Englishtown: Ashley Force preview

ASHLEY FORCE AMPS UP FOR CHAMPIONSHIP RUN Legend's Daughter is Second in POWERade Points ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- It's become exceedingly apparent that Ashley Force, the 25-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, is more than just a ...

ASHLEY FORCE AMPS UP FOR CHAMPIONSHIP RUN
Legend's Daughter is Second in POWERade Points

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- It's become exceedingly apparent that Ashley Force, the 25-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, is more than just a novelty on an NHRA POWERade drag racing tour that moves this week to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for the 39th renewal of theLucasOil Supernationals.

After all, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton has taken her 330 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to the semifinals or beyond in half the races run this season, has become the first woman in 39 years of Funny Car racing to win an NHRA national event and become the only woman ever to sit atop the Funny Car driver standings.

She is the highest-ranked of the four John Force Racing, Inc., drivers in the current Top 10, two positions ahead of her famous father and just behind points leader Tim Wilkerson.

That's pretty heady stuff for a woman who three years ago climbed behind the wheel of an 8,000 horsepower Funny Car for the first time amid widespread skepticism.

Flying in the face of conventional wisdom suggesting that women simply didn't have the strength to muscle a short-wheelbase Funny Car from Point A to Point B, the former high school cheerleader finished in the Top 10 in points last season, became the first woman to reach a Funny Car final and capped the season by claiming the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year.

Although a woman hadn't raced in the Funny Car division since former Supernationals Top Fuel winner Cristen Powell's departure in 2000, Ashley's success paved the way for Melanie Troxel to move over from the dragster class, in which she had won four times, to ultimately become the second female Funny Car winner.

For Ashley, though, it never was about being a woman. It was about being a racer and being part of a Castrol GTX team led by crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli and assistant crew chief Ron Douglas.

That's because, in spite of her success, she isn't at all comfortable in her role as the new face of high performance.

Inherently shy and private, like her mother Laurie, she was the only varsity cheerleader at Esperanza High School (Yorba Linda, Calif.) who never led a cheer; the only member of the school choir who declined to solo. Once she's in the car, though, her father's genes take over.

"I think it's exciting for the fans to finally have some female winners in Funny Car," she said, "but I know it's the guys on my team who got me to this point. I'm proud to be a female in the seat, but it's Guido' and Ron and my crew guys who really deserve all the credit. They've given me a awesome race car."

Driving a hybrid Mustang that, week-in and week-out, has been the most consistent in the category, the second oldest of Force's four daughters quietly has gone from best of gender to leading contender.

Although she lost in last year's first round as a Funny Car rookie, Ashley's earlier success at Raceway Park (two regional wins and a runner-up in the 2005 Supernationals, all in Jerry Darien's Castrol-backed A/Fuel dragster), coupled with her performance two weeks ago at Joliet, Ill., where she recorded the fastest speed this year at 329.10 mph, bring her back to New Jersey with considerable confidence.

She'll try to transform that confidence into something more tangible in Sunday's single elimination finals.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Cristen Powell