FORCE HOOD RACES TO PROV. No. 1 IN BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minn. -- Ashley Force Hood drove her Castrol GTX Ford to a Brainerd International Raceway track record Friday, at least momentarily deflecting attention away from the points battle between...
FORCE HOOD RACES TO PROV. No. 1 IN BRAINERD
BRAINERD, Minn. -- Ashley Force Hood drove her Castrol GTX Ford to a Brainerd International Raceway track record Friday, at least momentarily deflecting attention away from the points battle between her father, 14-time champion John Force, and her brother-in-law, reigning champion Robert "Top Gun" Hight.
In the only qualifying session completed Friday because of early morning rain, Force Hood stopped the 1,000 foot timers in 4.102 seconds at 302.55 miles per hour to claim the provisional pole and set herself up to start from the front of the Funny Car field for the fourth time this year and for the second time in her last three appearances at BIR.
"I'm glad that the skies cleared up and we were able to get a run. You never want to leave Friday without giving the fans a show. All the fans were up there and ready to go. We made a good pass. There really was no time to actually talk about what was going to happen. I didn't think we were going to run. When we went back to the trailer after they pulled us off the line we thought the day was done," said Force Hood.
"Then suddenly they are calling us and we are rushing and re-warming up. I didn't want to bug the crew chiefs and ask them what they had in there. I never spoke to them about the run and we went up and went right down there. Even my crew guys were surprised by the 4.10. They didn't know they were going for that kind of number. Especially with it being the first run out and losing a session today. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow. Obviously my crew chiefs Dean (Antonelli) and Ron (Douglas) like to keep us in suspense. That may be a god thing since I don't need to know what is going on in the tune up. I just need to react to the car and do my best to get it A to B."
"When Guido looked in the window he said piece of cake which he says every time. I have two really good crew chiefs. It has been a weird year for us. We have qualified good and not gone rounds. We have struggled in qualifying and gone rounds. Hopefully it will work out for us. Last year I won the last race before the Countdown the Mac Tools US Nationals. This year this race is the last race before the Countdown. Maybe that is our thing winning the last race of the regular season."
Because Saturday's qualifying will take place in the heat of the day, it will be difficult for anyone to challenge Force Hood's Friday time. Significantly, because she earned the maximum three qualifying bonus points, Ashley trimmed her deficit to Bob Tasca III, the driver immediately ahead of her in Full Throttle points, from 21 to 18.
"It is always good to have a strong first run. It seems to set your weekend. One you are good in the qualifying order. You are not worrying as if you didn't get down the track. You aren't trying to catch up to everybody else. When you go out strong now tomorrow we can really push the car. The team is all pumped. They are really excited. We have a good feeling about this weekend. I think it is all about the attitude of that and getting that confidence. Especially if your run No. 1 or even have a strong run."
The reduced points lead is significant because if it holds up, it means that the 27-year-old would move into Sunday eliminations just one competitive round out of seventh place instead of two. Furthermore, if she is able to add as many as five bonus points on Saturday, she could move to within a round of No. 6 Tim Wilkerson.
Meanwhile, the battle at the top of the standings intensified Friday as a result of Hight's No. 2 qualifying effort, a 4.131 that earned the 18-time tour winner a two-point bonus and reduced his deficit to Force to a mere 26 points.
The drama was intensified somewhat by John Force's failure to get down the racetrack under power Saturday. Although he was the only Team Castrol driver outside the Top 12, he is racing on a track on which he never has failed to qualify outside the Top 6 and one on which he has taken a Castrol GTX Funny Car to the winners' circle 11 times in his career.