GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Excluding the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, it's been 27 years since a woman won a professional championship at the ACDelco Gatornationals, the Florida drag racing classic that this week celebrates its 40th renewal at ...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Excluding the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, it's been 27 years since a woman won a professional championship at the ACDelco Gatornationals, the Florida drag racing classic that this week celebrates its 40th renewal at Gainesville Raceway.
The last woman to do so was the legendary Shirley Muldowney, who won back- to-back in the Top Fuel class in 1981 and 1982.
Ashley Force Hood hopes to end that drought this week at the wheel of a Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in which she has established herself as a legitimate contender for the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship.
Although she's made only 43 Funny Car starts, the 26-year-old daughter of John Force has proven in just two seasons that she inherited more from her father than just his love of movies.
En route to Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2007 as the winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award, the Cal State-Fullerton graduate became the first woman to reach the final round in the NHRA Funny Car division. Last year, she became the first to win a Funny Car race, the first to lead the Funny Car points and the first to qualify for both the Countdown and the U.S. Smokeless Showdown.
Moreover, her green-and-white Mustang was the fastest Funny Car on the circuit last year at 1,000 feet, the distance at which the Gatornationals will be contested this year for the first time.
"We have some good memories from Gainesville," said the budding star who last December celebrated her marriage to JFR General Manager-in-training Daniel Hood. "We won there with the A/Fuel dragster and then won our first round in the Funny Car, so we've had our moments. Hopefully, we'll have a few more."
Actually, her Top Alcohol Dragster victory in 2006 makes her the last JFR winner at Gainesville Raceway, a track on which her father once claimed five consecutive Gatornationals Funny Car titles (1992-1996).
Has such success spoiled the former high school cheerleader? Not hardly.
"I know I still have a lot to learn," she said, "but the one thing I already know is that drag racing is a team sport. It's not just about the driver.
"Whatever success I've had is because of my team and my crew chiefs, Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. Guido' (Antonelli) and I have kind of learned Funny Cars together and that makes it even more special."
Antonelli, who worked for 10 years as a crewman on Force's Castrol GTX Mustangs, had never run a car on his own until Force hand-picked him to be Ashley's crew chief in 2007. It has proven to be another shrewd choice by the 14-time champion.
Although she's spent an inordinate amount of time in the spotlight the last four years, Ashley isn't naturally the outgoing person one might expect.
"I'm really kind of a shy person," she said. "I'm not like dad. I'm the most fcomfortable when I'm in my car. That's where I get away from everything else that's going on around me. I've got the best crew (and) I know that every time I go out there everything is right. That really gives you confidence as a driver. I don't have to worry about the car. I just have to worry about doing my job."
Ashley at Gainesville Raceway:
* Ashley was the only JFR driver to advance beyond the first round at last year's race. She lost in round two to Tony Pedregon.
* Ashley won the 2006 Gatornationals in the Castrol GTX Top Alcohol Dragster owned by Jerry Darien.
* Ashley won her first pro round at the 2007 Gatornationals when she beat Jeff Arend in round one.