Drag Racing Returns

Warren Johnson's kid Allen, Kenny Bernstein and Brandon and John Force's daughter Courtney. Even Alexis DeJoria, daughter of shampoo, tequila and pet food magnate John Paul DeJoria.

They all raced this weekend (February 9 to 12) on the 1,000-foot drag strip at Pomona, CA, (about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles) in the National Hot Rod Association's 52nd annual Winternationals season kickoff.

The N.H.R.A., formed in 1950, has entered its second and even third generation of drivers and turns out the races are doing well, with 23 events this season, one more than last.

Drag racing remains suffering, though, with T.V. coverage limited to ESPN2, a series of injuries and deaths which shrank the traditional 1,320-foot ¼-mile track to 1,000-feet in an attempt to slow the cars (which are now faster than ever, hitting speeds well over 300 m.p.h. in just over four seconds) and the Bush Depression pulling money out of the sport, as it did the entire auto industry.

While Top Fuel rail dragsters might be faster, Funny Cars, basically Top Fuel cars with front engines (and the same Top Fuel rear drive) are just as exciting to watch. They have a claimed 5,000+ horsepower (although no one really knows the totals) and speeds in the Top Fuel arena.

How'd they get their name? Turns out the first Funny Cars were, thought race veterans, well, funny-looking.

This season, Courtney Force, daughter of perennial Funny Car champ John Force, will be in the Funny Car class, which run a tad slower and cooler than Top Fuel entries and are one of four N.H.R.A. professional classes.

Force,23, has her university degree in communications from my alma mater (which made me more open to speaking with her and her father) and already has Driving Force reality T.V. show under her belt with two years on A&E.

Her father, now a 15-time Funny Car champion, spent his formative racing years living in a trailer in South L.A.'s scruffy Bell Gardens, working a daily gig as a truck driver.

Courtney was able to enjoy the benefits of her father's success. She grew up in the swank Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda and was "spending time in high school split between being a cheerleader and in auto shop class", she told me a few days before the Pomona races.

Of course her dad, 62 (who suffered his own serious crash in 2007 and recently had his A.C.L. replaced), brings Courtney the kind of prestige and money other young racers can only dream about. With Traxxas, Ford and Brand Source among both their sponsors, all the Forces have to add is skill to the combination. John is a proven commodity and Courtney says she "likes being dirty, but girly, too," and wanted to follow in her dad's footsteps since she was a little kid.

Her father John told me he's excited about this 2012 season with new sponsors entering the sport in spite of the rotten economy (although the amounts they are spending are unknown). He also told me he expects his older daughter, Ashley Force Hood, to return to the sport after she made quite a name for herself the past few years in a Funny Car.

So check out the Winternationals and the N.H.R.A. this season (if you can find it on T.V. and can live through Paul Page and his toupee dulling down a race). If you get a chance, go to an event. Like most motorsports, it's impossible to appreciate except in person.

And keep your eyes on John Force and his daughter Courtney. One of them will probably be the champion in their class.