ASHLEY EYES BREAKTHROUGH AT O'REILLY FALL NATIONALS Rookie Seeking First Funny Car Win in POWERade Series ENNIS, Texas -- She's appeared this year on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on ABC's Good Morning, America. She's one of the...
ASHLEY EYES BREAKTHROUGH
AT O'REILLY FALL NATIONALS
Rookie Seeking First Funny Car Win in POWERade Series
ENNIS, Texas -- She's appeared this year on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on ABC's Good Morning, America. She's one of the stars of the A&E Network series Driving Force and has been featured in publications as diverse as ESPN The Magazine, Penthouse (in full driving uniform, thank you) and Men's Journal.
She was the surprise winner of AOL sports' inaugural "Hottest Athlete" poll and last month won rave reviews for the motivational speech she delivered to an audience of 5,500 at the annual convention of Dallas-based cosmetics giant BeautyControl, Inc.
Despite all of that, on the eve of this week's 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals at Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex, Ashley Force, the 24-year-old darling of the NHRA POWERade drag racing circuit, remains unfulfilled.
"I'm a little embarrassed," said the driver of the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang, "because people have been congratulating me for winning the Hottest Athlete' thing. It was nice, but we're not out here for that. We're here to win races. I told my team, 'we gotta win now. We can't say (the AOL poll) was our only win of the year.'"
As a result, even though she won't figure in the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship, which intensifies this week in the next-to-last race before the final cut, Ashley is exceptionally motivated for her first Funny Car appearance on the all-concrete surface that sets the Motorplex apart from every other track on the circuit.
The daughter of drag racing icon John Force, she believes she has the car, the crew chief (rookie tuner Dean "Guido" Antonelli) and the team to win at one of the season's last four races.
Even though she missed the Countdown, Ashley knows she still could play a role in determining who will walk away with the $500,000 champion's bonus.
Coming off successive No. 2 starts at Indianapolis and Memphis, she is the current leader in the race for one of the eight starting berths in the 2008 Skoal Showdown.
"Our team is a win looking for a place to happen," said the Cal State-Fullerton graduate, "but our job this week is to help dad and Robert (brother-in-law Robert Hight, the current POWERade points leader and defending Fall Nationals Champion) by beating the other guys in the Countdown.
" Guido' and Ron (assistant crew chief Ron Douglas) are getting a handle on a hot weather tune-up and I'm getting a lot better at pedaling (feathering the throttle to regain traction)."
Presently 13th in Funny Car points, the former high school cheerleader is the front-runner in the race for the Auto Club's 2007 Road to the Future Award that identifies the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. It's an award her brother-in-law won two years ago and one for which the team's newest driver, Mike Neff, will compete in 2008.
In a season in which she has been on fire and crashed heavily into the guardwall (Seattle, Wash.), the second oldest daughter of drag racing's most prolific winner also has gone to the semifinals two times (equaling the furthest advance by any female Funny Car driver) and won more rounds than any woman in Funny Car history (10).
Along the way, she effectively silenced critics who had questioned whether she had the physical strength to deal with one of the most challenging vehicles in motor racing, an 8,000 horsepower hybrid capable of going from zero-to-330 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds.
"My dad said that controlling a Funny Car is more about anticipation than strength," Ashley said. "Really, the driving hasn't been the hard part. I was prepared for that, but you also have media, fans, sponsors and appearances and, since I'm basically a shy person, that's taken some getting used to."