Seattle: Ashley Force Hood preview

Force Hood looks for impact of a different kind SEATTLE, Wash. - On the track on which she learned one of her most important lessons as a professional race car driver, Ashley Force Hood tries this week to recapture the form that last year ...

Force Hood looks for impact of a different kind

SEATTLE, Wash. - On the track on which she learned one of her most important lessons as a professional race car driver, Ashley Force Hood tries this week to recapture the form that last year carried her agonizingly close to becoming the first woman in 41 years to win the NHRA Funny Car Championship.

Runner-up last year only because teammate Robert Hight made a spectacular worst-to-first drive during the Countdown to 1 playoffs, the 27- year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force hopes in this week's 23rd annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways to generate momentum for a title run.

It is a racetrack that forever will be linked to Force Hood because it yielded one of the defining moments in her Rookie-of-the-Year season in 2007. Lined up opposite six-time series champion Kenny Bernstein in the second round of the 2007 Northwest Nationals, Force Hood had the fine line between in-control and out-of-control clearly delineated for her.

At the hit of the throttle, her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang almost immediately lost traction, the result of a clutch malfunction. Unaware of the problem, Force Hood tried to regain control after she saw Bernstein having his own problems further down the track.

"I never thought something would happen on that run," said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "I just remember I was excited about racing Kenny and I'd just seen dad run, so I was pumped up about maybe racing him later (in the event).

"It kept reacting and trying to hook up," she said of her race car, "but then it would go up in smoke again (lose traction). Finally, it took off and I thought it was going to go - but then I knew it was gonna hit and I just braced myself."

It was a spectacular accident that included a flash of fire, impact with the guardwall and a full, smoke-filled spinout. Ashley came out unscathed, but she emerged a much better race car driver.

"It taught me that there are limits," she said. "You can drive these cars when they're a little out of control and still get them back (in the groove). You have to find where that line is at. That's what Seattle taught me. The next time, I knew how far I could go before I was too far."

It was one of many practical lessons that helped the former high school cheerleader defy conventional wisdom and become the first woman to win an NHRA tour event - the 2008 Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga. A year later, she was battling for series championship. However, Force Hood this year has not yet established the kind of competitive rhythm that last season took her to a category best eight final rounds, six No. 1 starts and to victory in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

She has shown brief flashes of that form, re-setting her own NHRA national record for Funny Car speed at 316.38 miles per hour and recording a personal best 1,000 foot time of 4.032 seconds, but thus far she has lacked consistency.

Entering the Western Swing, which continues next week with the FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif., she still is winless on the season with a good-but-not-great 14-13 round record. By contrast, she was 22-11 at the same point a year ago.

Nevertheless, runner-up finishes at Charlotte and Atlanta and three No. 1 qualifiers have kept her solidly in the hunt. She presently is fifth, but would like to move up into one of the top three spots before points are adjusted in advance of the Countdown, which this year begins at Indy.

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Ashley Force , Robert Hight