FORCE HOOD UPBEAT AS TOUR MOVES EAST Castrol GTX Driver Eyes First Round Win at Phoenix PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Despite a second round exit in the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals and the fact that she never has won a competitive round...
FORCE HOOD UPBEAT
AS TOUR MOVES EAST
Castrol GTX Driver Eyes First Round Win at Phoenix
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Despite a second round exit in the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals and the fact that she never has won a competitive round at Firebird International Raceway, Ashley Force Hood rolls into this week's 26th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals both confident and upbeat.
The confidence comes from three successful seasons at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, an historic victory in last year's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and the knowledge that, under the old points system, she, not brother-in-law Robert Hight, would have been the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle champion.
"I've got the best bunch of guys," said the 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. "Yes, we were in a position to win (last year), but things don't always go like you want them to. Talent, skill, equipment, those things are so important, but sometimes you just need a little bit of luck. That's part of racing as well."
Instead of dwelling on the past. Force Hood prefers to focus on what most see as an extremely bright future.
The first woman to reach an NHRA Funny Car final and the first to win a Funny Car race, she has overcome an inherent shyness to star on the same stage as her bigger-than-life father, 14-time champion John Force.
Amazingly, the girl who took auto shop and hung at the back of the chorale so she wouldn't have to sing an obligatory solo has found her niche in a 310 mile an hour race car.
"There were times in the past when I just had to go sit down in a dark corner and go 'holy cow, how am I going to get through this weekend and do my job with so many people around?,'" she said.
"But now that I've gotten a little more used to it and it's not so overwhelming for me, it's fun. It's exciting to interact with people, especially all the little girls who come to my ropes. They understand that I can't stop and talk for half-an-hour. It took me awhile to learn that our fans understand that we have a job to do. They're visiting us in our workplace.
"I've always had a nice, protective bubble around me with my father and our team. But I've had a lot of support even from my own competitors. I have people I compete with, (Tim) Wilkerson, (Tony) Pedregon. They come over (and tell me) if you need to talk to someone other than your dad, or if you need another opinion. That's pretty cool. I don't think it's like that in all types of motor sports."
As for her upbeat attitude entering an event in which she has struggled, Ashley points to the successful test she completed last January on the same racetrack.
"We had a really good test session," she said. "We ran 4.06 and 4.07. The only one quicker was Robert and he ran 4.05. So we have that to build on this weekend.
"We've really taken baby steps (the last three years)," she said. "We've never gotten too far ahead of ourselves. I think we can continue to get better as long as we continue to learn from our mistakes.
"We just want to go out and qualify well and go some rounds (at Firebird)," she said. "That's our only goal. If we're in the points later in the year, there'll be plenty of time to stress about it. Right now we're going to try to have fun and go rounds."
That's a philosophy that, so far, has served her well.
Coming off a season in which she went to eight final rounds, won twice and started No. 1 for a category-best six times, the new face of high performance is just trying to stay focused.