ASHLEY TRIES TO PUT TITLE BID BACK ON TRACK IN VEGAS RACE Castrol Driver Among Contenders in Top Alcohol Dragster LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7-9) -- With the national points lead hanging in the balance, Ashley Force is betting on her Castrol ...
ASHLEY TRIES TO PUT TITLE BID BACK ON TRACK IN VEGAS RACE
Castrol Driver Among Contenders in Top Alcohol Dragster
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7-9) -- With the national points lead hanging in the balance, Ashley Force is betting on her Castrol dragster this week as the NHRA tour moves to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the seventh renewal of the SummitRacing.com Nationals.
Ms. Force, the 23-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, trails rival Aaron Olivarez by 42 points in the race for the Top Alcohol Dragster championship in the Lucas Sportsman Series.
Trying to give veteran car owners Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows their first series title, Ashley is hoping to bounce back from last week's second round loss at Houston, Texas and recapture the form that propelled her to a national event victory last month at Gainesville, Fla.
That victory brought an end to a 16-month drought and thrust the graduate of California State University-Fullerton prominently into contention for the 2006 championship.
After winning three times in her rookie season (2004) and finishing fourth in driver points, Ashley suffered through a disappointing sophomore year, one in which she failed to win a national event and prevailed only once at the regional level.
Those performance problems, which began with the NHRA's decision to restrict the amount of volatile nitromethane in the fuel mixture, reducing the percentage first to 98 per cent and then to 97, finally may be behind her.
Nevertheless, while 2005 was disappointing from a won-lost standpoint, it provided invaluable experience for Ashley, who didn't begin racing full time until 2004 after she earned a degree in communications from California State University-Fullerton.
"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 7hard.' 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 primary focus this year is on winning the Top Alcohol championship, Ashley also will continue to test a Castrol Ford Funny Car in anticipation of eventually moving up in classification and, ultimately, racing against her father, winner of more races (119) and series championships (13) than anyone else in history.
"She'll move up when she's ready," her dad said, "whether it's next year or the year after that or whenever. There's no rush. She needs as much seat time as she can get. When Eric (Medlen) and Robert (Hight) started driving, they already knew all about (Funny Cars) because they had worked on them as mechanics.
"Ashley is starting from scratch, so she still has a lot the learn. But I'm proud of her. I always said that all I wanted was for her to love this sport as much as me -- and I think she does."
In a perfect world, Ashley not only would win this week's race, she also would share the winners' circle with her dad. That's happened just once since she began driving (at the 2004 Automobile Club of Southern California Finals in Pomona, Calif.), but the two came close at Gainesville where the elder Force was runner-up to Ron Capps in Funny Car.
* * * * Notable: Ashley is one of the stars of Driving Force, a new real-life TV series that will debut on A&E Network this July. The production crew, which has been filming since late last season, will follow Ashley's progress in this week's SummitRacing.com Nationals.