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April 18, 2013

Why Not Drag Race? Girls Like to Go Fast, Too!

LeeAnn-Shattuck-drag-racing-at-ZMaxBy LeeAnn Shattuck, a.k.a. “The Car ChickTM

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Beware the woman driver!”  Sir Stirling Moss even reiterated his own similar opinion last week, only to be debunked by many women racers in the profession. That normally insulting phrase took on a whole new meaning recently at the the Doug Foley Drag Racing School held at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, where I met up with top NHRA drivers, Brittney and Courtney Force, for a day of drag racing.

I have spent the last 25 years racing anything and everything, from karting to road course racing, dirt track to ice rally. I admit that drag racing had never held any interest for me. After all, you only get to drive in a straight line with no tire-squealing turns, and it only lasts a few seconds. How fun can that be? But, then again, I have never turned down the opportunity to learn new things (especially things involving cars and high rates of speed), so I was willing to give it a try. I also believe in learning from the best, and I can't imagine any better teachers than the Force sisters.

LeeAnn-Shattuck-drag-racing-cars-at-ZMaxThe Force sisters are NHRA royalty. They grew up watching their father John Force win a record 15 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing series Funny Car world championships. “We grew up at the race track, watching Dad catch fire every weekend,” jokes Courtney. The Force sisters began racing as teenagers, but waited to pursue full-time racing careers until after college. “Mom said that she would support our decisions to become professional race car drivers 100% - but only if we went to college first,” said Brittney.

Courtney, who drives the Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car for John Force Racing, was named “NHRA Rookie of the Year” in 2012. She claimed her first “Wally” (1st place trophy) at the August 5th O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Seattle. Courtney finished fifth overall in the driver standings, equaling the best-ever showing for a Funny Car rookie.

Courtney follows in the footsteps of her two older sisters, Brittney Force and Ashley Force Hood. Brittney drives the 8,000-horsepower Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster and holds the title of the “Fastest Force,” having achieved speeds faster than 330 mph. Brittney spent all of 2012 testing and learning in a Top Fuel dragster on the tracks where she will be competing this 2013 season.

Oldest sister, Ashley Force Hood, drove a Castrol-sponsored Mustang Top Fuel Funny Car for her father's team from 2007 to 2010. Before Ashley entered the sport, conventional (male) wisdom suggested that drag racing at the top levels was too physically challenging for a woman. Ashley quickly proved them wrong, racking up an impressive 105 total career wins, and finishing 2nd in the points standings in 2009. Ashley chose to retire from competitive racing in 2011, after the birth of her first child, and now serves as the President of John Force Entertainment.

Danica-patrick VLWhile drag racing continues to be a male-dominated sport, the NHRA now has four women competing and succeeding at the top levels. That’s not surprising, given that our physiology makes us more tolerant of g-forces than men. Brittney noted that most of the men have come around and are now very supportive, offering advice and encouragement to her and her sister. “And, it’s not like the car knows or cares if you are male or female. It just knows how to go fast, no matter who is behind the wheel.”

That sounded good to me! After 20 minutes of classroom instruction, which included an explanation of the complicated set of lights known as the “Christmas Tree,” it was time to hit the track. I pulled on my trusty fire suit, gloves, and helmet, and the staff of the Doug Foley Drag Racing School strapped me into the cockpit of one of the school’s 800-horsepower dragsters. As I pulled up to the staging area, Brittney offered me some professional advice. “It’s completely normal to be nervous. Just try to relax. When you see the Christmas Tree light up, take a deep breath, then stomp on the gas!”

And stomp on the gas, I did. As a road course racer, I’m used to driving at speeds faster than 140 mph. (Just not in the span of a few seconds!) I was completely unprepared for the insane g-forces involved in an 800-horsepower launch. I went from zero to 100 mph in less than 4 seconds, and I swear that I felt my eyeballs pressing against the back of my head. Controlling the car down the straight quarter-mile strip was not particularly difficult. The challenge was to stay conscious while doing it.

My little 800-horsepower dragster was only pulling 1.5g’s, but I swear it felt like a hundred. Brittney’s Top Fuel car, by contrast, accelerates from zero to 100 mph in less than one second, subjecting her to a staggering 5.5 g’s. That is comparable to what is experienced by an F-18 pilot catapulting off the deck of an aircraft carrier. “Your body gradually learns to handle the increased g-forces, as you drive the faster cars,” explained Brittney. “It’s just like training for any other sport. You build up to it with time and practice.”

Sure enough, after a couple more passes, my body adjusted to the acceleration, and I no longer felt like blacking out. On my third pass, I made the quarter-mile run in just 9.5 seconds and reached a top speed of 141 mph. How fun can that be? You have no idea! Watch the video below to see for yourself!

 

 

LeeAnn-Shattuck-headhot

About “The Car Chick”

LeeAnn Shattuck, a.k.a. “The Car ChickTM”, is a member of the AskPatty.com Panel of Expert Women. She is an automotive expert, professional speaker, author, radio & television host, and race car driver. She is also the co-owner of Women’s Automotive Solutions, a unique car buying service for women. Learn more at www.TheCarChick.com.

 

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