SONOMA, Calif. --
Off the track, the 2012 NHRA rookie of the year has elevated her Q-Rating on the national scene as she is one of the featured athletes in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue, which hits newsstands on July 12. In the issue, she is featured alongside other fit athletes from a variety of major sports arenas, including San Francisco 49ers players Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis, New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, NBA player John Wall, PGA legend Gary Player and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, among others.
An image of Force, 24, was also selected for one of eight different covers that will be published in the annual ESPN The Magazine special issue that celebrates athletes in their most natural and basic forms.
"It is very important to be both physically and mentally fit when you are driving one of these 8,000-horsepower Funny Cars," Force said. "Being featured in The Body Issue allowed me to show that race car drivers are athletes, too."
As she heads to Sonoma Raceway, July 26-28 for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, her mostly male competitors are seeing first-hand what a dynamic athlete she is and how competitive she has become at the controls of her 320 mph Traxxas Ford Mustang.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, the second of three consecutive weekends of racing known on the circuit as the Western Swing. The race will be televised on ESPN HD (qualifying Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 HD (eliminations, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET).
"Our Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car team has had a great season so far with two wins behind us," said Force. "We have been picking up bonus points left and right and I think we're on our way to where we want to be in the points."
With 40 bonus points earned during qualifying rounds, she leads all Funny Car competitors in that category. She says every point counts in her quest to become the third female to win an NHRA Mello Yello Series world championship title, joining Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey. She would be the first to do it in a Funny Car.
"Since we picked up another win in Epping, our team is trying hard to just stay focused and take it round by round," Force said. "We want to try and pick up points during qualifying and obviously try to stay ahead on race day. We feel confident that we have a good car so we just need to get it down the track for every qualifying pass so we can learn more from the runs and use it to our advantage on race day."
"You're always thinking about the Countdown in the back of your head," said Force, who finished fifth overall in her rookie season. "It's important to be aware of where you are in points so you can fight to make it in the top 10, but most importantly, you need to focus on your main goal of going rounds at each race and build up as many points as possible. As a driver, you don't want to get too caught up thinking about every point or it will drive you crazy. You just need to focus on the task at hand and the round that is ahead of you."
The 2011 world champion Hagan is back in championship form as the series points leader, but the Virginia cattle rancher has yet to visit the winner's circle in Wine Country. Other pre-race favorites include seven-time Sonoma winner John Force, 2008 winner Hight, three-time winner Ron Capps, and two-time event winner Cruz Pedregon.
In Top Fuel, Al-Anabi Racing driver Shawn Langdon is currently in the No. 1 position in points, but has seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher, a two-time Sonoma winner, lurking in second place only one point behind. Other challengers include defending world champ Brown, track record holder Spencer Massey and five-time event winner Doug Kalitta, among others.
Series points leader Hector Arana Jr. is a three-time winner this season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but he will have plenty of challengers in the two-wheel category including defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, two-time Sonoma winner Andrew Hines, rising star Scotty Pollacheck, 2009 champ Hector Arana Sr. and recent winners Michael Ray and John Hall.
Set amid the beautiful rolling hills and vineyards just north of San Francisco, Sonoma Raceway is already one of the most popular 'destination' races for NHRA fans from around the country so this year's race - featuring family-fun festivities throughout the weekend, and the annual Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social on Sunday - will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for NHRA fans.
Sonoma Raceway will also host the fan-favorite Sunday morning Starting Line Party featuring many of NHRA's leading ladies. Fans with Starting Line Party passes will have the opportunity to meet some of their favorite drivers, get autographs and celebrate during pre-race festivities down on the starting line. Party packages start at $77 and include a reserved seat, VIP track access pass for pre-race Q&A, track walk and all-day access to Thunder Alley. For more details, contact Sonoma Raceway.
Another unique experience offered to fans during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is the Don Schumacher Racing Fan Hospitality Package. The DSR Hospitality Package includes a seat in the Main Grandstand for Friday, July 26th, access to DSR hospitality area Friday, a chef prepared meal, DSR driver appearances and autograph opportunities as well as the chance to see how the crew of a Top Fuel dragster or nitro Funny Car tune and rebuild their machines between rounds. Packages are available while supplies last.
As always, every ticket purchased for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is a pit pass, which offers an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as race teams service their high-horsepower machines between rounds. Fans also will want to check out NHRA Nitro Alley and the popular NHRA Manufacturers Midway. In addition, fans should definitely plan to visit the Blast on the Grass, a celebration of American muscle cars, which features many classic machines in the popular car show set in turn 11 of the facility. There will also be some exhibition racing featured during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals with two Jet Dragsters and eight Pro Mod cars scheduled to make runs.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins on Friday, July 26 with the first session at 4:15 p.m., followed by another session at 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 27, at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 28.
Adult tickets start as low as $39 and fans are encouraged to buy early and save. Make it a family-fun weekend when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series arrives in Sonoma and take advantage of a special ticket promotion: Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult on Saturday. Fans can also bring an empty 20-oz. Mello Yello® bottle to the Sonoma Raceway box office and SAVE $8 on one adult single day NHRA race ticket, Friday - Sunday.
To purchase tickets for the 26th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, please call Sonoma Raceway Box Office at (800) 870-RACE (7223) or visit racesonoma.com.