POINTS LEADER ASHLEY FORCE AIMS FOR FOLLOW-UP WIN AT BRADENTON Castrol Driver Among Top Alcohol Dragster Favorites BRADENTON, Fla. -- Fresh off a victory in last Sunday's ACDelco Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, NHRA national points...
POINTS LEADER ASHLEY FORCE AIMS FOR FOLLOW-UP WIN AT BRADENTON
Castrol Driver Among Top Alcohol Dragster Favorites
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Fresh off a victory in last Sunday's ACDelco Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, NHRA national points leader Ashley Force will make her first ever appearance at Bradenton Motor Sports Park this week in a Lucas Oil Sportsman Series event crowning champions in Top Alcohol Dragster and eight other categories.
It will be the third Florida race in five weeks for Ms. Force, the 23-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, whose Castrol-backed Funny Car team has dominated the NHRA series for more than 15 seasons.
Not surprisingly, the 270 mile-an-hour dragster Ashley drives for California car owners Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows also flies the red-and-green so closely associated with Team Castrol, whose drivers have won 313 NHRA national events since the team was formed in 1984.
With her win last week, Ashley became the 15th different driver -- and first woman -- to contribute to that total.
"I feel good about our team right now," Ashley said. "I don't know why we're suddenly doing so well. I think it's the combination of the car and the team and everything else just kind of falling into place."
A graduate of California State University-Fullerton, Ashley has put her B.A in communications to good use at John Force Racing, Inc., where she produces marketing and promotional videos as well as an annual spoof that has become the video highlight of the JFR Christmas party.
A former cheerleader at Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda, Calif., Ashley grew up around racing and actually considered pursuing a job as a race car mechanic because of her fascination with the expertise of the crew members on her dad's team.
Toward that end, she took courses in auto shop and welding while at Esperanza. However, it took just one trip to Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School, a present from her father on her 16th birthday, to change her focus.
Nevertheless, she didn't start driving competitively until she was into her second year at Cal State. For two seasons, she balanced a full academic load while driving a Super Comp dragster on selected weekends.
Once she graduated, she moved up to the Top Alcohol category with Darien and Meadows, car owners known for developing young drivers like Melanie Troxel, Brandon Bernstein, Morgan Lucas, Gary Scelzi and Frank Pedregon.
In her rookie season in Top Alcohol, she won three NHRA national events, including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., won the South Central division championship and finished fourth in national points.
Last year, the first in which NHRA imposed sanctions restricting the percentage of volatile nitromethane in the fuel mix, she struggled, finishing third in division points and seventh nationally. Her only victory came in a Lucas Series points meet like the one in which she is competing this week.
Still, it wasn't a lost season for the aspiring Funny Car driver.
"I learned so much more last year than I did my first year," she said. "In 2004, everything went right and I guess I thought 'this isn't so hard.' Then last year came along and everything changed. I was used to the car going A to B, every run, but last year it never just went A to B. It shook the tires. It smoked the tires. It dropped cylinders. It ran to the center line. It ran to the wall.
"Dad told me that anyone can drive a car when everything's perfect," she concluded. "It's what you do when things aren't perfect that separates the drivers."
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"I've spent so much time in Florida this year that I probably could vote." -- ASHLEY FORCE, who is making her third competitive appearance in the state in the last five weeks.