FUTURE FORCE SEEKS ALKY TITLE AT MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS 22-Year-Old Following in Dad's Footsteps GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's a generational anomaly that 22-year-old Ashley Force, one of the Top Alcohol Dragster favorites in this week's 36th...
FUTURE FORCE SEEKS ALKY TITLE AT MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS
22-Year-Old Following in Dad's Footsteps
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's a generational anomaly that 22-year-old Ashley Force, one of the Top Alcohol Dragster favorites in this week's 36th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, was a three-time NHRA event winner before she first let out the clutch on a stick shift automobile.
In fact, the daughter of 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force may never have learned the technique had she not agreed to provide quarter mile driving instruction for a Ford Motor Co. "golf and go" function held last month at Homestead- Miami Speedway in conjunction with the Ford-sponsored Doral Open golf tournament.
Ms. Force, who is in her second season at the wheel of the Castrol /Hot Wheels dragster owned by Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows, a car that does not employ a conventional manual transmission, learned to drive with an automatic transmission like the one in her current street car, a Ford F-150 pickup.
As a result, when she was approached by Ford to serve as the "celebrity instructor" for the drag racing portion of the Homestead event, she had to get up to speed, so to speak, on the hows and whys of driving a stick shift car.
"Ford sent me a Focus for about a week," she said. "I drove that around and I'm sure it was pretty traumatic for anybody that was near me. The following week, they sent me a new Mustang and that was a lot easier for me to drive, I think because it had a lot more power and the clutch had more resistence (so it wasn't so prone to stall).
"I still was a little nervous, but I just tried to remember, 'keep the clutch in, bring it up to about 4,000 rpm and then take off.' It was really fun. I had no mishaps, the car didn't die and I got to meet a lot of neat people, some PGA golf pros and Dale Jarrett and some other Ford NASCAR drivers."
Nevertheless, Force, whose first career victory came in the biggest race in the sport, last year's 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., will be a lot more comfortable this weekend at 270 miles an hour than she was at Homestead at 80.
In fact, in little more than a season, the former high school cheerleader already has won more rounds of racing (50 in both POWERade and Lucas Sportsman Series events) than her father did in his first eight years on the NHRA tour.
After a two-year apprenticeship in Super Comp, she moved up to the Top Alcohol Dragster class last season and quickly established herself as more than just the daughter of the sport's biggest winner.
Not only did she win the U.S. Nationals, she won again three weeks later at Dallas, Texas, and again at the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona, Calif., where she shared the podium with her father, who claimed the Funny Car championship in the same event. As a result, she finished fourth in the national driver standings in Top Alcohol.
In addition, she won three regional races en route to the Division 4 points championship and recognition not only as the divisional Rookie of the Year but also as the Driver of the Year.
That's a tough act to follow, but the graduate of California State University- Fullerton took the first step by reaching the semifinals of the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals, the same round in which she was eliminated last season in her first appearance at the Gatornationals.
Although she is committed to at least one more season in Top Alcohol, she has made no secret of the fact that one day she would like to move up to the Funny Car division, not to take over the seat of her dad's Castrol GTX Start Up Ford, but to race against him in a Mustang of her own.
Ashley Force at Gainesville:
Last year: After qualifying second behind Art Gallant, she beat Don Fiorelli and Rich McPhillips before losing to Marty Thacker in the semifinals.
Personal Bests at Gainesville: 5.338 seconds, 269.73 mph, both in 2004.
Notable: Ashley's very first NHRA national event victory came in the biggest event in the sport -- the 2004 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., in which she became just the third female champion in 50 years.
Television (all ESPN2): 7-8 p.m. (ET) on March 26; repeats at 4 a.m. (ET) on April 6; 11 a.m., April 17, on Inside Drag Racing.