Courtney Force sits for a portrait before the start of her rookie season. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
In elementary school, Courtney Force drew herself drag racing alongside her famous father, John Force.
Among the highlights of her rookie season as an NHRA funny car driver, Courtney, now 24, has brought the picture to life three times — beating her father twice.
"As a father, I was proud. As the team owner, I was happy she did her job. But as a driver, I wasn't happy," said John Force, 63, who has won 15 world championships and 134 events.
With the NHRA season closing this weekend at the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Courtney Force is heavily favored to earn the circuit's rookie-of-the-year award.
Thursday, she posted Pomona's fastest qualifying time, 4.032 seconds at 315.93 mph. With continued success, Force could finish as high as fourth in the final points standings.
She currently stands sixth, one spot above her dad. She has won a race, and been top qualifier twice.
"Better than I could have expected," Courtney Force said. "We put together a new team. We won Seattle after qualifying 14th. We've qualified for every race."
As high-strung as John Force is, he displayed remarkable patience in guiding Courtney toward her heights.
Courtney longed to race about from the time she'd come to Pomona in diapers, but her father ordered her to spend six years in lower-level super-comp and top-alcohol racing.
She then endured the same "Funny Car 101" lessons John Force invested in older sister Ashley Force Hood, the first woman to win a funny car race, in 2008.
Courtney was seated in a funny car body, her father towing her around his Yorba Linda shop to familiarize herself — sometimes blindfolded — with the car's handles and parachute.
Other tests emerged, like crashing into a wall and finding the nerve to get back behind the wheel, or someone interrupting her polishing her fingernails Thursday to warm up the car.
She kicked herself over failing to upset funny car points leader Jack Beckman last month to help third-place teammate Mike Neff. "You learn, move on, and do better the next weekend," Courtney said.
Like on Thursday.
Perhaps the strongest indicator of her progress is the fact her dad's now deluging her with advice.
"He's a handful … running me down in his fire suit to say, 'the lane is doing this,' or, 'you've got to do this,' " Courtney said.
"I remember when the season started… how sick to my stomach I was," she said. "Now I can move into fourth. It's a 180 from February."
Beckman emerged unhurt Thursday when his car's body exploded into debris near the close of his qualifying run. "I've never had that happen to me, and I'm not signing up for it again," he said. Beckman's car exploded because of what appears to be a piston malfunction, according to his crew chief, Todd Smith. And neither Beckman, nor his close pursuer Ron Capps, gained a qualifying point. … Top-fuel qualifying Thursday was canceled because of rain.