John, Ashley Force teleconference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: Ashley, do you have any thoughts or reaction to what Richard Petty recently said about women not belonging in professional motorsports? ASHLEY FORCE: I think everyone has their own opinion. I know that the world...

Continued from part 2

Q: Ashley, do you have any thoughts or reaction to what Richard Petty recently said about women not belonging in professional motorsports?

ASHLEY FORCE: I think everyone has their own opinion. I know that the world has definitely changed over the years. I've read books and stories about Shirley Muldowney, the struggle they went through in the beginning. It's not that any person is right or wrong, it's just what people are used to. Years and years ago, there weren't women in racing, so it was hard for men out there racing, building these cars, to understand and accept, Why do women want to race? How can they be good racing?

But you can't be upset about what people say or think; you can only do what you want to do. I know with me, and a lot of other women out here, we want to race. We want to compete with the guys and we want to compete with the girls. That's really what I focus on. I've been fortunate in drag racing. They're all excited out there to have women in the race. The men I compete with have daughters that race junior dragsters. They're happy to have a woman in the lane next to them. It's a great time for women to get into it. You will always have people who won't like you and won't like your team whether you're a guy or girl. It's just what is going to happen. You can't make everyone happy. You can make your fans happy and your sponsors. I know I enjoy racing.

Q: Do you see anything at all that gives men an edge over women in professional motorsports, drag racing?

ASHLEY FORCE: In drag racing, a big part of it is being focused and being quick on the tree, reacting, not just reacting on the starting line but going down the racetrack, reacting to your car, if it's going out of the groove, dropping cylinders, making the right choices and doing it. I'm learning that with a Funny Car. A big question I got, since there haven't really been women in Funny Cars, 'Do you think you're strong enough to handle this car?' It's shorter wheel base. It's not just going to go straight down the track. It gets in your head where you think, 'Am I strong enough?' I look at Scelzi, these other guys, muscles. I think, I don't have that. But getting in that car and having the team I have, it's not about strength and muscling the car down. If your car gets out of the groove, then it's going to be about strength. But it's really about being quick and reacting and making the right decisions.

So I don't think -- I don't really think that it's a gender thing. It hasn't been so far. Look at (POWERade Series Top Fuel points leader) Melanie (Troxel) out there winning all these races this year. I don't think that's really the issue. The only main issue maybe is when we pull our helmet off, we have mascara running up the side of our face and men don't have to worry about that.

JOHN FORCE: Can I jump in with something real quick? In all respect to Richard Petty, because I was along the same road, even though I loved Shirley Muldowney, and I've watched how women have evolved. Richard Petty had sons. His sons evolved into NASCAR. He's from the old school like me. And that's the way that he kind of sees it day-to-day. I can see why his thinking was the men should stick to the racing and the women, they shouldn't.

Along the way I had daughters, so I didn't have the option of sons. But I remember when Laurie said, 'Ashley wants to go to driving school.' I was like, 'Oh, Jesus. Do you know what it's like just having to put her in a fire suit, tuck her long hair in a helmet?' This ain't going to work. I was just like Richard Petty. I had the same thought because I didn't want to address it.

I'm not taking sides with Petty, because now that I've seen the other side, wow, this girl licensed in a Funny Car, there's a whole show on A&E on Driving Force about what she went through to get to the licensing. It was unbelievable. We set her on fire at Vegas. She gets out the car at the other end, I'm down there about to throw up. Jesus, she'll get out, she'll say she's finished. She took off helmet, she was covered with oil, and she's smiling like a Cheshire cat. I'm thinking, Boy, did I misunderstand this girl. You know what I'm saying? Then all of a sudden Melanie Troxel is out there winning in the points lead, Hillary Will's is out there. It's like, boy was I wrong.

So is open for women in this sport? The kids that are thinking, 'Is there a chance for us?' Ten years ago I wouldn't have said, 'No, Shirley Muldowney was just one that happened to make it from a lot of hard work, but few more will come.' Well, buddy, the world's going to change because there's big money out there. Corporate America, this could change the face of drag racing that the fact that women are going to bring more corporate dollars in here because it's never been tapped until now.

Q: The big thing is, when one of these reality shows hits the airwaves, you have the Internet today, all these bulletin boards, they're going to light up with opinions. There's going to be a thousand opinions like there already are on your driving. Are you ready for this? Would this have an effect on whether you do more shows or not?

ASHLEY FORCE: I don't -- it's hard to say. I try not to get into all that. I can take things pretty personal. I know there were times when I first started racing, I'd read the Internet, it would take over my day. You don't read all the nice things that are said, but you remember the one bad thing. It was hard for me to handle that.

But dad taught me, you know, there's always going to be people that like you and don't like you. You've just got to do what you do and do it in a way that you want to do it. I think it will be hard. We're already having people trying to compare the three of us sisters.

The good thing about it, though, is that's not really our world. We're suddenly in Star Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, but our world is still racing, our fans that know we have helmet hair. We're just out there having fun, racing. They're people we've grown up with. I think if we can just remember that, kind of keep in our own group, with the people that love us, keep doing what we love doing, that's kind of the path I'm going towards.

I don't know.  I'm not even really knowing what to expect
when next week hits.  Maybe I've got to get some tougher skin.

JOHN FORCE: A&E took us up with the Production Group ... we went up to Hollywood to show us all the good stuff. Then they sat us down and said, We want you to know you're going to get blasted. Some are going to love it, some are going to hate it. You better get used to that.

