FORCE HOOD SEEKS VICTORY ON SPORT'S BIGGEST STAGE Champ's Daughter Hopes to Add FC Win to 2004 Title INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- She's the new face of high performance, an admitted tomboy with helmet hair and clutch dust makeup who, for the next...
FORCE HOOD SEEKS VICTORY
ON SPORT'S BIGGEST STAGE
Champ's Daughter Hopes to Add FC Win to 2004 Title
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- She's the new face of high performance, an admitted tomboy with helmet hair and clutch dust makeup who, for the next generation, is redefining what is sexy.
Although she can dazzle in a little black dress and heels, Ashley Force Hood admittedly is more comfortable in the seven-layer firesuit, gloves, boots and custom helmet she'll don this week to drive a 300 mile-an-hour race car in the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park.
No longer a novelty in a division that didn't crown a woman winner in its first 40 years, Force Hood will be one of the Labor Day Funny Car favorites at the wheel of the same Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in which she shattered one of the last of drag racing's gender myths.
The 26-year-old daughter of drag racing legend John Force added a victory this year at Houston to the historic breakthrough win she claimed last year at Atlanta, but her emergence as a contender is about much more than just her Full Throttle tour titles.
Two weeks ago at Reading, Pa., she showed one of the many reasons that she is poised to become the sport's first female Funny Car Champion when, after a spectacular engine explosion and flash fire that carried her 8,000 horsepower hybrid into the guardwall, she brought it to a safe stop, then calmly exited out the emergency hatch cut into the roof.
"She did everything we taught her to do," said her father. "She got it to the wall to scrub off some speed, kept it in her lane, got it stopped and got out. I couldn't have been prouder."
It was the second major incident of Ashley's brief career after a similar explosion and crash at Seattle during her Rookie-of-the-Year season in 2007. Afterward, she was typically unshaken.
"(It) felt like everything was going good," she said. "It was going right down the groove and then it just banged. Vision was really the issue. There was some fire initially, but then it was back behind me. I really couldn't see anything (and) I was trying to gauge where I was on the track.
"I finally was able to see the wall out of my left window. I got it stopped and we brought it back (and) we were joking that (the car) looked like abstract art. Now, my guys are calling me 'Fireball Force.'"
Indeed, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton has been a fireball figuratively as well as literally this year. Her five No. 1 starts this season is a category best and her six trips to the final round made her one of the first three drivers to clinch a berth in the NHRA's Countdown to One playoffs which begin in two weeks at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte.
The only Funny Car driver to have led the points each of the last two years, Ashley this week is hoping to build momentum for a title run with a strong showing in a U.S. Nationals event she won five years ago in the Top Alcohol Dragster category in which she developed her skills before moving up in classification in 2007.
"If you look at all the drivers in our category, there's not one dominant person," Ashley said, "(so) it could be anybody's championship. That's exciting for us because we are a newer team. You wouldn't think that, going up against teams that have been racing longer than I've been alive, we would be thinking about a championship, but in our sport, anything can happen. I think we have a great shot at it."