MORE HISTORY IN OFFING FOR CHAMP'S DAUGHTER Ashley Force Debuts in Countdown at zMax Dragway CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Shirley Muldowney won three NHRA Top Fuel drag racing titles in the 1970s and 80s; Angelle Sampey claimed three straight Pro ...
MORE HISTORY IN OFFING
FOR CHAMP'S DAUGHTER
Ashley Force Debuts in Countdown at zMax Dragway
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Shirley Muldowney won three NHRA Top Fuel drag racing titles in the 1970s and 80s; Angelle Sampey claimed three straight Pro Stock Motorcycle championships to start the new millennium.
Nevertheless, a woman driver never seriously has contended for a championship in an NHRA Funny Car division considered the last bastion of male dominance.
As recently as two years ago, Funny Car racing still was considered by many to be too physically demanding for serious female participation.
Drivers like Cristen Powell, who last raced a Funny Car in 2000, were brushed aside as little more than novelties.
However, perceptions change and none has changed more quickly than the illusion of male invincibility in a category populated by some of the most powerful vehicles on the planet, cars capable of zero-to-100 mile-an-hour acceleration in less than a second.
In fact, when racing begins this week in the inaugural NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway at Concord, there'll be a new world order in the Funny Car class created by one Ashley Force, a wholesome 25-year-old college graduate characterized by her father, 14-time NHRA Champion John Force, as "looking like her mother and driving like her dad."
A strikingly attractive brunette who briefly starred in "Driving Force," a real-life TV show that aired for two seasons on A&E Network, last year she won AOL sports' inaugural "World's Hottest Athlete" poll. Nevertheless, this former high school cheerleader is no novelty.
As the "new face of high performance" she has been turning heads and changing minds since she got her first serious ride in an A/Fuel dragster in 2004 and won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, drag racing's biggest single event.
After moving up to the Funny Car division in 2007 and claiming the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future award as the tour's top rookie, she came into her own this year by becoming the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race, the first to lead the Funny Car points and the first to earn a berth in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that begins this week.
"I think we'll do good (in the Countdown)," said the graduate of Cal State- Fullerton. "It's exciting to have all four of our Ford Mustangs (those or her father, brother-ini-law Robert Hight and teammate Mike Neff as well as her own) in the Countdown, but it's also going to be stressful.
"We don't want to be the ones who look back at one bad race that cost us a chance at winning the championship. We just want to go out and do what we've been doing all season," she said. "My crew has given me a great car almost every race. We won a race, we've qualified No. 1 (twice). We just need to keep doing what we've been doing and I think it will pay off."
Whereas she once was identified solely as "John Force's daughter," more-and- more often people who gather around her pit area point to the elder Force, signing autographs outside an adjacent trailer, and identify him as "Ashley's dad."
Nevertheless, she still is in awe of her father's accomplishments, especially his 126 tour victories.
"They joke that between us we have 127 wins," Ashley said, "but I'm amazed at what he has accomplished in his career. I didn't really understand how good he was until I got out of high school. I knew he was winning all the time but it wasn't until I started driving that I understood how hard it is just to win one race, much less 126.".
Records, though, were meant to be broken and, as Ashley already has proven, making high speed history is not gender exclusive.