I worry about my two littlest ones because they care what their friends think. I've learned to not watch the Internet. I do read the papers. If there's some issue on the Internet that's bad, I try to address it. But everybody's got an opinion. Nobody's going to love you. Some are, some aren't.

Ashley has really evolved. I want to say this to you. I've become so proud of her in the last few months, my wife said, 'Yeah, because she drove a Fuel Funny Car and got her license.' No, she's really helped me so much with the two little ones. I'm so overloaded, I can't hardly get the day-to-day work done. She's really taken over teaching Brittany and Courtney, not just about how to do a reality show, because reality shows just happen, they follow you, but how to get my girls out of bed, get them to the tracks, get their credentials, get them to do interviews, to really open them up.

Ashley, I want to say this. She has been fantastic. This kid has really evolved. She's going to evolve way beyond me because she's smart. I listen to her on the TV show. Yesterday when we did the morning show, I've had comments just like you said. People are saying she's evolving. Maybe I did all the talking. That was the problem all these years. But she's coming out of her shell. She's going to be great for drag racing. I'm really glad that I have these girls, and especially her.

Q: John, you said it so well on the Richard Petty thing about the old school. There is always that one factor about women in racing. I think it's the same issue about women in the battle zone. That is, when the first female driver really gets seriously hurt, then what is everybody going to say?

JOHN FORCE: I fear that like you can't imagine every time she goes down the racetrack. But it was not my choice. But you're right, what is the world going to think? It's going to be tough because women are different. I'm not siding with Petty. I'm not for him, I'm not against him. But women are different. I said in interviews, you know, you can set a man on fire, burn his hair, nobody thinks nothing about it. But you burn a woman, it's a little different deal. You burn your kid, it's a different deal.

But this is her choice. But you are right. You know what? She sucked it up. I've seen her get in and out of the car. All we can do is hope to God, and our crew, that we give her the best we can because sometimes you create your own destiny. We can't count on God to do everything. He's on overload now. But this is what she wants, this is her choice. If she decides to walk away because of a bad crash, that's going to be her call.

I'll tell you, I saw her get out of a car that was a pretty good fire, covered with oil, got out of the seat. When her helmet came off, I figured she's going to be crying. I've seen her cry at the end of a racetrack when she hit the wall at Indy during testing. But the emotion wasn't of fear. She had that, too. The emotion was she crashed dad's race car a week before Indy. She was upset she let me down. She got out with a big old smile because you know what, sometimes it's just exciting being in the heat of battle. If you love that excitement, then you're going to want to do it.

But you're right, what is the world going to say when it hits the fan? I don't have an answer for that. Do you, Ashley?

ASHLEY FORCE: No. It definitely has to be something -- for a guy or a girl, you can never put a person in a race car that they don't a hundred percent want to be there and let them know that things can happen. We're not naive. My sisters and I, we grew up in racing. But in drag racing, it even brings them closer together like a family, where when things like that happen, you want to be at the track because they're the ones there for you that support you and you get through it together.

It's something in the back of your head that you think of, but you can't go up to the track, go up on the starting line, think something is going to happen to me on this run. It's out there. But I trust my team. We take every safety -- every new safety thing that comes along, we check into it, put it on.

It's strange now because dad is always worrying about me. I'm like, 'Dad, this is what I want to do. I feel safe in my car.' But now I see my sisters get in the car and I do the same thing. 'Are you sure you want to be here?' It would kill me if something ever happened to them.

But they know the dangers just like I do, just like the other women out there now. Just because we're a man or woman, it doesn't make it any harder I don't think if you lost one or the other. The pain is still going to be there if it's a person you care about. It's there but you can't think about it, it's what we want to do.

Q: John, what is the time span of Driving Force? You mentioned it starts with early films of your kids, the beginning of the season. With the extension, do they plan to carry it throughout the 2006 professional racing season?

JOHN FORCE: They don't really. The production company, they have what they call show-runners. They watch the trend of the family. The show started one direction in the beginning, and they realized what the story was, because the story was real. They try to capture that. They're all trying not to just go to a TV audience, to a drag racing type audience, they're trying to go to an audience that someone out in the middle of the country in Missouri that gets off work from working on the farm or they work in a Dairy Queen in the town, they come home, they sit down to dinner with the family, a normal typical American family and they turn on TV. They want to see the problems that other families have, whether you're the president's daughter or you're a drag racer's daughter or you're the daughter of a local banker or a mom that's a cook. That is where they're trying to do. So the story does jump around.

Right now Ron Capps at Topeka was a big show we filmed with Ron Capps and myself and Gary Scelzi fighting for the title. In fact, we went and filmed at Hooter's because they wanted more sex. We wouldn't give them more sex, so we went to Hooter's to give them girls in bathing suits, you know what I mean? So it does jump around, but it captured a lot of (Brittany and Courtney) racing Super Comp and their friends; Ashley, her winning Gainesville, Ashley, her involvement in Funny Car because it's really about teaching them the business. It's not about winning the championship. This will come later if we get more shows. Right now we will film through Indy is where our first 14, 15 shows will go. Then if they take more, we'll move on from there.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much, John and Ashley, for giving us an hour of your time. Thanks for the media for joining in today. The debut show will be Monday, July 17th, at 9 eastern, 8 central, on A&E Network.

JOHN FORCE: Thank you, everybody.

ASHLEY FORCE: Have a great week.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Ron Capps , Gary Scelzi , Richard Petty , Ashley Force , Hillary Will