force hood has eye on first full throttle title DALLAS, Texas - Inspired by brother-in-law Robert "Top Gun" Hight's worst-to-first 2009 championship run, empowered by her repeat victory in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and energized by last ...
force hood has eye on first full throttle title
DALLAS, Texas - Inspired by brother-in-law Robert "Top Gun" Hight's worst-to-first 2009 championship run, empowered by her repeat victory in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and energized by last week's milestone 100th professional round win, Ashley Force Hood goes back to work this week at the wheel of the fastest Funny Car ever to negotiate the 1,000 foot course at which races have been contested the last two years.
When the 27-year-old phenom rolls her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang onto the all-concrete surface at the Texas Motorplex for the start of the 25th annual O'Reilly Super Start Batteries Fall Nationals, she'll be just 53 points off the lead enjoyed by her father, 14-time NHRA champion John Force.
Despite a second round exit last week at Charlotte, N.C., Force Hood actually gained ground for the second straight event and now is looking forward to the prospect of cooler weather, something she believes will provide a boost for her national record-holding, 316.38 mile per hour Mustang.
"Hopefully these next couple of races the weather will cool off a little," said the 2004 graduate of Cal State Fullerton. "The cooler weather seems to be a little better for our Castrol Mustang and it's also nicer for the crew guys and the fans.
"The weather last weekend seemed like the worst of the season," she said. "Maybe it was the humidity, but I have never seen so many engine explosions and oildowns, especially in Top Fuel. Fortunately, we are still at a point in the Countdown where going out in the second round is not the end of the world. We're still right there."
Indeed, Force Hood again is poised to claim a Full Throttle championship that just slipped through her grasp a year ago when Hight won three of the six Countdown races to complete an unlikely title run from the 10th and final starting position.
While her second place finish was disappointing - especially after she led the points with only three races remaining, Force Hood has adopted Hight's championship model as her own in a bid to become the first woman champion in the 42-year history of NHRA Funny Car class.
"Last year, Robert showed that if you can just make the Countdown, anyone can win the championship," she said. "We struggled earlier this year but we kept remembering what (Hight's) Auto Club team did a year ago. That was our motivation." -more- ashley/o'reilly super start fall nationals 2222
For Ashley, the return to the Motorplex always is bittersweet. It was the track on which she won one of her first races in the Top Alcohol Dragster class in her first season as a full-time driver (2004). After turning pro in 2007, it also was the first race in which obviously had a car capable of taking her into the Funny Car winners' circle.
En route to NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year recognition, she qualified fifth at the Fall Nationals, recorded quick time of the event in a first round victory over Ron Capps (4.786 seconds at the quarter mile distance) and had earned the right to pick her lane against Cruz Pedregon in the semifinals when her father was involved in the worst accident of his 33-year career.
When the sport's best-know driver was airlifted to Baylor University Medical Center for six hours of surgery, Ashley withdrew from the event to be with her family, giving Pedregon a free ride to the final round.
Ashley hopes to get back to the semifinals - and perhaps beyond - in this week's return to the Motorplex. Nevertheless, her focus isn't on a title won by John Force Racing drivers 16 of the last 20 seasons.
"I'm trying to take it one round at a time," she said, "because each round is really a learning experience. I just try to learn from my mistakes and get better every week. We just need to stay focused and not get ahead of ourselves. It's all about these next few races. We were hating the points structure last year but, so far, we're loving it this year. The Countdown gives you a chance - and that's all you can ask for."