Brainerd: Ashley Force preview

COUNTDOWN BERTH CLOSE FOR CHAMP'S DAUGHTER Ashley Force Among Favorites in Brainerd Race BRAINERD, Minn. -- Last year, Ashley Force's biggest win came, not on the racetrack, but rather on the worldwide web where, in an on-line poll conducted...

COUNTDOWN BERTH CLOSE FOR CHAMP'S DAUGHTER
Ashley Force Among Favorites in Brainerd Race

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Last year, Ashley Force's biggest win came, not on the racetrack, but rather on the worldwide web where, in an on-line poll conducted by AOL Sports, she upset New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, among others, to earn the title of "World's Hottest Athlete."

It was both flattering and embarrassing for the 25-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, who this week is thankful to be returning to Brainerd International Raceway with more in her portfolio than a few glamour photographs and credits for a role in Driving Force, the real life TV series that aired for two seasons on A&E Network.

In fact, her second appearance in the Lucas Nationals, contested this week for the 27th time, could earn her and her Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford Mustang one of the 10 starting spots in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.

Coming off a standout performance two weeks ago at Sonoma, Calif., the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton is riding a wave of momentum into an event in which her father is the defending champion and in which a Team Castrol Funny Car has reached the winners' circle in 14 of the last 20 years.

Already the first woman in Funny Car history to reach an NHRA final, win an NHRA event and lead the points, Ashley is just a couple of round wins away from becoming the first to mount a legitimate bid for the POWERade championship. If the stars are in proper alignment, she could reach that milestone in Sunday's eliminations.

All she needs to do is exit the race leading rivals Bob Tasca III, Del Worsham and Gary Scelzi, the three drivers closest to breaking into the Top 10, by 237 points. That's one point more than the maximum either of the three could earn by winning the last two events leading up to the six-race Countdown that begins with the inaugural NHRA Carolina Nationals at Concord, N.C., Sept 12-14.

"My guys have given me a really good race car," Ashley said. "After Sonoma (where she qualified No. 1 for the first time in her pro career), we know we have a car that can run good in the heat and run just as good in the cool."

Although she lost a narrow decision to points leader Tim Wilkerson in the second round, Ashley raised eyebrows in the series' most recent event by posting the quickest time in three of the four qualifying rounds and then unloading a best-of-the-race 4.094 in a first round win over Tommy Johnson Jr.

As a bonus, her qualifying performance earned the Full Throttle Award for a young crew anchored by crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas.

The fact that the former high school cheerleader already has secured a spot in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown (the Funny Car bonus race contested in conjunction with the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Mationals at Indianapolis, Ind.) and is poised to claim a Countdown berth is by no means a fluke.

Except for a hiccup in the season's second race (Phoenix, Ariz.) and some handling issues that were at the core of a mini-slump resulting in four consecutive first round losses, she has had a solid sophomore season in the 300 mile-an-hour Mustang.

Significantly, her breakthrough victory at Atlanta, Ga., which came at her father's expense, wasn't the only shot she's fired. She also was runner-up at races in Houston and Las Vegas and reached the semifinals in three other events. Now, she hopes to become the fourth different JFR driver to win at B.I.R. in the last six years.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Bob Tasca III , Tommy Johnson Jr.