This Week in Ford Racing - April 26, 2011
Ashley Force Beats Father, John To Become First NHRA Female Funny Car Winner
Ashley Force grew up watching her dad become the greatest NHRA Funny Car driver in history, but little did she know that one day he would be standing in her way of making motorsports history.
Yet that was the case on April 27, 2008 when father and daughter found themselves against each other in the finals of the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. John was competing in his 500th series event and a win would be his 1,000-round victory. Ashley was trying to become the first female in NHRA history to win a Funny Car event.
”So here he had this special day that he could be having this milestone, and here I was in another final round and was possibly gonna win this one,” said Ashley. “The stakes were so high and the excitement and that it was two teammates and a father and a daughter in the finals, it was so how things go for John Force.
“Saturday evening when we finished qualifying and the ladder was set, I took one look at it and saw that dad and I were on opposite sides and we could end up together in the final. I’ve been around my dad my entire life – 28 years – and everything he does is filled with drama and filled with excitement. It’s the perfect storyline,” continued Ashley. “He seems to have those moments throughout his entire career. It’s always been like that and I just had this feeling that’s how it was gonna go down and I was gonna end up having to race dad in the final round.”
The Atlanta weekend had some buzz as Ashley continued to knock on the door of that first win. She was leading the point standings – the first female to achieve that distinction – but interest was growing because Danica Patrick had just won her first Indy Racing League event the week before after taking the checkered flag in Japan.
Getting to the finals was nothing new for Ashley, although doing it three straight times was a first. She had been in three previous final rounds, but was still looking for that first Wally trophy. At the end of her rookie season in 2007, Ashley became the first woman to reach the final round, but lost to Tony Pedregon. She then went to consecutive finals at Houston and Las Vegas, but came up short on both occasions.
“No woman had ever won in a fuel Funny Car and here I was a proud parent, a proud owner of the car she was driving, but I had my own goals to set,” said John. “At the end of the day, I was trying to come back from a crash and I wasn’t doing very good. My old hot rod was good, but as a driver I wasn’t.”
Ashley defeated Del Worsham, Jim Head and Ron Capps to reach the final while John eliminated teammate Mike Neff, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III.
“I was really excited going into the finals. It was already a perfect day, and it was gonna be a great day no matter what happened,” said Ashley, who recalled being uncharacteristically anxious on the start line because of the weather and her father’s concern over track conditions.
“I could hear him going crazy about the rain. ‘It’s raining down there. I can see the sprinkles,’” recalled Ashley of her father’s remarks. “He was yelling to Dan (Ashley’s fiancé at the time), who was down track. He said it was sprinkling down there, but it wasn’t on the starting line. It was one of those moments. I was getting so upset because I’m thinking, ‘This is not how it’s going down.’ I like to be focused and clear-minded and ready to go and now I’m getting this person yelling in my ear, but he was only doing it to be helpful.”
My dad actually stayed a distance away from me after I won, which I thought was strange at the time.
With the moment finally at hand, the fans in the grandstands stood on their feet while competitors and crew members from just about every other team jammed the strip for a chance to view history. When the green light went on, Ashley bolted down the right-hand lane like a blur while John never got traction and smoked the tires shortly after leaving the line.
“I gave it all I had and it just didn’t go the way I planned and Ashley Force walked away with the win,” said John. “As a driver, my reaction to the loss that day, almost to my embarrassment, was to go right to Austin because I didn’t understand why we couldn’t make the transition – why it smoked the tires. Coil was trying to explain to me and then he said, ‘Your daughter has set history here for all women and we’re part of that. Why don’t you enjoy it?’
“I was a little embarrassed. I turned and that’s when I saw the cameras gathering around Ashley,” said John. “I saw the ESPN2 camera people filming her interview and I saw the gleam in her eye, the million dollar smile – I saw all of that and here all I was worried about was why I smoked the tires. But I was so proud of her that day. That’s a moment that may never happen to me again.”
Instead of running over and congratulating his daughter, John decided to stay in the background and watch from his spot across the track.
“My dad actually stayed a distance away from me after I won, which I thought was strange at the time,” recalled Ashley. “I almost thought he was mad at me, which I knew he wasn’t because he’s never mad at me for beating him. That’s what he taught me how to do.
“He really wanted to give me my moment. He knew that if he came over, they would want to film us together and they’d want to interview us together,” she continued. “He told me later on, ‘I just wanted to step back and let you have your day and your moment.’ That was really sweet of him to do, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me if he would have come over and been a part of my interview, but that’s how he wanted to let me and my team have our moment.”
And while John the competitor may have been disappointed, John the father most definitely was not.
No matter how I do in any other race, I have that first win as a female and I’ll always have that.
“I really believe that if you looked at both teams, everybody was rooting for Ashley more than they were rooting for me,” he said. “And maybe I was rooting for Ashley too because she was my kid and I was proud of her like I am of all my kids. I watched this young girl, my daughter, evolve through the dragsters up into the pro ranks and it was on that Sunday afternoon in Atlanta that Ashley Force took the win over the winningest driver in history. That was a proud day, not just for John Force Racing, not just for Ford Motor Company, but for the women around the world that knew they could accomplish everything that men do, and she proved it on that day.”
Ashley said she was equally proud. “My first win was a very big milestone for me as a driver personally, as it is for any driver to get your first win. You’ll never forget that, but it was also a really big day for NHRA and for women in general that compete in these forms of motorsports because I was the first woman to win a professional funny car event. I kind of felt like whatever happens in my career, whether I succeed or struggle, I still have this accomplishment that will always be in the books – that I did this in my Ford Mustang – and it was just one of those things that no one can ever take from me.
“No matter how I do in any other race, I have that first win as a female and I’ll always have that,” added Ashley. “I was able to do that with Ford. They’ve been so supportive of me and all of our teams, not just me as a female, but equally as much my father, Robert and all of our drivers. I was really proud that I was able to give them that special moment as well.”
-source: ford racing