Bristol: Ashley Force Hood preview

NEXT STEP IS A BIG ONE AS ASHLEY SEEKS TITLE Castrol GTX Driver Tries to Maintain Bristol Progression BRISTOL, Tenn. - If reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion Ashley Force Hood can maintain her current rate of progression at Bristol...

NEXT STEP IS A BIG ONE AS ASHLEY SEEKS TITLE
Castrol GTX Driver Tries to Maintain Bristol Progression

BRISTOL, Tenn. - If reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion Ashley Force Hood can maintain her current rate of progression at Bristol Dragway, she'll be celebrating Father's Day with her family and crew Sunday as the Funny Car winner of the 10th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

The 27-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force has recovered nicely from a qualifying failure in her debut appearance at Bristol in 2007. After that stumble, she reached the second round in 2008 and last year, after qualifying No. 1, guided her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to the final round.

"We just need to take that next step," said the graduate of Cal State- Fullerton, who enters the 12th race in the Full Throttle Series in fifth place in Funny Car points.

"It was kind of a lost weekend for John Force Racing (last week at Englishtown, N.J.)," said the runner-up for last year's series championship, "so it's good to get right back into the racing and put that performance behind us.

"We've kind of had an unlucky streak," she said. "The breaks that we were getting last year are going to someone else this time, (but) it'll all turn around. It's like 'Guido' (crew chief Dean Antonelli) told me, 'if you keep going to bat you're eventually gonna get a hit' and maybe Bristol will be our race.

"I didn't know if I would be able to say that after my first year (2007)," she continued. "On my last qualifying run, there was something wrong with the throttle stop and we got shut off and didn't make the show. It was my first DNQ in Funny Car and it was kind of a shock, but it shows that you can never take anything for granted with one of these race cars."

The dominant driver in the Funny Car division last year before brother-in-law Robert Hight mounted a late season rally to beat her to the championship, Ashley appeared in a tops-in-the-category eight finals and started from No. 1 on a Funny Car best six occasions.

This year, she's lost nine times this by an average margin of .067 of a second. The only two races in which the decision wasn't in question all the way to the 1,000 foot finish line was at the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., and at last week's SuperNationals. Both times, her car lost traction and she was forced to abort.

"Last week we just started badly in qualifying," said the three-time tour winner. "We wound up 10th which, by far, is our worst of the season. But just because it wasn't our weekend doesn't mean that it still can't be our championship.

"There's a lot of racing left before the Countdown," acknowledged the 2007 Rookie-of-the-Year, "and Robert showed last year (winning from the No. 10 starting position) that if you're in it, you can win it.

"I just feel bad for my crew chiefs, 'Guido' and Ron (Douglas), and for my team. They've worked so hard this year (without much of a payoff). But you have to stay positive. Things can turn around so fast in this sport."

Despite her failure to reach the winners' circle thus far, Ashley is solidly in contention for a $500,000 Full Throttle championship that again will be decided in a six-race playoff beginning in September at Indianapolis, site of her last tour victory.

A five-time national winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, Ashley is the only driver in the current Funny Car Top 5 who has not won an event this year. She's done everything but, dropping narrow final round decisions to her father (in the inaugural 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, N.C.) and Hight (at Atlanta, Ga.) while upping her own official NHRA speed record to 316.38 miles per hour.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Robert Hight