Pomona: Ashley Force preview

ASHLEY READY FOR FIRST TEST IN CARQUEST WINTERNATIONALS First Female in NHRA Funny Car Competition Since 2000 POMONA, Calif. -- Hers may be the most anticipated debut in NHRA drag racing history, but 24-year-old Ashley Force has kept her ...

ASHLEY READY FOR FIRST TEST IN CARQUEST WINTERNATIONALS
First Female in NHRA Funny Car Competition Since 2000

POMONA, Calif. -- Hers may be the most anticipated debut in NHRA drag racing history, but 24-year-old Ashley Force has kept her own expectations modest and manageable on the eve of the season-opening 47th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Despite the media circus that has sprung up around her since the Jan. 16 confirmation that she was turning pro and joining her father, 14-time NHRA champion John Force, on the most successful team in Funny Car drag racing history, Ashley has resisted the temptation to buy into all the hype.

For one thing, she balks at the suggestion that she is a shoo-in to win the Auto Club's 2007 Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year and she cringes at the prediction that she finally will end female frustration in a category that has become the last bastion of male dominance.

Instead, the former high school cheerleader is focused on something that has been lost on too many professionals. She just wants to have fun.

"I think you do better if you don't get too caught up in expectations," said the 2003 graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "I just want to go out there and drive my Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and have fun because this really is one of the funnest' jobs in the world.

"I have a great team, we have great sponsors and we have all the right parts," she continued, "but really I have so much to learn. Robert and Eric (teammates Robert Hight and Eric Medlen) spent years working on dad's car. I took auto shop and welding in high school, but I still don't know a lot about the mechanics of a Funny Car."

Although she was clocked in 4.729 seconds during pre-season testing, Ashley is refreshingly realistic about what she expects this season as the only woman licensed to drive an 8,000 horsepower Funny Car.

"If we can get qualified, go rounds, maybe beat up on dad one or two times, that would be awesome, but really (our goal is to just) go out there and have fun."

A five-time winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster division in cars owned by Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows, Ashley began testing in a Funny Car in 2005. The testing pace intensified last season after she qualified for her competition license in a series of quarter mile runs at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In addition to 4.70 second, 320 mile an hour performance, she also has clipped the guardwall, folding up the exhaust headers on the left side, and been on fire.

"I experienced a lot (during testing)," she said. "Tire shake, pedaling (feathering the throttle), getting sideways, dropping cylinders, catching fire, even setting the fire bottles off by accident.

According to her father, who is both the most enthusiastic and most apprehensive of her supporters, it is all part of the learning experience.

"She's still evolving as a driver," said the 14-time series champion, "and finally she's driving something I understand. I wasn't there when she got her license in high school and I couldn't help her much when she was (driving in) Super Comp and A/Fuel dragster, but I know Funny Cars.

"Nobody's been down more racetracks than me. If I can help her avoid all the mistakes I made in my first 10 years, then I'll feel like I've accomplished something."

First order of business for Ashley is to put her car in the starting field, a daunting task in an increasingly competitive Funny Car division. If she does so, she will be come the seventh woman to qualify for an NHRA national event in the Funny Car division.

The fuel Funny Car category is the only one in which a woman has never raced for an event title. In fact, only once has a woman reached the semifinals. Della Woods accomplished that feat way back in 1985.

* * * *

Did You Know: Not only is Ashley a rookie driver in the Funny Car category, her crew chief, Dean Antonelli, is a rookie in that capacity as well. A member of John Force's inner circle for the last 12 seasons, Antonelli was Team Leader on the Castrol GTX Mustang under Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. Fortunately, he has veteran Ron Douglas sharing responsibilities as assistant crew chief. Douglas most recently was crew chief on Cruz Pedregon's Chevrolet, tuning him to one win last season and a Top 10 finish.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Austin Coil