Force Hood, Antonelli - Ford interview

Now in her third year in the NHRA Funny Car series, Ashley Force Hood and her team have become a "force" to be reckoned with. Ashley, who won earlier this year at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston, TX, and her crew chief, Dean "Guido" ...

Now in her third year in the NHRA Funny Car series, Ashley Force Hood and her team have become a "force" to be reckoned with. Ashley, who won earlier this year at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston, TX, and her crew chief, Dean "Guido" Antonelli, talk about what makes their team so strong and how she has grown as a driver in her two-plus seasons on in the series.

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD - Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

HOW HAS THE TEAM CHANGED FROM THE FIRST YEAR? "The first year was all about learning all of our jobs. Each guy had to learn what they do on the car, get it fine-tuned and learn how to do it quickly between rounds. That's not an easy thing to do, especially when you know mistakes are made, and you learn from those mistakes, but that's all part of it. I think that was our first year. Our second year was kind of fine tuning that. Fortunately, we had the same group of guys; only one or two guys were different, so that really makes a big difference in the fact that that you know it's the same basic group, they've built on what they've learned the first year. The second year we were still working on those same things, and this year I think Ron [Douglas] and Guido have really pushed the guys to remember that it's all in the details. It's not just doing the job but how perfect you can do it, and double-checking everything. That makes a big difference. A lot of rounds are lost just because of something so simple and easy, that it was a mistake that someone didn't double-check something. Our team, we rarely have those issues. If we lose a round it's because the temperature has changed or maybe I've got it out of the groove. It's never something with the crew guys, or a technicality that the crew guys made a mistake on, and that just gives us so much more of a chance, I think, at doing well when you don't have to think about those little minor details. They've really worked hard to do that and they actually double-check each other. I actually see it when we go to warm up, one guy checks something, the other guy checks the same thing and that makes a big difference I believe. It all adds up."

ONLY HAVING ONE OR TWO CHANGES TO THE CREW AND KNOWING THEIR ATTENTION TO DETAIL MUST BE A MAJOR COMFORT. "It is. It makes a big difference when you get someone new. Even if they've come from a different team they're going to learn things differently or have a different way of doing things. You have to re-teach them. You have to get them use to our routine and working with this group of people, and that takes some time to get those kinks worked out. Fortunately, our one new guy Matt came from Dad's team, so we learn from that team, too, and his routine probably didn't change very much; he knows how it goes. Our other new guy came from Del Worsham's team, so they both had a lot of experience, so we weren't trying to teach a brand- new person, we were just fine-tuning them to how our team runs. I really think you see how good my guys get along and I think it makes a difference when something does go wrong, or if there's a mistake, even if they're not quite sure. I don't know that much about working on cars, but I know it can be nerve-wracking if you think that you've made a mistake. Do you say something or do you not? These guys are so comfortable with Guido and Ron they'll go and they'll tell them. It totally makes me more comfortable because I know they're willing to take getting into trouble to make sure the car's right. I never think they would let anything pass on accident with this car, and I hope that all teams run like that, but you never know how teams run. You're in a rush and suddenly you realize something, same thing with me and my car. I'm always worried and I double-check a hundred times, because I'm like, 'What if I go up to start my car and one of my arm restraints isn't hooked in? What do I do?' You know you can't make that pass when you know there's something that is really wrong, or my helmet is not strapped on right or whatever it is, so to keep that from happening I check everything about 10 times. That's the same with the guys, it's not about getting me in trouble, it's about giving me a safe car and its really about making Ron and Guido proud of them. They're very close with them, and they really want them to be happy with them and I think it makes our guys double-check more than maybe people on other teams who don't care so much what there crew chiefs think or are scared of their crew chief. That's not the way we are in our camp. We're all very close. If there is a mistake, whether it's me on my part, or the crew, we're willing for the good of the team to go up announce the mistake and make the right change. Luckily it doesn't happen very often and I think it's because we all double-check everything so much. At least we know we're all on the same page. We know what we need to do and if something's not right, we know we need to fix it."

