STILL LEARNING, FORCE HOOD A RELUCTANT CONTENDER Castrol GTX Ford Driver Poised to Deliver at 50th Winternationals POMONA, Calif. -- In her fourth season at the wheel of a Castrol GTX Ford Mustang that is one of the world's most powerful race...
STILL LEARNING, FORCE HOOD A RELUCTANT CONTENDER Castrol GTX Ford Driver Poised to Deliver at 50th Winternationals
POMONA, Calif. -- In her fourth season at the wheel of a Castrol GTX Ford Mustang that is one of the world's most powerful race cars, Ashley Force Hood hasn't yet warmed to the notion that she has been established as is one of the favorites to win the 2010 NHRA Funny Car Championship.
Entering this week's season-opening 50th annual Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, her home track, the 27-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force refused even to acknowledge the obvious, that in just three pro seasons she has transformed herself from novelty to nobility in the Full Throttle Series.
To hear Force Hood tell it, her goal for the new season is simply to try to continue to improve, accept the fact that mistakes will be made and try to learn from them.
The thing is virtually any improvement in her 2009 performance likely would carry the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton to the next step in her wholly unlikely evolution from high school cheerleader to world racing champion.
Second behind brother-in-law and teammate Robert Hight a year ago, she is poised this year to become the first woman ever to win an NHRA Funny Car title and the fourth different John Force Racing driver to do so in the last eight years.
That's pretty heady stuff for a one-time cheerleader who in high school was too shy to actually lead a cheer. The girl who took auto shop and hung at the back of the chorale so she wouldn't have to sing an obligatory solo has found her niche in a 310 mile an hour Ford Funny Car.
"I've made plenty of mistakes," she said of three seasons punctuated by her victory last September in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, "but it's been a big advantage that I've had a team that has supported me. 'Guido' (crew chief Dean Antonelli) and Ron (Douglas) and the team have given me such a good race car. It really shortened the learning curve for me, I think.
"We've really taken baby steps," she continued. "We've never gotten too far ahead of ourselves. If we can learn from our mistakes and keep building our foundation, I think we can continue to get better.
"I've got the best bunch of guys," said the 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. "Yes, we were in a position to win (last year's championship), but things don't always go like you want them to. Talent, skill, equipment, those things are so important, but sometimes you just need a little bit of luck. That's part of racing as well."
Ashley started from the front of the pack a category best six times last year, went to eight final rounds and won at Houston and Indy. Nevertheless, in the midst of her title run, the car that had been the most consistent on the tour inexplicably lost its magic, a brief, but costly stumble that eventually was traced to a bad batch of clutch discs the compromised the car' s performance at key Countdown races in Richmond, Va., and Las Vegas.
As a result, she had to settle for second place behind Hight, who finally got his first title by winning half the playoff races including the first two.
But that's ancient history according to Ashley. She is re-focused, but it' s a very narrow focus, because that's what has worked for her in the past.
"We want to qualify and win the Winternationals," she said. "That's our only goal right now. If we're in the points later in the year, there'll be plenty of time to stress about it then. Right now we're going to try to have fun and go rounds."