Memphis: Ashley Force preview

ASHLEY GETTING EDUCATION WHILE IN PURSUIT OF TIITLE Champ's Daughter Sixth in Funny Car Countdown MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, which continues this week with the 21st renewal of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at...

ASHLEY GETTING EDUCATION WHILE IN PURSUIT OF TIITLE
Champ's Daughter Sixth in Funny Car Countdown

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, which continues this week with the 21st renewal of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park, is providing Ashley Force with an accelerated education in the high performance arts.

Consider that in the first two events in the six-race shootout that will crown 2008 POWERade Champions in four pro classes, the 25-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force has sent her Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford Mustang against machines driven by three former Funny Car World Champions and season-long points leader Tim Wilkerson..

The fact that she has held her own, beating Wilkerson and 2005 champ Gary Scelzi while losing to 1992 champ Cruz Pedregon and, last week, to her father, speaks volumes about her increasingly bright future in the world's most extreme motor sport.

As a result, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton entered this week's race with considerably more confidence than one would expect of a driver with just 41 pro races to her credit.

"I know I have a car that will go A to B," said the former high school cheerleader who last year earned the title "World's Hottest Athlete" in an AOL Sports on-line poll, "so if I do my job, I think we have a good chance to go rounds and win races."

The first woman to win a race in the hotly-contested Funny Car division, Ashley rolls into Memphis in sixth place in Countdown points, less than 100 behind Wilkerson, the talented independent whose victory last week in Dallas pushed him back to the top of the standings.

"I learn something every time I go down the track," she said, "but so much about this sport is just experience -- and I know I don't have a lot of that."

Indeed, the 2007 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award (NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year), has won just 36 racing rounds since turning pro. By contrast, the drivers she has opposed thus far in the Countdown have appeared in 1,350 NHRA tour events and won 196 races.

Other than her dad, from whom she inherited a competitiveness that has surprised many in the sport, Ashley owes her early success to crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli and assistant crew chief Ron Douglas, who have walked her through the competitive minefield and kept her from obsessing on the mistakes that naturally accruein a developing driver.

Antonelli earned the job as Ashley's crew chief after spending 12 seasons as the Team Leader on John Force's all-conquering Castrol GTX Funny Cars. Douglas provides a balance, having served previously as crew chief for, among others, Cruz Pedregon.

"They're always encouraging and that's made it easier," Ashley said. "'Guido' is learning to be a crew chief and I'm learning to be a driver at the same time, so we have that in common. Ron and Guido' work really good together and, because of that, I always know I'll have a car that will go down the racetrack. We may not be low ET, but almost always, we're competitive."

The reality, though, is that if she is to become the first woman Funny Car champion, she needs to graduate an quickly.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force