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Padecky: Force of nature

  • In this photo provided by NHRA, Funny Car winner Courtney Force, left, celebrates with her father John Force after the pair raced in the final round at the Inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals, Sunday, June 23, 2013, at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H. It marked the first time that they have raced in a Funny Car final round, and Courtney improved to 4-2 overall in head-to-head matchups against her father, a 15-time Funny Car world champion, by going 4.301 seconds at 261.67 mph in her Ford Mustang to claim the victory. John Force, who was making his second finals appearance in as many weeks, finished with a 4.367 at 262.28 in his Mustang. (AP Photo/NHRA, Marc Gewertz)

SAN FRANCISCO

It's not often that a woman can sit on a tire or drag a parachute and become the buzz of the sports world.

Already well known as John Force's youngest daughter and NHRA's Rookie of the Year in 2012, Courtney Force's public awareness rose to rock star proportions on July 9 when she graced the cover and the inside pages of ESPN's 2013 Body Issue. On the cover, Force was sitting on a tire. Inside she was pulling a parachute that would deploy at the end of a run in her Funny Car. She wasn't in a fire suit. In fact she wasn't wearing anything except a smile. A discreet placement of an arm and an equally discreet ESPN photographer made the photographs attractive but not provocative.

"The biggest thing I emphasized," Force said in preparation for this weekend's Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, "was that I didn't want to come across as a pin-up girl. Actually, I had a lot of rules. They wanted me to sit in the car. I said no, that's too weird. They wanted me to stand next to a dune buggy. No way. That's not what I race. I don't want to downplay our sport. They wanted me to lay across the car. That wasn't going to happen either."

Repair shop garages across America are filled with calendars of attractive women in hot pants and halter tops lying across cars. Hardly the working definition of art, which is what Force wanted from the photo shoot.

How Force got to the point in her life that she agreed to meet a dozen people from ESPN in May on the Mojave Desert Salt Flats, that what convinced her to pose sans clothes, all that back story is more interesting than the pictures themselves. A picture, in this case, is not worth a thousand words. It's only the end of a very long sentence, not the beginning of one.

"It wasn't something I wanted to do," Force said, and it wasn't that long ago that she said it. Hers is not the path the most commonly taken, but then again she gave hint a long time ago she was willing to think outside the box.

At Esperanza High School in Anaheim, Force was a cheerleader and a dancer ... who also took auto shop and welding. If she had taken lumberjacking, it wouldn't have a more disparate activity than cheerleading.

"But a race car driver was what I always wanted to be," said Force, currently seventh in points. "I always played with race cars rather than Barbies."

Of course, having a father who would go on to be a 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion did mean Courtney's racing DNA came from John's. It also meant available opportunities and experiences were there for the offing, for learning.


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