ASHLEY FORCE HOOD WINS HOUSTON BAYTOWN, TX --- Ashley Force beat a "Who's Who" of Funny Car drag racing that included her famous father, points leader Ron Capps and defending race champion Del Worsham on the way to a Sunday victory in the 22nd...
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD WINS HOUSTON
BAYTOWN, TX --- Ashley Force beat a "Who's Who" of Funny Car drag racing that included her famous father, points leader Ron Capps and defending race champion Del Worsham on the way to a Sunday victory in the 22nd annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals that stamped her as more than just a novelty in the hunt for the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Championship.
No victory was bigger, though, than a final round conquest of "Fast Jack" Beckman, the man who taught not only her, but her younger sisters and her mother to drive competitively.
Relegated to the troublesome right lane that all day long was the undoing of drivers with far more experience, the 26-year-old graduate of Cal State Fullerton was not intimidated. She left the starting line first and never trailed, recording a 1,000 foot time of 4.122 seconds at 306.19 miles per hour, second quickest of the day and easily the best in the right lane. Beckman trailed in 4.227 seconds at 303.43 mph.
"It was great," the former high school cheerleader said of the second professional win of her brief career, "especially since it came against Jack. He taught me when I first learned to drive and it's amazing that 10 years later, we're both driving nitro Funny Cars.
"Today was just my day," said the 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. "Everything just fell into place for us. I was nervous about the lane because you saw what other cars had done in it. We knew the left (lane) might be a little bit better. I just wanted to go A to B and not make any mistakes
"Ron and 'Guido' (crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dean Antonelli) did a great job deciding what they needed to do (and) it went right down the track. It was especially great racing (against) Jack because he always reminds you not to take it too seriously. He was having fun up there in the (staging) lanes before each round (and that) helped calm me down.
"We had a really consistent car in qualifying," said the second oldest daughter of drag racing icon John Force. "We just didn't have it quite right today, at least not until the final -- when we needed it. This win (was) a lot more fun than the first win in Atlanta (last April). That race was late; it was raining and I wasn't ready for everything that was going on. It was just stressful. This day just seemed to happen more how it should."
While it was her second tour victory, it was her first since her marriage last December to Daniel Hood and that made it even more meaningful for the woman who, two years ago, won the "World's Hottest Athlete" on-line poll produced by AOL sports.
"It's our first win together as husband-and-wife. I was definitely glad to have him there. He was right there in the thick of things in my pit area all day. He loves to work on cars and that is what he is good at. I am so happy to have him there working on it for me."
The No. 3 qualifier, Ashley began her march to the title by beating Capps and the NAPA Dodge that had won the season's first two races and briefly threatened to make a shambles of the points race.
That set up a second round match with her father whose inability to get his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang down the right hand lane established a theme that would play out through the day. The win enabled the former high school cheerleader to even her career record against drag racing's biggest all-time winner at 3-3.
In the semis, she avenged last year's final round loss at Houston by directing her Ford past the Toyota of Worsham. However, it was a sobering victory insomuch as her winning time of 4.173 seconds was .002 of a second slower than Beckman's time against Tony Pedregon.
That put her in the less favored lane, but it made no difference.
For JFR, it was a most timely victory. The team had not celebrated in the winners' circle since Robert Hight prevailed last September in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind. It was the team's 180th Funny Car victory overall and it's 13th at Houston where John Force had won seven times previously.
Ashley's second victory came in her sixth final round appearance and it boosted her all the way to third place in points. It also provided a balance for the struggles endured over the weekend by the team's other drivers.
Hight and Mike Neff both exited in the very first round and the team leader lasted only to round two although he did manage to get a first round victory over Bob Tasca III, the second year pro who won the ACDelco Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., two weeks earlier.
Neff was beaten by Tony Pedregon; Hight by Beckman, the second successive first round loss for each.
"The clutch started sooner than we wanted it to," Neff said of his aborted 5.409 second run in the Ford Drive One Mustang. "We're still working out some of the new things we put on this Mustang over the winter. Th3 track was tricky. Things that we have gotten away with the last couple of races caught (up with) us here, but we feel good about it. We are learning what moves to make."
Neff credited his double-duty at Phoenix and Gainesville for giving him a better understanding of what crew chief John Medlen is trying to do with the race car.
"I am now in a better position to give my opinion," Neff said, "but it's great to have Medlen back. I always like going to Las Vegas (site of the next race in the Full Throttle Series). It's a good race track (and) I feel like the car is running good. I feel like we are making the right calls. Things just weren't working the way we thought they would. I think we can make a couple of little adjustments here and there and we'll be right back into the swing of things."
Hight, too, is optimistic about initiating improvement in his Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang.
"We are struggling with consistency," said the 11-time tour winner. "I am a positive person and I know we have a great team. We just need to make consistent runs. We will get there. Last year, we had motor problems and it seemed like we blew up about every run. Now we have a great motor and we just have to make it work for us. I am looking forward to getting to Las Vegas because more than just coming to the race track, I love racing.
"We need to race more on Sunday. You can learn a lot about your race car during eliminations so we just have to start going rounds. I won Las Vegas two years ago and I'm looking forward to getting back in a couple of days."
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 6th at 4.111 seconds, at 303.78 mph
Race results: Beat Bob Tasca III. Lost to Ashley Force Hood.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD, 26, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.085 seconds, at 308.43 mph
Race results: Beat Ron Capps, John Force, Del Worsham,
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, AAA of Texas Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 12th at 4.174 seconds, at 301.47 mph
Race results: Lost to Jack Beckman.
MIKE NEFF, 41, Ford Drive One/Auto Club Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.138 seconds, at 304.12 mph
Race results: Lost to Tony Pedregon.