This list is a little surprising. Who would have thought there wouldn’t be a Don Schumacher driver holding at least one championship trophy when the season started? Who would have thought the third guy on the KB Racing team would dominate his multi-time championship winning teammates? Given how most of the season was going, who’d have thought a Harley Davidson rider even had a chance?
Force’s win is important. She’s just the fourth female championship winner in NHRA Mello Yello Series history and second in Top Fuel. The list she joins contains Top Fuel legend Shirley Muldowney, Pro Stock driver Erica Enders and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey. All of these ladies have won multiple championships in their classes. Muldowney won Top Fuel in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Sampey won Pro Stock Motorcycle three years in a row, 2000-2002. Enders went back to back in 2014 and 2015. That’s elite company, no pun intended.
Her win is also surprising. That’s not to take anything away from her as a driver. She’s been on an upward trajectory throughout her career, always learning and improving. That’s not to take anything away from her team, either. With Alan Johnson in her pit doing the tuning, it’s honestly not surprising from a team and car perspective.
It’s just that it seemed to come out of the blue. She was there, and she was doing all the right things, but when the dust cleared and they handed her the trophy, it still seemed as though she flew right under the radar and just appeared there. She was not the champion that I at least expected, in spite of noting that she entered the race only 20 points behind leader Steve Torrence.
Even her mother, Laurie Force, was surprised, commenting after the win, “I never thought this would really happen,” she said. “I just wanted her to be safe and I thought, ‘if you could hang on to number two, I’d be so excited.’ I’m so excited for her. She’s worked really hard and so has her team.”
Perhaps it’s because she’s often overshadowed. She’s the quiet Force. I suspect most people expected to see her sister, Courtney, win a championship before Brittany. She’s really not quiet, exactly. She’s happy to talk and she’s not shy, but in her family, compared to her father and her sister, she’s quiet. She’s no less of a fan favorite though, so this is going to be a very popular win for the sport.
The only damper on Sunday came from the direction of a disappointed Torrence, the driver who led the Top Fuel points for much of the season and won eight times, but lost the championship when he went out in the second round while Force won her matchup. Torrence was understandably disappointed, but what he had to say was a lesson in not losing gracefully.
“I mean, it is what it is, you know. I mean, this whole NHRA deal with the welfares point system is just a crock of crap,” said Torrence. “I mean, you come out here and you race for 24 races and you only get to count six, and Brittany got hot in the last few races and did good. I mean, you can’t take that away from them, but those guys wouldn’t even be in contention if it wasn’t for this bullshit point system they got.
“So, I mean, it is what it is. We’ve got to play by the rules, but it really doesn’t– it doesn’t go to show how much of all those guys over there are champions on this race team,” Torrence went on. “I dropped the ball, was late on the tree but, you know, you’ve got to race a guy like Antron and I just– I just messed up. But congrats to Brittany, great job, she won the championship, you know. It is what it is, but it’s still bullshit.”
Maybe Force wouldn’t have won the championship under the old full season points system. Maybe Hight wouldn’t have either, or Krawiec. Butner likely would have locked his up long ago instead of having to fight for his right down to the final round of the final race. The thing is, like Torrence said, it is what it is.
Not to get into a full scale debate about the Countdown, but the bottom line is it has been around for 10 years and it’s not going anywhere. It is what it is, and after this long, it’s likely here to stay. Everyone knows how the game works going in. Sure, Torrence had a bad wreck in Texas, and it knocked his team off it’s game a good bit, and that allowed other drivers to close in, setting up the situation where Torrence’s late start cost him a championship. At the same time, Force’s team, also well aware of how the championship Countdown works, did what they needed to do and came out victorious.
Well played. Let’s do it again in 2018.
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