Phoenix: Ashley Force preview

ASHLEY RELISHES THOUGHTS OF FATHER-DAUGHTER DUEL When it Occurs, All-Castrol Match-Up Would Be a Pro First PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Now that she's survived the media circus that defined her professional debut in the Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford ...

ASHLEY RELISHES THOUGHTS OF FATHER-DAUGHTER DUEL
When it Occurs, All-Castrol Match-Up Would Be a Pro First

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Now that she's survived the media circus that defined her professional debut in the Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford Mustang, 24-year-old Ashley Force is just hoping to have fun this week when the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Firebird International Raceway for the 23rd annual Checkers/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.

Fun, of course, is a relative term.  For some it might be riding
dirt bikes in the desert.  For others, it could be hitting the lake in a
Nordic powerboat.  Or maybe taking a Pleasant Holidays cruise to Mexico.

For Ashley, however, the most fun would be a side-by-side, 320 mile-an-hour drag race with her father, 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force.

There's little doubt that such a match-up will occur sometime during the 2007 season. It could come as early as this week. When it finally does happen, Ashley believes she'll have an edge.

On the surface, that's an awfully brash assertion from a driver who has appeared in just one competitive round at the professional level 1,310 fewer rounds than her father, a drag racing icon whose credits include a record 122 tour victories and a qualifying streak that currently stands at 393 consecutive races.

However, Ashley bases the assessment not on any tangible advantage but rather on the intangible.

"A lot of drivers might be intimidated by him," she said of her father, "but to me he's just dad. If anyone is going to be nervous, it's him. He'll be so worried about me and all the things he thinks might happen that I think it'll be hard for him to focus.

"I can't wait to race him. He and his team are who trained me, so to be in the lane next to them, next to Austin and Bernie (Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, co-crew chiefs on Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford) with Guido' (former Force crewman Dean Antonelli) as my crew chief, will be really exciting. And the fans, they'll love it because there's never been any father-daughter teams competing against each other."

In fact, there have been no father-versus-daughter competitions in all of pro sports, which makes the anticipated Force-versus-Force pairing even more compelling.

"It's his own fault I'm coming after him," Ashley joked. "He's been my teacher the whole way. The big question everybody's asking is which side of the track are my mom and my sisters going to stand when we race each other?"

Despite her obvious delight at the prospect of lining up against the biggest winner in drag racing history, the former high school cheerleader is realistic about her expectations and surprisingly sensitive to racers who might be perplexed by the amount of attention she has attracted as a first year driver.

"Sometimes I think, what's the big deal? I qualified 15th,'" she said, "'and lots of people have done that.' But I know it's because I'm a gal and because I'm racing with my dad.

"I do get a little nervous that some of the drivers might not like me (just) because of all the hype," she said, "but I think that every year there are big stories. I took radio and TV (while earning a bachelor's degree from Cal State-Fullerton) so I understand a little better than most people how it all works. But eventually you have to do something. You have to perform.

"I just want to go out there (right now) and have fun," she continued, "because this really is one of the funnest' jobs in the world. I think you do better if you don't get too caught up in expectations, (but) if we can get qualified, go rounds, maybe beat up on dad one or two times, that would be an awesome season.

"Really, though, it's not about beating dad or beating Eric (Medlen, driver of the Auto Club Pleasant Holidays Mustang) or beating Robert (Hight, driver of the Auto Club Mustang), it's about beating everyone else and getting one of the John Force Racing cars into the winners' circle every race."

* * * *

Did You Know:
Not only is Ashley a rookie driver in the Funny Car category, her crew chief, Dean Antonelli, is a rookie in that capacity as well. A member of John Force's inner circle for the last 12 seasons, Antonelli was Team Leader on the Castrol GTX Mustang under Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. Fortunately, he has veteran Ron Douglas sharing responsibilities as assistant crew chief. Douglas most recently was crew chief on Cruz Pedregon's Chevrolet, tuning him to one win last season and a Top 10 finish.

Notable:
Ashley was clocked in 4.782 seconds during testing last month at FIR. That would have qualified her 14th for the 2006 CSK Nationals. Her best time was 4.729 seconds in testing last month at Las Vegas. Ashley is one of the stars of Driving Force, the real-life series that returns to A&E Network on March 27, moving from Mondays at 9 p.m., Eastern, to Tuesdays at 10 p.m., Eastern.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Austin Coil