ASHLEY FORCE MAKES HISTORY AS FIRST FEMALE FUNNY CAR WINNER Beats Dad in Storybook Final Round to Win Summit Southern Nationals ATLANTA, Ga. -- Ashley Force put a new face on Funny Car drag racing Sunday by becoming the first woman...
ASHLEY FORCE MAKES HISTORY AS FIRST FEMALE FUNNY CAR WINNER
Beats Dad in Storybook Final Round to Win Summit Southern Nationals
ATLANTA, Ga. -- Ashley Force put a new face on Funny Car drag racing Sunday by becoming the first woman to win a national race in a category that once was considered the last bastion of male superiority.
The 25-year-old did so with a flair for the dramatic, beating her father, drag racing icon John Force, in the final round of the 28th annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals to deny him his 1,000 winning round in his 500th NHRA tour event.
The result enabled the second generation driver to pad her points lead and dispel any lingering doubts anyone may have harbored about either her commitment to the sport or her competence at the wheel of one of the world's most powerful race cars.
Her first win came in her 27th pro race and in her fourth trip to the final round. Denied in the two most recent events in the POWERade Series, first on March 30 by Del Worsham at Houston, Texas, and then on April 13 by Tim Wilkerson at Las Vegas, Nev., Ashley left no doubt this time.
With her father in a left lane that was the bane of every racer during eliminations, she sprinted down the favored right lane in 4.837 seconds at 320.36 miles per hour. Her dad was never in it, losing traction almost at the hit of the throttle and slowing to 11.223 seconds.
It was her second career win against her father, drag racing's biggest winner, who lost the first ever meeting between father and daughter in the first round of the 2007 Southern Nationals.
"There are a lot of mixed emotions," John Force said before the final. "I turn off the switch. If I win, that's great but if she wins, that's something really special, too. I'm just going to go out there and let my car do what it does."
For the champ, who had won seven times previously at Atlanta Dragway and was appearing in his 14th Southern Nationals final round, most at any event in the series, his car let him down for the first time all day.
Now, he'll move on to Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis where he'll have another opportunity to reach 1,000 round win at next week's O'Reilly Midwest Nationals.
"I guess the third time's a charm," said the woman who now leads the Funny Car point standings by 59 points. "We just knew that if we kept getting to the finals, we'd eventually get one. I kinda hated that it had to be against dad but I'm just happy to win an event."
"We went a whole year last year and the biggest win I had was off the track (in AOL sports' "world's hottest athlete" poll)," joked the second year pro. "To finally get it done here in Atlanta, where I beat dad last year (in the first round in the first meeting between father and daughter), was special. He came over and he congratulated me. He told me, 'good job.' He told my team 'good job."
"I never saw him," she said of her father, "and I never saw my win light, but they told me on the radio (that I had won) while I was coasting. I know he wanted his 1,000th win, but mom and I had it all figured out -- he can just go do that next week (at the O'Reilly Midwest Nationals in St. Louis), on his (59th) birthday. That would be special.
"Antron (Top Fuel winner Antron Brown) and I are seeing a pattern here," she continued. "When I saw him win in the semis, I suddenly got all kind of confidence because every final he's been in (this year) I've been in, too. Not that that has anything to do with anything, but it's little things like that where you feel a little bit more confident, like when we did our team dinner (on Thursday). Every race that we've done a team dinner, ever, we've gone to the final and now we've done it again.
"It's an exciting time, you know, with Danica winning. There are a lot of women in a lot of different motor sports and we're getting our practice, we're getting our experience and we're making our way toward those wins. It's a good week for women and it's exciting for the fans to finally have a woman winner in Funny Car, but I know that it's the 10 guys on my team who got me to this point. I would never be here without them and without 'Guido' (crew chief Dean Antonelli) and Ron (assistant crew chief Ron Douglas). I'm proud to be a female in the seat but it's those guys who got me here."
The other two JFR Mustangs, both of them higher qualified than either of the Force's Fords, were eliminated in the very first round.
Robert Hight's streak of final round appearances ended with little fanfare in the very first round. That's where the defending race champion was victimized by a loss of traction in the tricky left lane.
How the 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year wound up in the bad lane, though, was a story in itself. Actually, when his crew pulled the Auto Club Ford into the staging area, it was positioned on the preferred right side, as expected. However, crew chief Jimmy Prock's concern about the condition of that lane after Del Worsham left an oil slick on his burnout, caused the team to swap lanes, which is the prerogative of the quicker car in each pair.
Unfortunately, after the cleanup by the NHRA Safety Safari crew, Capps zipped down the right lane without a problem in 4.875 seconds, third quickest time of the round, while Hight's chassis unloaded when his car hit the bump and slowed to 5.975 seconds at 169.06 mph.
"Worsham oiled it in front of us," Hight said, "(and) Bernie (Fedderly, crew chief on Force's car) and Jimmy didn't think that they had the track clean enough. So we had to deal with the bump in the left lane. The bump is pretty serious. You basically have to go up there set up for the bump. Obviously, you could navigate it because Ashley was able to. There wasn't a lot of tire smoke in Funny Cars during qualifying but you look at today and there was. Guys were trying to press with the track conditions the way they were. You were trying to stay in the right lane."
Although he refused to use it as an excuse, Hight acknowledged that his team was taken out of its routine because of several rain delays which delayed the start of the race by two-and-a-half hours.
Meanwhile, Mike Neff's first round woes continued, this time against his boss and, perhaps because his crew, like Hight's, opted to change from the right lane to the left. The result was almost a mirror image. The Old Spice Mustang lost traction at the bump, slowing to 7.179 while Force motored down the right side in 4.845 seconds, quickest time of the opening round.
"We're disappointed," Neff said. "It should have been a good drag race. We're just upset with the way it all worked out after Worsham oiled the track. We went up there with lane choice, but they were skeptical as they watched them clean it up (so) we made the decision to follow Robert over there (to the left lane).
TEAM CASTROL/TEAM JFR Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 9th at 4.868 seconds, 313.80 mph
Race Results: Beat Mike Neff, Tim Wilkerson, Bob Tasca III. Lost to Ashley Force.
Notable: Won 999th round win in 500th national event appearance...Reached his 14th final round at the Southern Nationals.
Quotable: "There are a lot of mixed emotions. I turn off the switch. If I win, that's great but if she wins, that's something really special, too. I'm just going to go out there and let my car do what it does."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 11th at 4.897 seconds, 310.05 mph
Race Results: Beat Del Worsham, Jim Head, Ron Capps, John Force.
Notable: First Funny Car win for female in history of Funny Car class...Extended points lead... raced to third consecutive final round.
Quotable: "I guess the third time's a charm. We just knew that if we kept getting to the finals, we'd eventually get one. I kinda hated that it had to be against dad but I'm just happy to win an event."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.860 seconds, 312.93 mph.
Race Results: Lost to Ron Capps.
Notable: First time he has not advanced to final round at Southern Nationals
Quotable: "Yesterday in qualifying when we ran that lane (left) we had our clutch on super hold and tried to glide it through that area and it went. We were trying to run a little easier there. We had to run the best run we'd made all weekend to beat him (Ron Capps)."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.867 seconds, 309.42 mph.
Race results: Lost to John Force.
Notable: Still looking for first round win.
Quotable: "We are disappointed. It should have been a good drag race. We are just upset with the way it all worked out after Worsham oiled the track down and we are jockeying the lanes. We made a bad decision by changing lanes."