ASHLEY DOING DOUBLE DUTY AT TORCO RACE FUELS EVENT She Races Castrol Dragster, Tests Ford Funny Car RICHMOND, Va. -- The last time the NHRA tour made a stop at Virginia Motorsports Park, site of this week's inaugural Torco Race Fuels Nationals,...
ASHLEY DOING DOUBLE DUTY
AT TORCO RACE FUELS EVENT
She Races Castrol Dragster, Tests Ford Funny Car
RICHMOND, Va. -- The last time the NHRA tour made a stop at Virginia Motorsports Park, site of this week's inaugural Torco Race Fuels Nationals, Ashley Force was a student at California State University-Fullerton majoring in communications.
Although she was the daughter of drag racing icon John Force, her competitive aspirations at the time were very modest and involved driving an entry-level, 170 mile-an-hour Super Comp dragster on selected weekends.
What a difference six years can make.
Now, the 23-year-old star of the A&E Network series Driving Force is a five-time NHRA national event winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster class who is being groomed to drive one of the quickest, fastest and most unpredictable race cars on the planet: an 8.000 horsepower fuel Funny Car.
This week at VMP, she'll go fast Friday, Saturday and Sunday in pursuit of a Top Alcohol title and faster on Monday in another test session in one of her father's 330 mile-an-hour Castrol Ford Mustangs.
Jumping back and forth between a long-wheelbase dragster with the engine positioned behind her and a short-wheelbase Funny Car with the engine in front, has been challenging for the second oldest of Force's four daughters.
"You have to drive them differently," Ashley said, "and sometimes I have to think about which car I'm in. They both leave hard, but it's what the Funny Car does after the launch that takes your breath away. (After the initial acceleration) the dragster settles down but the Funny Car is just getting started."
The view also is entirely different -- unobstructed in the Castrol dragster with the engine to the rear; almost non-existent in the Funny Car with the injector sticking up above the engine, directly in the line-of-sight downtrack.
Despite all that, crew chief-to-be-Dean Antonelli said Ashley has adjusted easily to the Funny Car.
"She has a natural feel for the car that you can't teach someone," he said. "She's handled everything we've thrown at her like she's been doing this forever. All she needs is experience."
Antonelli, a key member of Ashley's dad's Castrol GTX crew, has used the Monday tests to put his protege in as many compromising situations as possible. She has handled tire shake, loss of traction and engine explosions like a veteran, but she still has a long way to go.
"The thing is, there's no rush (to move up)," Ashley said. "I've been racing five years, but I'm still learning. The main goal right now is to get me ready so that if there's an opportunity I'll be ready."
Although she has characterized herself as "a Funny Car girl," Ashley isn't anxious to get out of the cockpit of the Castrol dragster owned and maintained by Californians Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows. Right now, it's a very comfortable ride.
"Everything it does now, I've felt several times before," she said, "so there are no surprises -- but it's still exciting. It's still fun."
Presently fifth in the Lucas Sportsman Series standings, Ashley isn't eligible to add to her points total at VMP having already used up her national event allotment. Instead, she's racing for her Funny Car future.
"Dad wants me to be as comfortable in the Funny Car as I am right now in the dragster. Sometimes I think that'll never happen, because the Funny Car is such a different animal. But Guido (Antonelli) is very patient and he says I'm doing great. The biggest thing is that I don't have much experience with a car next to me. That's something we'll probably work on on Monday."
In the meantime, there's work to do on Saturday and Sunday.