Phoenix: Ashley Force Hood preview

WINNING ON SUNDAY IS GOAL FOR ASHLEY Champ's Daughter Hopes to Put Past Behind Her PHOENIX, Ariz. ^shley Force Hood may be the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race and the first to make the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship,...

WINNING ON SUNDAY IS GOAL FOR ASHLEY

Champ's Daughter Hopes to Put Past Behind Her

PHOENIX, Ariz. ^shley Force Hood may be the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race and the first to make the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, but the 26-year-old's goals and expectations for this week's 25th annual Lucas Slick Mist Nationals at Firebird International Raceway are somewhat less ambitious.

In fact, the daughter of drag racing icon John Force would consider it a major accomplishment just to get her Castrol GTX0x01afrd Mustang to the finish line during Sunday's eliminations.

After crossing the centerline and being disqualified in the first round of her Phoenix Funny Car debut in 2007, the Cal State-Fullerton grad was a spectator last year after she failed to make the 16-car starting lineup, the result of rain that reduced the number of qualifying sessions from four to two.

"I'm still trying to get one positive top end interview," joked the former high school cheerleader, "but we're optimistic about putting the past behind us. I know I have a great race car and hopefully this week we finally can show everyone what a good team we have."

With two seasons of racing and a storybook wedding to Daniel Hood now behind her, the new darling of the NHRA Full Throttle Series appears capable of making a serious bid for the 2009 Funny Car championship also being sought by her father, John, and teammates Robert Hight and Mike Neff.

After a modest rookie year season, albeit one that culminated in winning the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award, the second oldest of Force's four daughters came into her own last year, driving the Castrol GTX Ford into the final round four times.

Her benchmark victory at Atlanta, Ga., propelled her into the NHRA's Countdown and ultimately to a sixth place finish, the highest ever for a female Funny Car driver.

Now, after a strong showing in the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., the woman who in 2007 was named "World's Hottest Athlete" in an AOL on-line poll is focused on further improvement.

Although her resume includes just 46 pro races, Ashley admits that she is much more comfortable in the cockpit of her Ford Funny Car than she is in her pit, surrounded by hundreds of race fans.

"I'm really kind of a shy person," she said. "I'm not like dad. I'm the most comfortable when I'm in my car. That's where I get away from everything else that's going on around me. When I'm strapped in, it's just me and all my guys. I've got the best crew (and) I know that every time I go out there everything is right. That really gives you confidence as a driver. I don't have to worry about the car. I just have to worry about doing my job."

This week, that job is twofold.

"First, we have to qualify," she said, "and then we want to get that first round win (at Phoenix) and put the bad memory (of the 2008 race) behind us."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff