Memphis: Ashley Force Hood preview

FOOD POISONING EPISODE FUELS ASHLEY'S TITLE BID Force Hood Trails Brother-in-Law Hight by 13 Points MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Ashley Force Hood isn't actively seeking a really bad meal this weekend, but the 26-year-old will admit that there's...

FOOD POISONING EPISODE FUELS ASHLEY'S TITLE BID
Force Hood Trails Brother-in-Law Hight by 13 Points

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Ashley Force Hood isn't actively seeking a really bad meal this weekend, but the 26-year-old will admit that there's nothing like a little food poisoning to take the stress out of a championship run.

Force Hood, daughter of drag racing legend John Force, rolls her 310 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang into Memphis Motorsports Park for this week's 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals trailing teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight by just 13 points in the battle for the NHRA Full Throttle Championship.

If the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton goes on to become the first woman ever to win the NHRA Funny Car title, she may owe it all to the gastric distress through which she suffered two weeks ago at Charlotte, N.C., site of the first of the six races that make up the NHRA's Countdown to One playoffs.

"At Charlotte, I was horribly ill," she said. "I've never been so sick in my life (and) I was just trying to get through each hour of the day. I wasn't even thinking about reaction times and I cut the best lights of my whole career.

"I'm not going to go out and get food poisoning the next four weeks, but because I was Ill, I was focused on just what I had to do, which mainly was to make sure I didn't get sick in my helmet," she joked. "It was a really clear lesson for me on how I perform. I really perform best when I don't put a lot of extra pressure on myself.

"What I saw this year is that at the races where I was running (two-time series champion) Tony Pedregon or somebody else who has left on me a lot of times, I was focused so hard on cutting a light that my reaction times actually would get worse instead of better," said the former high school cheerleader.

"At Charlotte, I just went up there and did my job without over-thinking it. I'm going to try to use that for these next four races," she said, "(although) I haven't quite figured out how other than eating some more bad chicken.

"You obviously have to concentrate and be excited and pumped up, but there is a point, when you go past it, that you're only hurting yourself. It's a balance that I'm still learning, that's for sure." . Ashley believes most athletes suffer the same challenges with a few exceptions.

"My father does his best under intense stress," she said. "The more that's on the line, that's when he performs the best. Not that many people, I think, are like that. Most people do their best when they're not feeling all that pressure, but there are certain athletes, and dad's one of them, who really shine under pressure."

That said, Ashley believes she and her team have an excellent shot at winning the championship if they can just find a way to beat Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock, who have bested them in the semifinals en route to two straight victories.

She is especially excited about returning to MMP, a track on which she qualified No. 1 and set a track record (4.097 seconds) last year before losing a narrow .014 of a second decision to Tim Wilkerson in the Funny Car final.

Moreover, despite the added pressure of the championship chase, the three-time tour winner, national record-holder (312.13 miles per hour) and former NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year (2007) admits that she's having fun.

     "I love being a Funny Car driver," she said, "but I'm jealous of the fans getting to
watch all this go down   because it's going to be exciting."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight