DESPITE SEASON STRUGGLES, ASHLEY ENCOURAGED AT AUTO CLUB FINALS Castrol/Hot Wheels Driver Defends Top Alcohol Title POMONA, Calif. -- Rarely is a qualifying failure cause for encouragement, but, after not making the starting field for last...
DESPITE SEASON STRUGGLES, ASHLEY ENCOURAGED AT AUTO CLUB FINALS
Castrol/Hot Wheels Driver Defends Top Alcohol Title
POMONA, Calif. -- Rarely is a qualifying failure cause for encouragement, but, after not making the starting field for last week's Lucas Sportsman Series race at Las Vegas, Nev., Ashley Force feels much better about her chances in this week's 41st annual Automobile Club of Southern California Finals.
Ms. Force, who last year made history at Pomona Raceway when she shared the Auto Club Finals winners' circle with her father, 119-time NHRA tour winner John Force, will try to repeat as Top Alcohol Dragster champion in a Castrol/Hot Wheels entry that this year has displayed a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality.
In her second season at the wheel of the car owned by Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows, for whom she will drive at least one more season, Ashley has failed to make the starting field at three different events including a couple of races in the NHRA POWERade series.
Nevertheless, on a final, failed qualifying attempt last week at Las Vegas, her car posted its quickest 60-foot time this season. Unfortunately, the engine failed shortley thereafter when the crankshaft broke into two pieces, leaving the team outside a tough eight-car field.
"It finally left the starting line like Jerry has wanted," Ashley said, "so maybe we've got our race car back. We'll just have to see."
Although she is on pace to again finish in the Top 10 in Lucas Series points, this season has borne little resemblance to a sensational rookie season during which she won three national events and three Lucas Series events en route to the Division 4 championship.
This season, the 22-year-old graduate of Cal State-Fullerton has balanced qualifying failures with final round appearances in the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., and the K&N Filters SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J. She also earned her only 2005 victory in a return to Englishtown for a Lucas Series event.
Still, she believes that the current season has done more to prepare her for an eventual pro career than anything that occurred a year ago.
"This year has taught me a lot more," she said. "Last year, it seemed like the car just went A to B without any problem every race.
"This season, I've been sideways, I've had to drive in tire shake, its smoked the tires and, last week, it blew a motor. So it's been a good learning experience even if it hasn't been as much fun at times (as it was a year ago).
"Now I know that winning (races) isn't that easy."
The aforementioned problems (i.e., tire shake, blown motors, loss of traction) are "standard issue" in the category to which she aspires, the one in which her father has won 13 championships in 15 seasons at the wheel of series of Castrol GTX entries.
In fact, she has taken several turns this season at the wheel of her father's national record-holding Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang in Monday test sessions following NHRA national events.
It's given her a new appreciation for her father's accomplishments.
"Those cars are a handful," she said, "but I've got great teachers and a great team to learn from. Dad said there's no time table. I learn a little bit more every time (I'm in the car) but, right now, I enjoy driving the dragster and that's my focus for this weekend."
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Did You Know? While attending Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda, Calif., Ashley took, as electives, courses in auto shop and welding.....Ashley's younger sisters, Brittany, 19, and Courtney, 17, also have begun driving competitively in the Super Comp division in which mom, Laurie, also is licensed....Ashley has gone to the final round seven times in 26 NHRA national events; six times in 16 races in the Lucas Sportsman Series....last year, Ashley was named Driver of the Year and Rookie of the Year after winning the NHRA's South Central Division championship ....the Darien and Meadows team is bidding for its fourth straight season-ending victory. Before winning last year with Ashley, Darien and Meadows won in 2002 and 2003 with Morgan Lucas as driver....overall, crew chief Jerry Darien has won NHRA national events with seven different drivers including current Top Fuel stars Brandon Bernstein, Lucas and Melanie Troxel. Darien even won a national event himself, driving to the Winternationals championship at Pomona Raceway in 1981....last year at the Auto Club Finals, Ashley qualified third before beating Steve Federlin, Chris Demke, Lucas and series champion Mitch Myers.