As the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona gets underway this weekend, the event does so without the presence of Courtney Force. Force has stepped away from competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Series behind the wheel of her Camaro SS Funny Car from John Force Racing (JFR). Force leaves the sport as the winningest female Funny Car driver in history with 12 wins to her credit, including four in 2018.
“This was a personal choice as I feel I’m ready to see what the next chapter in my life has in store for me, while spending more time with family,” she said. “I intend to remain involved in the industry I love and continue to work with a few select partners as I go forward in 2019. I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to have such a successful career at John Force Racing and the privilege of working with so many incredible people while racing against competitors who pushed me to be a better driver.”
Her departure changes the makeup of JFR, owned by her legendary father, John Force. The team which guided Courtney last year (led by Dan Hood and Brian Corradi) moves over to tune and service John Force’s car, as he looks to expand upon his untouchable 149 wins and 16 career championships. Force claimed one win in 2018. Meanwhile, teammate Robert Hight’s team remains intact for another run at the title. Hight claimed the championship in 2017 and finished as the runner-up in the standings last year. He did so after earning four wins and reaching several final rounds in his Camaro SS. He’ll be looking for his third career Funny Car crown after also securing the championship in 2009.
JFR’s Top Fuel program will have a decidedly new look this year, too, as John Force’s middle daughter, Brittany, will drive the bright red Advance Auto Parts dragster. Brittany Force won the Top Fuel championship in 2017, but suffered a massive crash during the season-opening race in 2018, putting the team on its heels for much of the year. Brittany scored an emotional victory in Houston and finished fifth in the points tally. Her team this year will be led by well-respected crew chief David Grubnic, who has been responsible for multiple record-setting passes over the past two years.
JFR will see a new face but a familiar name in the lanes this year as well, with Austin Prock competing in Top Fuel in Pomona. Prock is the son of Hight’s mad-scientist crew chief, Jimmy Prock, and is licensed in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car category. He will race a partial schedule this year.
“The 2019 season is going to be an exciting one for John Force Racing,” said Robert Hight, who also serves as the organization’s president. “We have some new faces in the pits, some new sponsors, but the same drive and determination that we’ve always had. We’re going after race wins and championships and we have the right people, partners and parts to make that happen. It’s been a long off-season and we’re ready to go racing.”
While the nitro-burning team of John Force Racing will look significantly different in 2019, the entire Pro Stock category also will see significant changes in the coming year. The first notable change is in the schedule itself, with the class contesting 18 races this year instead of the full 24 as a cost-savings measure for competitors. Those competitors also will have a different makeup, with defending champion Tanner Gray moving to the NASCAR world and several other notable names running part-time schedules. Still, the Camaro SS-heavy class will once again feature the likes of past champions Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Bo Butner and a host of others looking to dominate the five-speed factory hot rods.
Chevrolet made history in the category last year when it picked up its 300th Pro Stock win during the Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, courtesy of Line.
As always, the Sportsman ranks will also feature plenty of Bowtie power. The popular Factory Stock Showdown, made up of muscle from the Big Three, will contest eight events where COPO Camaro drivers will compete for Wally trophies. David Barton took home the championship in his COPO in 2017, with both Stephen Bell and Arthur Kohn taking wins at Gainesville and Charlotte, respectively, last season.
Other COPO winners throughout the year were Justin Lamb, Jeff Taylor, Jeff Strickland and Thomas Fletcher in Stock Eliminator, as well as Brandon Bakies in Super Stock. In addition to COPOs, a wide range of other classic and late-model Chevrolet drag cars will be on hand at both national and divisional events throughout the year. Lamb won his second consecutive Super Stock national championship last year behind the wheel of his 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, while Brian McClanahan took the Stock Eliminator national title in his ’69 Camaro.
The season will be highlighted by the 65th edition of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The race, which is widely regarded as the most prestigious drag racing event in the world, will feature the Chevrolet Performance display showcasing race cars new and old, a wide variety of engines and performance parts, and plenty of surprise guests. A full rig schedule is available here. In addition, Chevrolet trucks return as the “Official Truck of NHRA.” Since 2014, Chevrolet has provided the Silverado trucks and Suburban vehicles utilized by the Safety Safari.
Be sure to keep watching The BLOCK and @theblockdotcom on Instagram for NHRA coverage throughout 2019.