Seattle: Ashley Force preview

A NEW FORCE HOLDS FORTH IN FUNNY CAR DRAG RACING Champ's Daughter Seeks Breakthrough Win at Seattle SEATTLE, Wash. -- After consecutive missteps, Ashley Force tries this week to recapture the early-season form that carried her into ...

A NEW FORCE HOLDS FORTH IN FUNNY CAR DRAG RACING
Champ's Daughter Seeks Breakthrough Win at Seattle

SEATTLE, Wash. -- After consecutive missteps, Ashley Force tries this week to recapture the early-season form that carried her into the semifinals at successive NHRA tour events and identified her as the top contender for the Auto Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award as drag racing's top rookie.

The 24-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, profiled in the August edition of Men's Journal as one of "The Superstars of Summer," tries to get back on track Friday with the start of qualifying for the 20th Schuck's Nationals at Pacific Raceways.

In a Funny Car category in which gender equality remains an illusion, Ms. Force has become the quickest (4.730 seconds), the fastest (323.43 miles per hour) and the most successful (eight round wins) woman in history.

Furthermore, she became the first woman to beat her father, the 14-time Funny Car Champion, when they met for the first and only time in the Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga.

That said, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton has stumbled the last two weeks, failing to put her Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang in the 16-car field at either Bristol, Tenn., or Denver, Colo. As a result, after occupying one of the provisional starting spots in NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, she finds herself on the outside, looking in.

She rolls into Pacific Raceways 11th in the Funny Car driver standings, 37 points behind Cruz Pedregon, who currently occupies the eighth, and final, Countdown position, and 21 points behind her dad.

"It's been a little disappointing," she said of the last two weekends, "but it's just part of the learning experience. This is a new team from top to bottom and we're all learning together.

"My crew chief, Dean ("Guido") Antonelli, is a rookie like me and most of the guys on the crew had never worked on a Funny Car before this season. So we started out with a new driver, new crew chief, new crew and new car."

One of the stars of the real-life TV series Driving Force on A&E Network, Ashley admittedly is more comfortable inside the race car than in front of the camera.

"I'm really shy," she said. "In high school, I was the only cheerleader who never got out in front to lead a cheer. In choir, I was the only one who never (performed) a solo. I get more nervous when I come back from a run (because) there'll be a big crowd cheering and my face will turn bright red. I can feel it. I'm actually relieved when I climb into the car (because) there's familiarity there."

Ashley credits the TV show, which debuted in 2005, for preparing her for the media circus that has sprung up since she announced last January that she was moving up in classification. Without that experience, she doesn't know whether she could have handled it as well as she has.

"It's been one of the most up-and-down years in my life," she said. "I was pretty prepared for the driving, but that's just a small part of this job. You also have media, fans, sponsors and appearances. It's definitely the kind of job that's not routine at all.

"It's been fun, but it's been an emotional time this year losing our teammate (2005 Seattle winner and Pacific Raceways record-holder Eric Medlen, who lost his life in a testing accident last March in Gainesville, Fla.). Facing everything together, I think, has brought us a lot closer as a team and as a racing family."

Although she thus far has been shut down in her bid to become the first woman to reach a Funny Car final round, Ashley has experienced almost everything else. She has banged the wall, hit the cones delineating the center line, inadvertently set off the fire bottles while sitting in the pits, been on fire and, along the way, beaten three former World Champions: Tony Pedregon, Cruz Pedregon and Kenny Bernstein.

"I hope I've gotten all the bad stuff out of the way," she said. "Right now I'm just trying to learn from my mistakes. My guys work so hard on this car and the last thing I want to do is let them down."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen