ashley on target to become first female champ READING, Pa. - On a track on which she took an emotional rollercoaster ride during last year's rain-plagued Toyo Tires Nationals, Ashley Force Hood tries to remain calm and focused this week in an...
ashley on target to become first female champ
READING, Pa. - On a track on which she took an emotional rollercoaster ride during last year's rain-plagued Toyo Tires Nationals, Ashley Force Hood tries to remain calm and focused this week in an ongoing bid to become the first woman in 43 years to win the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship.
"If you can be the team that doesn't have all the ups and downs, but consistently goes to the semis, then you are giving yourself a really good chance (to win the championship)," said the 27-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force.
Force Hood, who finished second to teammate Robert Hight a year ago, returns to Maple Grove Raceway at the wheel of a Castrol GTX Ford Mustang that in just four seasons has become one of the most feared Funny Cars on the planet.
It's a race car that could benefit from cooler weather expected this week.
"The cooler weather is a little better for our Mustang," Force Hood said, "but it's also nicer for the crew guys, the driver and the fans. Hopefully, we've seen the last of the really hot weather like we had in Charlotte."
Cool weather and a newly-resurfaced track could prove especially beneficial to Ashley and crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas insomuch as they bring the 4.022 second NHRA national record into play.
If one of the contenders lower the record, it would mean an additional 20 points, as good as winning a round of racing. Ashley, who already owns the national speed record at the 1,000 foot distance at 316.38 miles per hour, is considered one of the drivers capable of going low this weekend along with her father, Hight, Matt Hagan (the current record- holder), Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon.
"If the opportunity is there, I'm sure that 'Guido' and Ron would go for it," said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, "but you don't want to get caught up in chasing the record and forget to follow your game plan (for the championship). I've got the best bunch of guys out here and we're just going to focus on doing what we've done all year, going A to B, getting as many bonus points as we can and not beating ourselves."
That means avoiding last year's scenario, one that resulted in a first round disqualification when the Mustang couldn't make minimum weight.
It all began positively enough when Ashley stopped the timers in 4.114 seconds at 301.47 miles per hour, a performance that ultimately earned her the No. 1 starting position. However, on Saturday at the end of the only qualifying session completed between rainstorms, the former high school cheerleader felt the car shudder near the finish line, the result of an engine malfunction that led to an explosion and flash fire.
Although the team was able to affect repairs before eliminations, it didn't have time to check the weight. So, after an apparent first round win, Ashley was DQ'ed and first round opponent Jeff Arend re-instated.
"It was disappointing after how hard the guys worked to put everything back together," she said, "but at least we did something dad has never done. That car's always heavy. I don't think he's ever been DQ-ed on weight."
Nevertheless, those are the kinds of problems the former Rookie of the Year (2007) hopes to avoid this week in an event in which she has yet to advance beyond the second round in eliminations.
"Last year, Robert showed that if you can just make the Countdown, you can win the championship," said the two-time reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion and first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race. "We've struggled this year but we kept remembering that Robert went worst to first. That was our motivation."