NO LONGER A ROOKIE, ASHLEY A CONTENDER Force's Daughter Looking for a Win at Gators GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Despite the disappointment of not qualifying last month at Phoenix, Ariz., 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year Ashley Force remains upbeat about...
NO LONGER A ROOKIE,
ASHLEY A CONTENDER
Force's Daughter Looking for a Win at Gators
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Despite the disappointment of not qualifying last month at Phoenix, Ariz., 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year Ashley Force remains upbeat about her chances this week in a race certain to create an emotional drain not only on her, but on her John Force Racing teammates.
It was at Gainesville Raceway just one day after the conclusion of last year's ACDelco Gatornationals that rising star Eric Medlen suffered injuries that four days later would claim his life.
The 25-year-old daughter of drag racing champion John Force, Ashley had known Medlen since 1996 when he had begun working as a mechanic on her father's Funny Cars.
They were friends, closer to being family, when Medlen became the first Funny Car driver in 35 years to lose his life in an accident.
Just 33 at the time, he was on his way to becoming the first Funny Car driver to win 100 racing rounds in his first four pro seasons (95-66) when a tire blew for reasons as yet undetermined. That created a harmonic imbalance that literally shook the car apart before it hit the guardwall.
Medlen, who had lived with the elder Force for three years in his California condo, was someone with whom Ashley could talk during the difficult transition from driving an A/Fuel dragster to controlling the Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang in which last year she became the first woman ever to reach an NHRA Funny Car final round.
"I'm not nervous (about returning to Gainesville Raceway)," Ashley said, "but we all know what happened there last year and I think it will be different from all the otherraces because we will have that on our mind.
"We're all going to be racing for Eric and his dad, John Medlen, who's been such an inspiration to our team," Ashley said. "We've had some success before (at Gainesville) so we feel good about our chances. We won our first pro round there last year and I won (the Gatornationals championship) with the A/Fuel car in 2006.
"I think we've gotten things pretty figured out from the runs that we've made (this year)," she said, "and I've been learning to pedal (feather the throttle) on my end. At Pomona (Calif., where she reached the semifinals in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals) was the first time I ever won a round on my pedaling.' Dad's the best at it, but I'm learning and hopefully it will pay off this week."
"When I 'pedaled' in the (dragster), it just hooked right up and went," she said. "That's not the case with these Funny Cars. It definitely takes more finesse. I'm still working on that, learning that you need to take the time to let the tires settle down (before you get back on the throttle). That's what I was able to do at Pomona but, at the same time, you don't want to wait too long. It's something that you've got to learn from experience; that you have to get a feel for.
"I've also learned a lot about how different this car is to drive (from) the one we had last year," she said, referring to the complete redesign of all four JFR team cars in the aftermath of her dad's crash last September in Dallas Medlen's accident at Gainesville. Overall, though, I feel much safer in this car."
A five-time Top Alcohol Dragster winner, Ashley not only is trying to become the first woman to win a tour event in the Funny Car division, she also is trying to become the first to start a race from the No. 1 qualifying position. She was the No. 2 qualifier three times in 2007, twice losing the No. 1 spot to brother-in-law Robert Hight, the Gainesville Raceway track record holder.