DIFFICULT 2005 SEASON BEHIND HER, ASHLEY AIMS FOR TOP ALCOHOL TITLE Next Generation Driver Launches Bid at Winternationals POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- As a Top Alcohol division rookie in 2004, Ashley Force had a dream season, winning the...
DIFFICULT 2005 SEASON BEHIND HER, ASHLEY AIMS FOR TOP ALCOHOL TITLE
Next Generation Driver Launches Bid at Winternationals
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- As a Top Alcohol division rookie in 2004, Ashley Force had a dream season, winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the Division 4 points championship and the season-ending Auto Club Finals, a race in which she shared the podium with her dad as the first father-and-daughter winners of the same NHRA event.
One might think it was that success that put the 23-year-old in position to mount a serious challenge for the series championship this season at the wheel of new and distinctively-painted Castrol dragster owned by Californians Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows.
One would be wrong.
If Ms. Force is able to end the one-year reign of current Top Alcohol Dragster champ Steve Torrence, it will be because of lessons learned, not in her rookie season, but in a less-than-stellar 2005 campaign in which she failed to win a single national event while falling from fourth to seventh in the national standings.
She'll try to apply those lessons for the first time this week when she competes, along with younger sisters Brittany and Courtney, in the season-opening, 46th annual CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway.
"I learned so much more last year than I did my first year," said the effervescent graduate of California State University-Fullerton. "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," she explained, "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. It's what you do when things aren't perfect that separates the drivers and things were far from perfect last year."
Nevertheless, based on pre-season test results those problems, the majority of which were related to NHRA's implementation of a new fuel rule, are behind her.
What's ahead, in addition to an anticipated championship run, is more Monday testing in a 7,000 horsepower Funny Car, but not her father's national record-holding Mustang.
"Last year, it was hard for her to get comfortable in my car," Force said of the second oldest of his four daughters. "We had to add padding and change the pedals every time she went out. It made more sense to build a car that fit her. So that's what we did.
"It's the car she'll drive when she moves up, whether that's next year or the year after that. It's whenever she's ready. Not whenever I'm ready."
Right now, the one-time high school cheerleader is content to race for the Top Alcohol title with a team that has come close, but never before worn the crown.
Darien and Meadows alumni include reigning NHRA Funny Car champ Gary Scelzi, former NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year Brandon Bernstein and current NHRA Top Fuel contenders Melanie Troxel and Morgan Lucas. Ashley is the seventh different driver to win for Darien and Meadows.
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*Ashley will divide her time this season between the Castrol dragster she drives for Darien and Meadows and a Castrol GTX Funny Car she will test on Mondays after selected NHRA national events with an eye toward moving up in classification in 2007.
*This week and throughout the remainder of the season, Ashley's development will come under the scrutiny of TV cameras filming DRIVING FORCE, a new real-life series debuting this June on A&E Network. Although John Force regularly will appear in the series, its focus is on his youngest daughters and their integration into the "family business."