ASHLEY FORCE'S FUTURE IN FOCUS AT 20TH O'REILLY FALL NATIONALS Castrol/Hot Wheels Driver Defends Top Alcohol Title DALLAS, Texas -- It's not the low rider jeans hugging her hips that have stamped Ashley Force as a rising star in the NHRA...
ASHLEY FORCE'S FUTURE IN FOCUS AT 20TH O'REILLY FALL NATIONALS
Castrol/Hot Wheels Driver Defends Top Alcohol Title
DALLAS, Texas -- It's not the low rider jeans hugging her hips that have stamped Ashley Force as a rising star in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. It's those other genes, the ones she inherited from her famous father, 13-time Funny Car drag racing Champion John Force.
Already the focus of a national ad campaign for Oakley sunglasses and the model for an Ashley Force doll marketed by Mattel, the 22-year-old already has proven to be much more than just another pretty face on the motorsports landscape.
In fact, she returns to Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex for this week's 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals, presented by Castrol SYNTEC , as the defending champion in the Top Alcohol Dragster division, the drag racing equivalent of NASCAR's Busch Series.
A graduate of Cal State-Fullerton where she majored in communications, Ms. Force owes her Barbie-like good looks and her disarming charm to her mother, Laurie. Once she climbs into the cockpit of the 270 mile-an-hour Castrol/Hot Wheels dragster, however, she is transformed.
"She's very competitive," said crew chief and car owner Jerry Darien, in whose Top Alcohol cars current professional stars Gary Scelzi, Frank Pedregon, Melanie Troxel, Brandon Bernstein and Morgan Lucas honed their driving skills. "Once she's in the car, she's all business."
Fourth in the Lucas Sportsman Series national standings last year, the future force is on track this season to another Top 10 finish. Next year, projected as her last in the Lucas Series, she hopes to compete for the championship.
Before winning last year's Fall Nationals, beating veteran Bill Reichert in the final, she earned a breakthrough triumph at the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., becoming just the third woman in any category to win the sport's oldest, richest and most prestigious event.
She then closed out the 2004 campaign by sharing the winners' circle with her father at the Automobile Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona, Calif., where they became the first father and daughter to win the same NHRA event. It's a result the two have been trying to replicate ever since.
Regardless of what happens Sunday, Ashley's Motorplex minute won't end with the conclusion of eliminations.
The former high school cheerleader will extend her stay at least through Monday when she will take the next step in a program designed to put her in a John Force Racing Funny Car as early as the 2007 season.
Monday's plan is to put the second generation driver in her father's national record-holding Castrol GTX Start Up Mustang for another series of starting line "launches."
"I've only gone 350 feet so far," she said, "but I am getting more comfortable (in the car). I'm doing better on the warmup and better on the burnout and the launch. After that, though, things have been crazy. I can see why they say (Funny Cars) are so hard to drive."
Despite her Funny Car aspirations, Ashley is trying to focus this week solely on the dragster, a car in which she most recently won just two weeks ago.
"We've had a strange year so far," Ashley admitted, "kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In between qualifying No. 16 and losing in the first round at Indy and Reading (Pa., for the Toyo Tires Nationals), we qualified No. 2 and won a points race at Englishtown (N.J.). We hope that's the car that shows up this weekend."
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Did You Know? While attending Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda, Calif., Ashley took, as electives, courses in auto shop and welding.....Ashley's younger sisters, Brittany, 19, and Courtney, 17, also have begun driving competitively in the Super Comp division in which mom, Laurie, also is licensed....last year, after qualifying No. 2 for the O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Ashley beat Larry Traugott, David Wells, Morgan Lucas and, finally, Bill Reichert....Ashley has gone to the final round seven times in 25 NHRA national events; six times in 15 races in the Lucas Sportsman Series....last year, Ashley was named Driver of the Year and Rookie of the Year after winning the NHRA's South Central Division championship ....Ashley has been named one of Orange County's Hot 25 personalities by the Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)....the Darien and Meadows team is seeking its third straight win at the Texas Motorplex, having won in 2003 with Morgan Lucas and last year with Ashley.