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AS A DRIVER. YOU SAID YOU'RE A LITTLE MORE COMFORTABLE. WHAT ELSE? YOU'RE IN YOUR THIRD YEAR NOW. IS IT JUST THE FAMILIARITY WITH THE ROUTINE? "It is, and being in different experiences. Obviously, there will be many more that I'm not experiencing, but I have been in a lot of different situations now with this car. Now I'm learning from those. I kind of have those in the back of my mind, but when a new tire shake, or tire smoke or whatever it is, I now have something in the back of my mind to reference and go 'What do I need to do right now to make the right choice in this car?' My first two years I didn't have that much experience behind me especially since they gave me a good car. I do joke with Guido that when things do go wrong I don't know what to do because they rarely do go wrong. The car usually goes A to B. They give me such a great car that, you know, I have great experience in going A to B, but what about the struggles? I always joke with Guido about that because I obviously would rather have a really good car than one that struggles every run. It is the experience that you get, that now when I'm in a situation I'm not having to think, 'What do I need to do?' Your body kind of reacts because it's been in that situation before, and I think that that is the key to all of this. I can say that I've learned from some of the best drivers in Funny Car. I've learned from my father, learned from Robert [Hight], these are people that have really honed in on their skills, and Dad has a lot of years of experience. Who else better to teach you then someone with over 30 years of experience? I made a lot of mistakes my first year, because you can teach someone something but that doesn't mean they're going to do the perfect thing in that car going 300 miles per hour and they get sideways. You probably learn more from that experience than someone telling you. A perfect example is my Seattle crash. I don't know how many times I've been in the car since then, and when I start going into a situation that's similar, I have flashbacks of that crash and think, 'Well, I know what I don't want to do now.' It all happens so quick, but it really goes through your mind and you remember, 'I need to make sure this car is laying straight, I don't need to worry about the guy in the other lane because when I did that I got myself in trouble.' It's those experiences that teach you 20 times more than a good A to B run, because that's all you have to learn from really."

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DEAN ANTONELLI - Crew Chief, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIG DIFFERENCE GOING INTO THIS YEAR COMPARED TO THE PAST TWO YEARS? " I guess for starters, the longer that a group of people are together the better they jell together. Last season we only replaced one person on the team, so that means that our routines didn't vary that much on the race cars and preparation of the race cars is probably more accurate. Probably 90 percent of the performance of the car is the preparation. A split second makes a difference of winning or losing, and so if the car isn't prepared the same every time within the clutch setup within thousandths of an inch or the compression within thousandths of an inch or something like that, the kits aren't working properly, all that affects a performance and it doesn't matter how great a tuner you are if the car isn't safe every time you're making changes for the variation of the preparation of the car. You're chasing your tail. I think Ron and I have the greatest group of guys that I've worked with in a number of years since Robert, myself, Eric Medlen and Kevin McCarthy all worked on John's car in the early 2000s, late '90s. It's probably the best group of guys I've seen since then."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO KEEP THAT CONTINUITY OF THE GROUP WITH THE LIMITED TESTING? "That's one of the advantages of having multi-car teams, is all of us have basically the same components and we might all do things a little different to get to the goal as far as our tuning philosophies go, but we can look at everyone's data and narrow down what we need to do. Without the testing, we used to test on Mondays, if you ran four cars, that's at least three runs each; I mean, that's 12 passes worth of data and now we have to use our weekends. Like the race in Atlanta, we used Saturday for testing some components because we knew we couldn't test on Monday. We're allowed four days' worth of testing which means, you're going to try and cram five or six runs in a day now, which is kind of hard to absorb that much data when you're just hot-lapping the thing. With only four days of testing available, we're planning on having a shot at winning the championship this year so we don't want to waste our days early in the year and then the Countdown comes and we don't have days to test, so we're trying to do everything we can, test on Saturdays if we're solid in the show on Friday, maybe try some components that the other guys are running on or something like that on Saturday."

