OUTSIDE THE COUNTDOWN, ASHLEY TRIES TO MOVE UP A Winner Off-Track, Force Aims for On-Track Breakthrough MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Having added an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to her off-track credits, NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year...
OUTSIDE THE COUNTDOWN,
ASHLEY TRIES TO MOVE UP
A Winner Off-Track, Force Aims for On-Track Breakthrough
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Having added an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to her off-track credits, NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year contender Ashley Force tries to pad her performance resume this week when the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Memphis Motorsports Park for the 20th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals.
Although she wasn't able to drive her Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang into the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the 24-year old daughter of drag racing icon John Force still could play a major role in determining who earns the $500,000 champion's bonus.
Coming off a solid performance in drag racing's biggest event, the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ashley is hoping to earn a breakthrough victory this week in an event won by a John Force Racing Ford five of the last six years.
"Our team is a win looking for a place to happen," said the Cal State-Fullerton graduate, "and where better than Memphis? I know Gary Densham won his first race here in the Auto Club Ford (2001), dad won last year and Eric (Medlen) won in 2005. It would be great for us to keep the streak going."
Sizzling hot off the track as the inaugural winner of AOL sports' "Hottest Athlete" poll, Ashley is warming up to her new role as spoiler in a Countdown that includes both her dad and her brother-in-law, current points leader Robert Hight.
"Our job is to help dad and Robert by beating the other guys in the Countdown," she said. "We don't have to worry about points or lane choice or anything else. When we line up against Ron Capps or (Gary) Scelzi or Tony (Pedregon) or one of the other guys, our only goal is to get the win light and send them home."
The No. 2 qualifier at Indy, equaling her best-ever start, Ashley stunned the field by pushing her Ford through the quarter mile timers in a race day-best 4.786 seconds, beating veteran Tim Wilkerson's Chevrolet in the first round.
"'Guido' (crew chief Dean Antonelli) and Ron (assistant crew chief Ron Douglas) are getting a handle on a hot weather tune-up," acknowledged the 24-year-old former high school cheerleader, "and I'm getting a lot better at pedaling (feathering the throttle to regain traction).
"My team works so hard to give me a good race car and I think that makes me try even harder because I don't want to let them down."
A five-time winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster division in which she raced for three seasons for car owners Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows, Ashley is trying to become the first woman in NHRA Funny Car history to race in a final round.
Before this season, Della Woods was the only female Funny Car able to advance to the semifinals on the NHRA pro tour. She accomplished that feat in 1985 before losing to Kenny Bernstein just one round shy of the final at Reading, Pa.
Ashley matched that performance last May at Atlanta, Ga., then did it again a week later in Madison, Ill. As a result, in a season in which she has been on fire, crashed heavily into the guardwall and inadvertently set off the fire bottles while the car was sitting in the pits, she already has won more racing rounds than any other woman in Funny Car history (10).
"This has been one of the most up-and-down years in my life," she has said. "I was pretty prepared for the driving, but that's just a small part of this job. You also have media, fans, sponsors and appearances. It's definitely the kind of job that's not routine at all.
"It's been fun, but it's been emotional, especially losing our teammate (Eric Medlen, who last March succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.). Facing everything together, I think, has brought us a lot closer as a team and as a racing family."