for our sport and for Courtney.
Q: Courtney, talk about when you made that turnoff and saw Erica there. What was going through your mind?
Force: I think the first initial shock was seeing that win light. When I came around the corner, Erica was the first person I saw, and she was clapping and giving me a thumbs-up. It was such a cool feeling. That was when I kind of realized, "Dang, I really did get the win; that really did just happen." It was really cool to watch her win the round right ahead of me. I was hoping I could stand in that winner’s circle with her and make history with her. It’s really cool to have both our names on the board for that. But man, coming around the corner and seeing that Wally there, it was a really cool experience. But knowing that Erica had done it too, it was awesome.
Q: Erica, it wasn’t that long ago I can remember cornering you with the help of some other people at the media room at Pomona and asking you how you were doing; you were without a ride at the moment. And you then explained all the hard work and the footwork and the calls and all that, and you really just couldn’t wait to get back to the fun part of drag racing. I would think by now all that hard work has paid off, huh?
Enders: It really has, and being back in Pro Stock in a competitive car means the world to me. We have to go out and find the sponsors ourselves. Team owners won’t talk to us unless we show up with at least $2 million. That was a feat in itself. But to be able to be back behind the wheel driving for a team of the caliber we have was awesome. It’s such a blessing, and I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it because I know how quickly it can disappear.
Q: After having been in the class for so long and fought so hard for so long to get your first win, did you expect the second win to come this quick?
Enders: I always expect them, but no, I didn’t. I think you could see the shock on my face when I pulled around the corner. I was just shaking my head, like unbelievable. I just really the past couple weeks in Denver and Sonoma felt like I’d let my guys down with the red-light by .003, and I was able to redeem myself on Sunday. They put a great race car underneath me, and that was the key to us winning Seattle. I didn’t even know what to say in my interview, and I think it came across very clear on ESPN that I was just kind of like stumbling for words because it was unbelievable that we had worked so hard to get our first win. It took eight years, and then three weeks later, we have our second one. It’s just a crazy feeling.
Q: Who makes the glove for your left hand to get it over that rock on your finger?
Enders: Nice (laughing). I actually tried to wear it in Norwalk when I first got it, and it doesn’t work. So, yeah, it’s a Sparco glove, and I don’t wear my ring in there.
Q: Erica, the results you’ve had in the last year and even this year even before the win was kind of like very positive and had to be a lot of people saying, "She’s going to win." And then that win comes. Did you start hearing that back from your fellow drivers in the pits and other drivers looking at you knowing that you’re going to win one of these days?
Enders: Yeah, I got to hear it a lot, and of course that was like the first question everybody asked me in every interview, "When are you going to finally get that win?" and believe me, I would have done it a lot sooner if I could have. I’m a firm believer that there’s a plan bigger than mine, and we were ready for it to happen. It was such an awesome, emotional day. Such a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. I think all of my guys cried. It was amazing, something that I’ll never forget. I went through the pictures last night on my computer. I had to send some out for some PR stuff, and I just couldn’t help smiling. It was just such a fun day.
Q: Is it easier to recover from having another one?
Enders: It’s a little bit different this time around, certainly. I remember in Chicago when we won, it seemed like it took my guys an hour to get down to the finish line. I have nobody to celebrate with. I’m standing there by myself. [Alan] Reinhart was down there, that was the only familiar face I had, and I’m like, "Where are my people?" But this week, they came right away. It was just a really good time. And my crew chief told me that the second one was just as sweet as the first, and he was absolutely right.
Q: It’s been a long time since the NHRA has had a Pro event in Canada, and I know that I’ve talked to John Force, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to Courtney, but I’ve mentioned it to everybody else. How badly do you think the series and the drivers would like to see a national event back north of the border?
Enders: I think it would be awesome. I’m a big fan of Canada. My fiancé actually used to race IHRA stuff up there and did some match racing up there in Canada, and he speaks nothing but great things about it. I think it would definitely be cool to have a race out of the country.
Q: Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey to this point are the only female drag racers who have ever won a championship and multiple championships in the Pro ranks of drag racing. Now that you’ve got two victories under your belt, is that something that’s on your radar, or is that so far down the road you just sort of take it as it comes?
Enders: It’s definitely our goal, and for this season, absolutely. We’ve got the race car, we’ve got the team, and I’ve been driving really well. So I honestly, at the expense of sounding a little too positive, I think we can do it just as well as anybody else out there. And we’re actually gaining momentum. After our win in Chicago, and we’ve had such a consistent race car since then, been at the top of the page for incrementals and 60 foot and 330, and that’s something that’s a feat in itself to get a Pro Stock car off the starting line on a hot racetrack in the summer. So I’m trying to carry this momentum through. We’ve got two races left before the Countdown, and we’re sitting sixth right now, less than one race out of fourth. I’m really optimistic about what’s to come, and I’m going for it. I put my money on us on Sunday.
Q: For both Courtney and Erica, talk about the importance of having women in the sport and competing as they do with not only you two but Alexis DeJoria and Karen Stoffer and some of the other racers in there and what it means to have a strong contingent of women racers in the sport.
Force: Sure. It’s definitely huge. I mean, obviously more and more women are coming into the sport. Ashley, my sister, was in Funny Car, Melanie Troxel, having me and Alexis in the category at the same time is definitely a lot of fun, and having Erica in Pro Stock and females in Pro Stock Motorcycle, like it really shows that there’s females in every category, and I think it’s only growing, only more and more females will start coming into the categories and start competing and start beating up on the boys a little bit. It’s definitely been fun for me and Erica so far. I hope more females come in, and I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t.
Enders: I think it’s awesome. I’m friends with Courtney and Alexis and Hillary [Will], and I think it’s just I totally root for the girls on Sunday; there’s no doubt about that. You know, there’s no reason why we can’t compete on this level. I know it’s a frequently asked question in every media outlet and every city that we go to about girls and why they’re more successful in NHRA than any other form of motorsports and what’s it like to be a girl race car driver, and I guarantee you we all say the same thing: When you put your helmet on, it doesn’t matter. I’m so proud to be one of them and have my name on a list with people like Shirley and Ashley Force and Courtney Force and Melanie Troxel. It’s tremendous, and I’m totally stoked.