Baytown: Ashley Force Hood preview

Ashley Aims to Close the Deal at Houston; Hopes to Got to Final Round for Second Year HOUSTON, Texas -- After coming so close just one year ago, Ashley Force Hood tries to seal the deal this week at Houston Raceway Park where she sends...

Ashley Aims to Close the Deal at Houston; Hopes to Got to Final Round for Second Year

HOUSTON, Texas -- After coming so close just one year ago, Ashley Force Hood tries to seal the deal this week at Houston Raceway Park where she sends her Castrol GTX ® Ford Mustang after the Funny Car championship at the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals.

The daughter of drag racing icon John Force, Ashley validated her own credentials a year ago when she reached the final round in three consecutive NHRA tour events including the Spring Nationals.

After losing to Tim Wilkerson in the final at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and to Del Worsham at HRP (4.971 to the winner's 4.933), the former high school cheerleader earned a breakthrough victory in the Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga., becoming the first woman ever to win an NHRA Funny Car race.

Now, after back-to-back Top 10 finishes wrapped around 2007 Rookie-of-the-Year honors, the 26-year-old graduate of Cal State Fullerton is poised to challenge her father, current points leader Ron Capps, Wilkerson and Ford teammates Robert Hight and Mike Neff for the $500,000 Full Throttle championship.

The first female Funny Car driver to qualify for the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship and the first to earn a Top 10 finish, Ashley is on point to become the first to win the championship.

Key to her latest bid is a Castrol GTX Ford that has been one of the most consistent Funny Cars on the tour over the last two-plus seasons.

Prepared by Dean "Guido" Antonelli, who perfected his skills as team leader on John Force-driven Funny Cars that one 10 straight championships, and Ron Douglas, whose resume includes a stint as crew chief to current champ Cruz Pedregon, the green-and-white Ford went to four final rounds in 2008 and, at the abbreviated 1,000 foot distance, was the only Funny Car to break the 210 mile-an-hour barrier.

"I have the best team," Ashley said, "(and) they've been so supportive while I've been learning the game. Whatever success I've had is because of my team and my crew chiefs. Guido' and I have kind of learned Funny Cars together and that makes it even more special."

Ashley's experience at HRP actually extends beyond her impressive performance in

last year's race. Before turning pro in 2007, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton was an

HRP regular in the Top Alcohol Dragster division at the wheel of a car owned by veteran Jerry Darien. In five Houston appearances in the dragster, she never failed to advance beyond the first round and reached the semifinals four times.

Although she has spent a lot of time in the spotlight the last five years including a brief reign as AOL sports' "World's Hottest Athlete" in a 2007, Ashley isn't naturally the outgoing person one might expect..

     "I'm really kind of a shy person," she said.  "I'm not like dad.
I'm the most comfortable when I'm in my car.  That's my escape."

Ironically, the more comfortable she becomes in the cockpit, the less comfortable it makes those against whom she must compete.

Ashley at Houston Raceway Park:

-- After missing the 2007 race, Ashley drove her Castrol GTX Ford to the final round last year before losing to veteran Del Worsham.

-- During her apprenticeship at the wheel of a Jerry Darien-owned Top Alcohol dragster, Ashley made five appearances at HRP and was ousted in the semifinals in four of them.

-- Last year's trip to the Houston finals was the second of three consecutive final round appearances that culminated in Ashley's first tour victory April 27 at Atlanta, Ga.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff