Ashley Force Reading preview

ANOTHER FORCE IS TITLE CONTENDER AT 21st ANNUAL TOYO TIRES NATIONALS Ashley Sends Castrol/Hot Wheels Dragster after Title READING, Pa. -- When the leaves begin to turn, at the first hint of fall, two things occur: footballs begin flying and...

Ashley Sends Castrol/Hot Wheels Dragster after Title

READING, Pa. -- When the leaves begin to turn, at the first hint of fall, two things occur: footballs begin flying and so does the Castrol/Hot Wheels dragster owned by Californians Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows.

Darien, himself a former NHRA tour winner as a driver, seems to do his best tuning work in the cooler air, which is why his current driver, 22-year-old Ashley Force, is considered one of the favorites in this week's 21st annual Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

Coming off a victory last week in a Lucas Sportsman Series race at Englishtown, N.J., her first of the 2005 season, Ms. Force is hoping to improve at Maple Grove by just one round.

She was runner-up last year as a Top Alcohol Dragster rookie, losing in the final to Gen2Cru compatriot Morgan Lucas, who subsequently moved up to Top Fuel.

Ashley is poised to follow a similar career path although her preference is the Funny Car division in which her father, John Force, has won 13 championships.

Nevertheless, the former high school cheerleader's graduation is not imminent. Although she has taken a turn or two in her father's Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang during testing, she will remain in the Darien and Meadows dragster at least through the 2006 season. After that, she'll consider her options.

A graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, Ashley is the latest in a long line of drivers who have honed their skills with Darien, a former schoolteacher, and Meadows. Among the others are current Top Fuel drivers Lucas, Brandon Bernstein and Melanie Troxel and Funny Car drivers Gary Scelzi and Frank Pedregon.

Ironically, of the 17 national event victories credited to the Darien and Meadows team, 14 have come in events contested after the mid-season break and the last nine, including Ashley's three 2004 victories, after Sept. 1.

That history of late season performance, coupled with last week's victory, has thrust the team prominently back into the Top Alcohol spotlight. In fact, Ashley rolls into Maple Grove in fourth place in national points, the same position she occupied at the end of her breakout 2004 season.

The subject of a national ad campaign for Oakley sunglasses, Ashley also worked with Mattel, Inc., to develop a a Barbie-like Ashley Force doll marketed in company-owned stores.

Nevertheless, it has been on the few occasions when she has climbed behind the wheel of her father's national record-holding, 333 mile-an-hour Mustang that she has attracted the most attention.

"I've only gone 350 feet," she said, "but I'm getting more comfortable. The warmup is easier now and the launch, which isn't that much different from the dragster. But after that, the Funny Car goes everywhere. I can see now why they say they're the hardest (cars) to drive."

In fact, Ashley gave herself and her father's crew chiefs a scare when she brushed the guardwall and crumpled the headers on the left side of the GTX Start Up Mustang in testing prior to the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

"I was so scared because it wasn't like it was a back-up car," she said. "It was dad's No. 1 car that he was going to drive at Indy (the one in which he ultimately set a track record of 4.726 seconds while qualifying No. 1)."

Unfazed, she climbed right back in the Mustang and made two more launches, a routine that will continue through the 2006 season, usually on Mondays after selected NHRA national events.

Right now, though, her focus is on the dragster in which she won three of the last five races in 2004 including the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals in which she shared the winners' circle with her father.

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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, both in the Super Comp division in which mom, Laurie, also is licensed....last year, after qualifying No. 1 at the Toyo Tires Nationals, Ashley beat John Finke, Rich McPhillips and Bill Reichert before losing to Morgan Lucas in the final....Ashley has gone to the final round seven times in 24 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 in the NHRA's South Central Division.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Morgan Lucas , Bill Reichert