CHAMP'S DAUGHTER AIMS HIGH AT TOYO NATIONALS Ashley Force Has More than Countdown Berth in Mind READING, Pa. -- If she simply manages to put her Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford in the starting lineup for Sunday's 24th annual Toyo Tires Nationals at ...
CHAMP'S DAUGHTER AIMS
HIGH AT TOYO NATIONALS
Ashley Force Has More than Countdown Berth in Mind
READING, Pa. -- If she simply manages to put her Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford in the starting lineup for Sunday's 24th annual Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Ashley Force will lock up one of the starting spots in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship and, in the process, apply her signature to yet another piece of drag racing history.
However, becoming the first woman in Funny Car history to qualify for the NHRA playoffs isn't the motivation for the 25-year-old daughter of racing legend John Force.
As a result, don't expect her or her team to abandon the aggressive style that has put their Castrol Mustang at the top of the qualifying order at the last two events in the NHRA POWERade Series.
"We'll just keep going the way we're going," Ashley said. "Like Guido' (crew chief Dean Antonelli) said, it won't help anything to change directions (now).
"You can only just keep going forward. We know that we have a really good car (so) we don't need to make any drastic changes," she said. "We (just) need to keep doing what we're doing and it will come around."
Besides, the part that needs to "come around" for the former high school cheerleader isn't the qualifying, it's the racing. Since making history last April as the first woman to win a Funny Car race on the NHRA tour, the 2007 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award (NHRA's Rookie of the Year) has won just four racing rounds, slipping from an historic No. 1 in points to No. 6.
Nevertheless, neither she nor her crew chiefs Antonelli and veteran Ron Douglas, believe there's great cause for concern.
"Our car has been running good," she said, "and we haven't been making mistakes. It just hasn't come for us on race days (but) we're hoping to change that (this weekend). We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We can't start thinking too much. We need to keep being consistent and it'll come back around.
After qualifying No. 1 at the two most recent races in the series, earning the first and second U.S. Smokeless qualifying awards of her brief career, Ashley lost by .040 of a second (4.113 to 4.153) to points leader and likely No. 1 seed Tim Wilkerson at Sonoma, Calif., and by .030 of a second (4.247 to 4.277 seconds) to veteran Ron Capps last week at Brainerd, Minn.
"We've just had bad racing luck," said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, "(but) we tell ourselves (that) we would rather have this happen now, before the Countdown starts. If we make the Countdown and if we (still) have a car running as good as this one, we'll have a really good chance (to win the championship)."
Much of the credit for Ashley's emergence this year as a contender goes to Antonelli and Douglas, who have been very supportive of their young driver, even in the most difficult times.
"That relationship makes driving so much easier," Ashley said. "You'll have a better chance if your team is thinking like that. I think that's why we've done really well even though (Antonelli and I) are only in our sophomore season.
"There are so many great teams and drivers that are battling (just) to get in the Countdown. I think (our success is due to the fact that) we don't make a lot of mistakes. You can't win every round, but it is very rare that we have something go wrong because of someone on the team. It is usually just (bad racing) luck or something mechanical happens and that's just part of racing. It happens to everyone."