Norwalk: Ashley Force preview

SUMMIT MOTORSPORTS PARK COULD GIVE ASHLEY AN EDGE Rookie Has Driven Three Different Types of Cars at Ohio Track NORWALK, Ohio -- Finally, Ashley Force will roll onto a racetrack this week on which she is more experienced than most of those...

SUMMIT MOTORSPORTS PARK COULD GIVE ASHLEY AN EDGE
Rookie Has Driven Three Different Types of Cars at Ohio Track

NORWALK, Ohio -- Finally, Ashley Force will roll onto a racetrack this week on which she is more experienced than most of those against whom she is competing in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Ms. Force, the 24-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force and a leading contender for the Automobile Club of Southern California's 2007 Road to the Future Award, won't be one of the Funny Car favorites in this week's inaugural Summit Nationals, but it won't be because she isn't familiar with the track.

In fact, the former high school cheerleader has logged more quarter mile time at Summit Motorsports Park than, among others, Tommy Johnson Jr., Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps, the three most recent winners on the POWERade tour.

Last year, during the track's Night of Fire summer spectacular, she drove a Funny Car for the first time with an opponent in the other lane. She also has driven a Super Comp dragster and an A/Fuel dragster at SMP, a track on which she guesses she's made 20-25 quarter mile runs over the last six years.

Whether that will be enough to push her and her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang beyond the last remaining gender barrier in drag racing remains to be seen.

Although women have won NHRA national events -- and series championships -- in the Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes and earned runner-up honors in Pro Stock, no woman EVER has driven a Funny Car into the final round, much less won a race. However, Ashley already has come close, as close as any woman in history, reaching the semifinals at both Atlanta, Ga., and Madison, Ill.

Paired with rookie crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli, a fixture on her father's team for 13 seasons, Ashley has been one of the season's most pleasant surprises, qualifying for every race she's entered, beating her dad in the first father-daughter match in professional sports history and remaining in contention for one of the eight starting positions in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.

However, this week's race offers the best opportunity for a breakthrough.

Entering the Summit Nationals, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton is seventh in NHRA POWERade points. That's seven positions ahead of her father and 10 ahead of Kenny Bernstein, drivers who between them have won 20 NHRA series titles and more than 180 races.

Nevertheless, the first woman to compete in the Funny Car class since the 2000 season is fully aware of her situation.

"There are a lot of good drivers right behind me including dad, so we don't have a lock (on a Top 8 position). There's still a lot of work to do, but I'm on a great team. Our strategy has been to take what the race track gives us.

"We don't go out there to try and set the ET (elapsed time) record," she said. "Our goal from the first qualifying run is to find a way to go down the track on race day and we've done pretty well. If the driver had done a little better job, we'd be in even better position.

"I know my lights (reaction times) haven't been that good, but now that I'm more comfortable in the car, that's something we're working on. It's just like when I was in Super Comp and A/Fuel. It took a little time for me to get good at it.

"But my team and crew chief have been great about not pushing me," she continued. "They have given me time to get used to the car before I start worrying about things like reaction time. They've told me, you have to be comfortable in the car before you can work on the smaller details.'

"If I can get better on my lights, I think we have a good package going into the summer races when the weather isn't going to allow many high speeds and quick ETs," Ashley said. "The weather is going to level the playing field and if you have a driver and a team that are working well together, like we are, I think you can win."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Ashley Force , Tommy Johnson Jr.