ASHLEY FACES OWN 'GROUNDHOG DAY' IN RETURN TO GAINESVILLE RACEWAY Next Generation Driver Among Gatornationals Contenders GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When she climbs into the cockpit of the Castrol A/Fuel dragster this week in pursuit of the Top...
ASHLEY FACES OWN 'GROUNDHOG DAY' IN RETURN TO GAINESVILLE RACEWAY
Next Generation Driver Among Gatornationals Contenders
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When she climbs into the cockpit of the Castrol A/Fuel dragster this week in pursuit of the Top Alcohol championship in the 37th annual ACDelco Gatornationals, movie fan Ashley Force will try not to let her mind wander to one of her favorite films.
In the Bill Murray classic, "Groundhog Day," the central character is caught in an exasperating cycle in which he relives the same day and the same events with the same people over and over and over again.
Unfortunately, the daughter of drag racing icon and seven-time Gatornationals Funny Car champion John Force is beginning to understand what Murray's character must have been feeling and the premise suddenly has lost a lot of its appeal.
Consider that in her two most recent appearances at Gainesville Raceway -- in last year's Gatornationals and in last month's Lucas Sportsman Series race -- she put the Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows-owned dragster in the final round.
Then consider that on both occasions she lost the title to Aaron Olivarez. It's enough to give a promising young driver a complex.
"We definitely owe Aaron a couple," said the former high school cheerleader. "I don't think I've ever beaten him, but I don't think it's 'Groundhog Day.' I just think that the times we've raced him (three in all), he's just been a little better."
Whether Olivarez can maintain that edge and the No. 1 position he presently occupies in the Lucas point standings is a question to be answered in Sunday's eliminations.
All Ashley knows is that, after a "down year" in 2005, her race car finally is showing signs of returning to the form that made her a three-time national tour winner in 2004.
Nevertheless, while performance problems limited her to a single regional victory last year (en route to a seventh place finish in national points), the 23-year-old graduate of California State University-Fullerton believes she is a better because of it.
"I learned so much more last year than I did my first year," she said. "In 2004, everything went right and I guess I thought 'this isn't so hard.' Then last year came along and everything changed.
"I was used to the car going A to B, every run," she explained, "but last year it never just went A to B. It shook the tires. It smoked the tires. It dropped cylinders. It ran to the center line. It ran to the wall.
"Dad told me that anyone can drive a car when everything's perfect. It's what you do when things aren't perfect that separates the drivers."
While her priority is helping Darien and Meadows win their first series championship, Ashley also will continue to test a Castrol Ford Funny Car in anticipation of eventually moving up in class.
Her next orientation session with the Funny Car will come on Monday on the same Gainesville track on which she hopes to win on Sunday.
"Last year, it was hard for her to get comfortable driving my car," her father admitted. "We had to add padding and change the pedals every time she went out. It made more sense to build a car that fit her. So that's what we did.
"It's the car she'll drive when she moves up, whether that's next year or the year after that. It's whenever she's ready. Not whenever I'm ready."
In the meantime, Ashley's drag racing career, her interaction with her father, the 13-time Funny Car Champion, and with younger sisters Brittany, 19, and Courtney, 17, is the focus of Driving Force, a real-life series that will debut on A&E Network in July.
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Notable: TV cameras will document Ashley's progress at the Gatornationals this week for inclusion in upcoming episodes of Driving Force, a real-life series debuting in July on A&E Network.