ASHLEY SEEKS LESS LITERAL IMPACT THIS TIME AROUND 2007's Top Rookie a Contender at Pacific Raceways SEATTLE, Wash. -- As a Funny Car rookie, Ashley Force made a major impact at the Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals when she slammed her Castrol ...
ASHLEY SEEKS LESS LITERAL
IMPACT THIS TIME AROUND
2007's Top Rookie a Contender at Pacific Raceways
SEATTLE, Wash. -- As a Funny Car rookie, Ashley Force made a major impact at the Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals when she slammed her Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford Mustang heavily into the wall in a second round loss to Hall of Famer Kenny Bernstein.
When the 25-year-old phenom returns this week to Pacific Raceways, she hopes her impact is just memorable, but a bit less literal.
"If I hadn't been reminded (about the crash), it wouldn't have crossed my mind," she said. "It wasn't that bad of a crash to me. Chicago was more mental for me (an incident last year in which the engine in her Castrol Ford malfunctioned, blew up and caught fire).
"It's all just part of the learning experience."
Of more concern is the fact that after leading the POWERade points earlier in the season and becoming the first woman ever to win an NHRA tour event in the Funny Car division, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton has lost in the first round in each of her last three starts.
If she is to qualify for the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship and an opportunity to become the first woman to win a Funny Car crown, she needs to turn things around. .
To do so, she is shortening her approach although not by choice. Like everyone else in the sport's two featured categories, Ashley is racing this week not at the traditional 1,320-foot distance, but at 1,000 feet.
That's the distance to which the NHRA shortened the race course while the investigation into the accident that claimed the life of two-time former World Champion Scott Kalitta continues. The first 1,000 foot race was contested last week at Denver.
"It wasn't bad at all," Ashley said of the change. "I think the fans saw a lot of good races. It is a little harder for the driver, in all honesty, because you have three quarters of a second less to find the finish line.
"The first part of the run you're real busy and there;s a lot going on. All of a sudden, the finish line comes up on you real fast. Seattle might even be a little tougher because it doesn't go up hill past the finish line (like the track in Denver). It's all how it's marked and it's also how well you are doing when you get to that point. If you're busy and it's a handful, it's easier to miss (the 1,000 foot line)."
Despite last year's crash, Ashley has every reason to be optimistic about this week's return. After all, before she moved up to the Funny Car division, she twice reached the semifinals in the Top Alcohol Dragster class (2004, 2006) and before her crash, she opened last year's race with an upset first round win over Ron Capps.
"We were doing great in Seattle last year (until the crash)," she said, "so maybe we can get back to that. Obviously the car can run good, so we'll just see how it goes."
After earning Rookie-of-the-Year honors last season by becoming the first woman to reach an NHRA Funny Car final, Ashley has emerged as a surprise, but legitimate contender for this year's POWERade Championship with three final round appearances and a breakthrough victory at Atlanta, Ga., where she beat her father in the final round.