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE YOU SEE IN ASHLEY FROM THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS TO THIS YEAR? DOES SHE SEEM MORE AT EASE WITH HER ROLE? "She's starting to believe in herself a little bit more because I can't imagine driving one of these things, period, and having the pressure, if you get a foot out of the groove it's going to smoke the tires, or if you're just a flick of the eyes late on the trees you're going to lose, things like that. That pressure has got to be tremendous on the driver, but she's got it worse because her last name is Force. She's expected to do well, and then on top of that she's a woman so then there's that pressure. You know really, there hasn't been any successful woman in Funny Car; I mean, Shirley Muldowney was dominant in Top Fuel, and Melanie Troxl had a pretty good run there for a bit in Top Fuel, but in Funny Car there's been a number who have tried and haven't had any success, so the pressure on her from many angles is unbelievable. This year she's a little more confident, so she's a little bit more at ease with herself and she believes that when she steps on the gas she's going to corral this thing down the groove just where it needs to be. I think she's also got a little bit of confidence that the thing's going to be there for her, too, so she doesn't feel like if she's not perfect on the tree that she doesn't have a chance. I just think she believes in herself a little more. Ford has helped us tremendously with the safety of all of these race cars, and actually as far as why Ashley seems to be more comfortable, that's another thing with all the engineering support they've given us with the chassis design and the drivers box and all that stuff. That's another thing that's because they want to match their driver's safety with our driver's safety and that's what gives John Force the confidence. Knowing that all his drivers have a better chance than anybody else out there and surviving a catastrophic accident helps, and that's what also helps Ashley out, too, knowing that she's in the best car available."

ASHLEY'S CAR HAS BEEN THE FASTEST CAR OUT THERE ALMOST EVERY WEEK. IS THAT THE TYPE OF GROOVE YOU GUYS ARE IN WHERE EVERYTHING SEEMS TO BE FALLING INTO PLACE? "Yeah, Ron and I know that when you have two crew chiefs it's imperative that you guys have the same views so you aren't bucking heads. Ron and I kind of believe in the same theories as far as applications and stuff, so right now, yeah, I guess we're kind of in a groove. I mean, they joke that we can make it go down a dirt road, but when we ask it to do something, if we make a change to pick it up at the 330-foot increment, it does. If we ask for it to run harder in the middle, it does, or if we contraction a marginal, like in Atlanta, there was a bump in the left lane at about 100-250 feet, and that's where a lot of cars were smoking the tires. Well, we asked the car to do something, to cruise through there and then to stand on after and it does it, so the car just responds Again that's a testament to the preparation the guys do."

JOHN MEDLEN INDICATED AT THE END OF THE SEASON ALL OF THE CARS WOULD BE RUNNING THE BOSS 500. ARE YOU A LITTLE NERVOUS ABOUT MAKING THAT JUMP AT THIS POINT BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS GOING SO WELL RIGHT NOW? "There are components that I would be scared to death to change, like the engine block, but putting the Boss 500 in it, if anything, is going to enhance our chance of winning. We believe it's a little more durable piece. NHRA has our hands tied on the design of the block, you know the cam shaft, the crank location and lifter location, we can't change any of that, so what Medlen concentrated on was making a block that was more durable, more rigid and didn't move around as much. Medlen's car was the first, Mike Neff had it in his car, and the first run on it. Medlen said, 'Man, this thing revs up easier,' and, of course, with the nitro car you can convince yourself of a million different things that work, but really its just the air was a little better or whatever. Then [Austin] Coil was the next when he put it in John's car, and he said, 'This thing revs up a little bit easier,' and, of course, the same thing happened with Robert Hight, so we're excited to get it in, but we got to make sure that each car is fully outfitted because you don't want to go back and forth with it. If it does rev up a little bit easier you don't want to have to put in a different block in and lose horsepower. So we're excited to get it. We're not afraid to get it. We look forward to getting it in there."

-credit: ford racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Del Worsham , John Force , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff