ASHLEY'S UP-AND-DOWN SEASON MOVES TO MILE-HIGH NATIONALS Champ's Daughter Learning Valuable Lessons at 330 MPH DENVER, Colo. -- Ashley Force has done a little bit of everything in her first season behind the wheel of one of the world's most...
ASHLEY'S UP-AND-DOWN SEASON
MOVES TO MILE-HIGH NATIONALS
Champ's Daughter Learning Valuable Lessons at 330 MPH
DENVER, Colo. -- Ashley Force has done a little bit of everything in her first season behind the wheel of one of the world's most powerful race cars.
The 24-year-old sensation has banged the wall, hit the cones delineating the center line, inadvertently set off the fire bottles while sitting in the pits, been on fire, beaten her dad in the first father-versus-daughter match in sports history, become the most successful woman ever to drive a Funny Car and for the first time last week, failed to make the 16-car starting lineup.
As a result, the daughter of the biggest winner in drag racing history can't wait for whatever new challenges await her when she climbs behind the wheel of her 8,000 horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang for this week's 28th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
"It's been one of the most up-and-down years in my life," she said. "I'll definitely remember it. I was pretty prepared for the driving (after testing all of last season), but that's just a small part of this job. You also have media, fans, sponsors and appearances. It's definitely the kind of job that's different every day, not routine at all.
"It's been fun, but it's been an emotional time this year losing our teammate (six- time NHRA tour winner Eric Medlen, who lost his life in a testing accident last March in Gainesville, Fla.). Facing everything together, I think, has brought us a lot closer as a team and as a racing family.
"Some of the guys from Eric's team are working on my car and John Medlen (Eric's father) is out here with us, working with all three teams. That has made it easier, but it will never be the same. Things we used to do, that we thought were so important, it's different after you go through something like that."
Despite last week's misstep, the Cal State-Fullerton graduate is looking forward to putting her bid for one of the eight spots in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship back on track on Bandimere's mountain.
"I feel more comfortable in the car every run," she said. "I'm beginning to get the familiarity that I had with the A/Fuel car (a dragster in which she won five tour events, including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, in the Lucas Sportsman Series in which she drove for three years before moving up to the Funny Car class).
"We're really happy to be where we are (ninth in POWERade points) being a new team," she said. "The whole group of guys, except for a couple, are new to Funny Car. My crew chief, Dean Antonelli, is a rookie, just like me. You put those variables together and you're going to have your ups and downs.
"It's especially tough racing in the Funny Car category against guys who have been chasing championships for years: dad, Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps, Del Worsham, Tony and Cruz (Pedregon), T.J. (Tommy Johnson Jr.). Every one of them has missed qualifying for a race this year, just like us. It's not how you would have expected it to go."
The front-runner in the race for the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award that identifies the tour's Rookie-of-the-Year, Ashley twice has taken her Castrol Ford to the semifinals.
Twice she has been denied a ticket to the final round that would have put her name in the record book as the first woman to accomplish that feat in a Funny Car division that has been the last bastion of male dominance in the sport.
"I'm proud to be a woman out here," she said, "but within our sport, that really doesn't matter. The people I'm racing with don't care if I'm a girl. The gender issue just isn't relative to them. If you can do the job, it doesn't make any difference if you're a man or you're a woman. It just gives people someone else to root for. I know when I was a little kid, I loved my dad, but I also rooted for all the women because I could relate to them just like people relate to dad because he's a goofball."