St. Louis: Ashley Force preview

NO. 8 IN POINTS, ASHLEY FORCE MAKING FUNNY CAR HISTORY O'Reilly Midwest Nationals Next for Daughter of 14-Time Champ MADISON, Ill. -- She's beaten her dad in the first father-daughter match in sports history, become the first female Funny Car ...

NO. 8 IN POINTS, ASHLEY FORCE MAKING FUNNY CAR HISTORY
O'Reilly Midwest Nationals Next for Daughter of 14-Time Champ

MADISON, Ill. -- She's beaten her dad in the first father-daughter match in sports history, become the first female Funny Car driver in 22 years to reach the semifinals of an NHRA national event and established herself as the front-runner in the race for the Auto Club's 2007 Road to the Future Award as the sport's top rookie.

Outside of that and the fact that she drives one of the most powerful race cars on the planet, Ashley Force is just your normal, 24-year-old, drop-dead gorgeous college graduate.

Although she's been at the center of a media storm since announcing last January that she was moving up in classification to drive an 8,000 horsepower, 330 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang for her dad, 14-time NHRA Champion John Force, Ashley somehow has managed to remain grounded.

In fact, on the eve of this week's 11th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway, she seems more proud of what she hasn't done than what she has.

"The last three races," she said, "I haven't hit the guardwall, I haven't hit the cones (that delineate the center line) and I haven't hit the fire bottles (while) sitting in the pits. For me, that's progress."

Despite a self-deprecating style reminiscent of that of her father, Ashley has done much more at the outset of the season than simply correct her rookie mistakes.

Last week at Atlanta, Ga., for instance, she made history by becoming the first woman ever to beat John Force in a heads-up Funny Car race and the first to reach the semifinals since Della Woods turned the trick at Reading, Pa., on September 15, 1985.

Not only did she become the 70th driver to beat her father and the 118th to race against him, she dispatched him with style with a 4.779 second quarter mile that equaled the quickest time of the day.

Two weeks before, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, she qualified third in the field at the SummitRacing.com Nationals, the best starting position ever for a woman in a Funny Car division in which a female driver never has reached the final round nor finished in the Top 10.

Ashley comes into this week's race eighth in driver points, 12 positions ahead of her father. If she is able to maintain that position, she would be one of the drivers eligible to claim the $500,000 champion's bonus in the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship.

When she beat her father, it insured that drag racing's biggest winner would remain 20th in points, a position he hasn't occupied since the 1982 season.

"I think he was real happy for us and for our team," Ashley said of the man who on Friday will celebrate his 58th birthday. "We're getting it together and now we're starting to go rounds every race. I know he doesn't want to lose, but it was a little bit easier to handle, I think, because it was one of his own teams that was able to go on to the second round.

"Besides, it's his own fault I'm coming after him. He's been my teacher the whole way," she smiled.

Although she had problems early-on, hitting the cones on the way to an apparent victory at Phoenix and brushing the guardwall in a loss at Gainesville, Fla., the former high school cheerleader apparently has inherited many of her father's skills including the ability to backpedal (feather the throttle).

"When it spins the tires, she catches it really quick," said crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli. "I think the three years she spent driving (an A/Fuel dragster) for Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows helped her in that area but she's got a lot of natural ability, too."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force