Brainerd: Ashley Force Hood preview

Force hood aims for countdown momentum BRAINERD, Minn. -- There's nothing more dangerous in professional sport than a rival with nothing to lose, which is why the Funny Car contingent is casting a wary eye in the direction of Ashley Force ...

Force hood aims for countdown momentum

BRAINERD, Minn. -- There's nothing more dangerous in professional sport than a rival with nothing to lose, which is why the Funny Car contingent is casting a wary eye in the direction of Ashley Force Hood this week as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series moves to Brainerd International Raceway for the 29th annual Lucas Oil Nationals.

On more than one occasion, Force Hood personally has felt the sting of the aforementioned axiom. This week, though, she hopes to turn the tables.

In a season of struggle at the wheel of a fast but luckless Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, the 27-year-old knows that the pressure now is off -- and that may be just what she needs to recapture the form that carried her to a second place finish in 2009. Having already clinched a berth in the NHRA's Countdown to 1 playoffs, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton is looking forward to the start of the "second season."

"We are just in the biggest slump we've ever been in," said the three-time tour winner and reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion. "For some reason, we are just having a crappy year (but) we'll just keep plugging away.

"You do get down on yourself," Ashley admitted. "It's like, 'what else do we have to do?' I read that 'insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,' so I've been trying different things. Some have worked and some haven't, but I think I am making progress (on improving my reaction times). To other people, it might not look like I am making progress, but my lights are getting better."

Crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli agrees with his driver's assessment. He quickly jumped to Ashley's defense following a first round loss two weeks ago to "Fast Jack" Beckman during which her car was quicker but got to the finish line last.

"She wasn't late (to react)," Antonelli said. "She was dead shallow (a technique that improves the car's elapsed time while negatively impacting the driver's reaction time). She had a respectable light. Besides, if the car had performed (as anticipated), it wouldn't have made any difference. It just wasn't our day."

There have been a lot of those days this year. Nevertheless, she and her team have drawn inspiration from teammate Robert "Top Gun" Hight, who last year drove the Auto Club Ford to the championship from from the No. 10 starting position by winning three of the six Countdown races.

"We're in the Countdown," Ashley said, "and Robert showed last year that if you're in it, you can win it."

Although she hasn't won a race this year, the second oldest of John Force's four daughters has not lost the confidence of either her crew chiefs or her crew.

"My team has been telling me not to get down on myself," she said. "They've been very supportive. They told me not to let this get into my head (but) it's hard because this is a mental game as well as a physical and mechanical one."

The NHRA national record holder for Funny Car speed at 316.38 miles per hour, Ashley last year came so close to becoming the first woman in 43 years to win the NHRA Funny Car title before settling for No. 2.

"(This year) everyone else has run just a little better than us," she said. "Like at Charlotte (in the final round of the 4Wide Nationals), we ran 4.04 and dad ran 4.03. At Chicago (Joliet, Ill., the UA Route 66 Nationals), we ran 4.04 and Matt (Hagan) ran 4.02. We ran 4.32 at Norwalk and Tim (Wilkerson) ran 4.31. That's just how it has gone."

In fact, of the 16 races she has lost this season, Force Hood has been beaten by less than .085 of a second in 12 of them.

"It's been frustrating (not to win)," she said. "The breaks that went our way last year are going the other way this year, but that's just racing."

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ashley Force