Force Hood tries to break through at sonoma SONOMA, Calif. - On a track on which friend, teammate and mentor Eric Medlen won one of his last NHRA tour events, Ashley Force Hood this week tries to win her first race of the 2010 season at the ...
Force Hood tries to break through at sonoma
SONOMA, Calif. - On a track on which friend, teammate and mentor Eric Medlen won one of his last NHRA tour events, Ashley Force Hood this week tries to win her first race of the 2010 season at the wheel of a Castrol GTX Ford Mustang that has been very quick, exceedingly fast, but wholly unpredictable.
Force Hood has set an NHRA national speed record (316.38 miles per hour), qualified No. 1 three times and, most recently, accelerated to a personal best time of 4.032 seconds, one of the 10 quickest at the 1,000 foot distance. Nevertheless, the former high school cheerleader rolls into Infineon Raceway for this week's 23rd annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals as the only Funny Car driver among the top seven without at least one win this year.
The 27-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force has lost two final rounds by a total of .053 of a second - one to her father at Charlotte, N.C., and the other to brother-in-law and reigning series champion Robert "Top Gun" Hight at Atlanta.
In stark contrast to 2009, when she began the Western Swing as the only John Force Racing driver with a tour victory, this year she the only one without one.
"Every week, I think 'this is going to be our turn in the winners' circle,'" said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "It's been frustrating (not to win), but I feel the worst for the guys on my team. They've been working so hard and to not get a win is a bummer. But they keep telling me it will come. We just have to keep doing what we're doing."
The reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion, Force Hood especially would like to end her season-long victory drought at Infineon Raceway where Medlen won in 2006, just months before losing his life in a testing accident in Gainesville, Fla.
Instrumental in teaching Ashley to drive an 8,000 horsepower race car as well as deal with all the other accouterments of Funny Car racing, Medlen grew up in nearby Oakdale where he once aspired to a career as a rodeo cowboy.
"Eric is always in our thoughts," Force Hood said, "but even more than usual when we get to Sonoma. It was his home track and one of my best memories was 2006 because, before the race, we went to Oakdale to visit. Eric showed us all how to rope the first day and then we took him and my dad to a spa for an episode of Driving Force on the second day. It was a great week and then, to cap it off, Eric won the race."
Since Medlen's death, Ashley's dad has won the FRAM/Autolite Nationals (2007) and so has Hight (2008). She would like nothing more than to join them this year and celebrate her victory during the track's annual ice cream tribute to Medlen, who once consoled close friend Brandon Bernstein, driver of the Copart Top Fuel dragster, by telling him that "nobody can be sad if they're eating ice cream."
The first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race and the first to lead the points, Ashley raced in a category high eight finals last season on the way to a runner-up finish in Full Throttle points, the best ever for a woman in the category.
The 2007 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, she believes the Castrol GTX Ford she'll drive this week is at least as good as the one in which she won twice a year ago. The difference lies in the little intangibles.
"The breaks that went our way last year are going the other way this year," she said, "but that's just racing. My crew chiefs (Dean 'Guido' Antonelli and Ron Douglas) keep telling me that the pendulum eventually will swing our way, hopefully during the Countdown, because that's when you need to win rounds and win races.
"Robert showed last year that if you're in it, you can win it," she said, "so we're not discouraged. We'll just try to get as high in points as we can and go from there."