Force Hood hopes altitude heightens attitude DENVER, Colo. - To climb the figurative mountain that stands between her and the NHRA Full Throttle Championship, Ashley Force Hood first hopes to conquer a far more literal height - the 5,860 foot...
Force Hood hopes altitude heightens attitude
DENVER, Colo. - To climb the figurative mountain that stands between her and the NHRA Full Throttle Championship, Ashley Force Hood first hopes to conquer a far more literal height - the 5,860 foot high racetrack at Bandimere Speedway, site of this week's 31st annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
The graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, who last year came ever so close to becoming the first woman in 43 years to win the NHRA Funny Car before losing out to brother-in-law Robert "Top Gun" Hight, is not at all intimidated by the rarefied air that makes Bandimere the most challenging venue in the series.
After all, she took her Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang all the way to the final round a year ago before dropping a narrow decision to Ron Capps and the NAPA Dodge.
Instead, she sees this week's race as an opportunity to turn around a season that, while successful by any number of standards, has been devoid of the kind of barrier-busting heroics that marked her first three pro campaigns under the tutelage of crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas.
After claiming NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2007, becoming the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race in 2008 and contending for a championship while winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in 2009, Force Hood has failed to convert thus far this year, entering the Mile-High Nationals in eighth place in points.
While she is in little danger of failing to make the Countdown to 1 playoffs which begin Sept. 6 at Indianapolis, Ind. (she needs only to qualify for Sunday's eliminations to clinch a spot), the 27-year-old phenom knows that to have the best shot at the $500,000 title, she needs to improve her current standing in the two remaining races.
Otherwise, she'll start the six-race shootout no less than 90 points behind the likely No. 1 seed, her father, 14-time champion John Force. That's four-and-a-half racing rounds and while Hight proved last year that it's not impossible to overcome such a deficit, it is exceedingly difficult.
"I'm ready to get to Denver because it's totally different than any other track on the schedule," Ashley said. "Hopefully that will be a good thing for us. We just haven't been doing really well this summer. We're running good (three No. 1 starts and a national speed record of 316.38 miles per hour), but we just aren't having any luck.
"Everyone else just happens to run just a little better than us," she said. "Like at Charlotte (in the final round of the 4Wide Nationals), we ran 4.04 and dad ran 4.03. At Chicago (Joliet, Ill., the UA Route 66 Nationals), we ran 4.04 and Matt (Hagan) ran 4.02. We ran 4.32 at Norwalk and Tim (Wilkerson) ran 4.31. That's just how it has gone."
In fact, of the 15 races she has lost this season, Force Hood has been beaten by less than .085 of a second in 11 of them.
Still, she knows that the Countdown format instituted in 2007 still gives her a chance to turn her season around and become the fourth different John Force Racing driver to win the championship in the last eight years.
"It's been frustrating (not to win)," she said. "The breaks that went our way last year are going the other way this year, but that's just racing. My guys keep telling me that the pendulum eventually will swing our way. We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We know we're close (to a breakthrough).
"Robert showed last year that if you're in it, you can win it," said the former high school cheerleader, "so we're not discouraged. We'll just try to get as high in points as we can and go from there."