FORCE HOOD LOOKS AHEAD AS TOUR MOVES TO VEGAS Champ's Daughter Tries to Clear Last Remaining Hurdle LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Ashley Force Hood has done everything at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway except, well, win a race. The 27-year-old...
FORCE HOOD LOOKS AHEAD
AS TOUR MOVES TO VEGAS
Champ's Daughter Tries to Clear Last Remaining Hurdle
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Ashley Force Hood has done everything at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway except, well, win a race.
The 27-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force tries once more to deal with that pesky shortcoming when she drives her Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang in pursuit of the Funny Car Championship at this week's 11th annual SummitRacing.com Nationals.
Trying this season to become the first woman in 42 years to win the NHRA Funny Car championship after coming up only a few points shy last year in an intra-team battle with brother-in-law Robert Hight, Force Hood has been listed at 6-1 by Las Vegas oddsmakers. At those odds, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton might put down a bet on herself.
After all, at no other track has she logged more miles than she has at LVMS. It was the track on which she licensed in the Top Alcohol Dragster class. It was the track on which she licensed to drive a fuel Funny Car; the track on which she raced four times in Jerry Darien's A/Fuel dragster; the one on which she has made six starts in the green-and-white Mustang in which, three weeks ago, she set a national speed record at 318.38 miles per hour.
"The car is running really good," she said "and we seem to do well in Las Vegas. It's a great track with good conditions - not too hot (like the track at Houston Raceway Park that last week trumped her bid for her first win of the season).
"(Despite a slow start this year), I think we will be all right," she said. "When you consider how well our qualifying has gone, at least we can say we're not lost. We didn't have the luck we needed (at Charlotte or Houston), but that will come. It almost always evens out (over the course of the season)."
Still, every time she returns to LVMS, there remains the sting of the ones that got away - the narrow 2007 hole shot loss to Tony Pedregon at the Las Vegas Nationals, the race in which she became the first woman to reach an NHRA Funny Car final; the 4.962-4.993 final round loss to Tim Wilkerson in the SummitRacing.com Nationals the following spring; and, finally, the first round loss to brother-in-law Robert Hight last fall that probably cost her the championship.
Nevertheless, Ashley is not one to dwell too long on what might have been.
She prefers to concentrate on all the positive aspects of a whirlwind, three-plus-year career during which she was named 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, became the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race, the first to qualify for the Countdown to 1, the first to hold the national record and the first to finish in the Funny Car Top 10.
She credits crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas, along with a supportive Castrol GTX crew, for shortening the learning curve and especially for helping her address issues like starting line reaction times, which have been one of her few apparent weaknesses.
"'Guido' told me to treat every round the same, whether it's qualifying or racing," Ashley said. "He told me that 'the car doesn't know who you're running, so why change how you tune the car or drive it?'"
It also has helped her to know that she isn't the only John Force Racing driver to have struggled with the issue. According to Antonelli, the late Eric Medlen, one of his closest friends and one of the rising stars in the series until he lost his life in a 2007 testing accident in Florida, also had to deal with reaction time demons.
"'Guido' told me that it wasn't until Eric finally said, 'I'm sick of making myself sick about it' that his reaction times got better," Ashley said, "I always try to remind myself of that (because) every driver goes through (it)."