Force Still Adapting To ‘Ashley’S Hot Rod'
ATLANTA, Ga. – In the 31st annual Summit Racing Southern Nationals, an event in which he has gone to the finals more often than any other (14 times in the last 25 years), John Force this week tries to grab a share of the last major drag racing record to have eluded him in a spectacular 34-year NHRA Funny Car career.
After qualifying his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Mustang at the front of the pack at the last three events in the NHRA Full Throttle Series, Force is one No. 1 away from tying the sport’s all-time record; two away from making it his alone.
Ironically, the current mark of 138 belongs to Warren Johnson, the still active Pro Stock legend and Atlanta resident who, as part of NHRA’s 60th Anniversary celebration, will be honored this week at Atlanta Dragway while also participating in his record 600th NHRA tour event.
Although few doubt that Force eventually will add Johnson’s record to his resume, the 15-time series champion is hoping, for very practical reasons, that the moment comes sooner rather than later.
“Records are motivation for me,” Force said, “but I don’t like to talk about them until they’re done. You let records get in your head and you lose your focus; you forget that your job is to win the race.”
And winning is very much on Force’s mind this week.
Having failed to advance beyond the second round in any race this year, Force is encouraged not just by his own dazzling record at Atlanta Dragway, but by that of his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, in whose Castrol Ford Mustang he is competing this year for crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas.
Force Hood, who has taken a year off to start a family with husband, Dan, became the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race when she prevailed in the 2008 Southern Nationals.
The following year, she set the current Atlanta Dragway track records when she stopped the 1,000 foot timers in 4.073 seconds and 312.13 miles per hour en route to a runner-up finish. Last year, she reached the final round for the third consecutive season before losing a narrow decision to teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight.
Force wants badly to put “Ashley’s hot rod” in the final round for a fourth consecutive season and, at the same time, jump start his defense of a Funny Car championship he won last year in dramatic fashion.
I’m just not where I need to be in the cockpit. There is a lot of work ahead of us.
“My race car is flying,” Force said. “I’m just not where I need to be in the cockpit. There is a lot of work ahead of us. I’m still trying to figure out the new lights (blue LED lights that replaced conventional amber lights that had topped the Christmas Tree starting system for more than 50 years) and still trying to learn a new routine.
“Ashley was always here when they needed her to warm the car, fit her for the seat or ask her a question,” Force said. “I’m always off doing media or sponsor appearances or off on my bike watching the racetrack. I’m not used to them, yet, and they’re not used to me – but we’re getting there.”
Atlanta Dragway could be the track that provides the get well weekend Force has needed. After all, he’s won seven times in the Southern Nationals and in one stretch, was a Funny Car finalist nine straight years, from 1992 through 2000.
Moreover, while he hasn’t won the Georgia race since 2005 (when he beat teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight by .002 of a second in the final), he further benefits this year from the absence of one of his fiercest rivals. Force Hood beat him at Atlanta three of the last four years.
“The driver definitely messed things up a couple times,” Force said of his slow start this year. “My team gave me a great car and I screwed it up. But I’ll make it up to them. I like the kids on this team and who better to drive my baby’s race car than me?”