Pomona II: Ashley Force Hood preview

FORCE HOOD HANGS TOUGH IN BID FOR FUNNY CAR TITLE Trails Teammate Entering Season-Finale at Auto Club Raceway POMONA, Calif. -- It'll be a bittersweet season finale for Ashley Force Hood who, barring the alien abduction of points leader ...

FORCE HOOD HANGS TOUGH IN BID FOR FUNNY CAR TITLE
Trails Teammate Entering Season-Finale at Auto Club Raceway

POMONA, Calif. -- It'll be a bittersweet season finale for Ashley Force Hood who, barring the alien abduction of points leader Robert Hight, appears destined to fall agonizingly short in her bid to become the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car championship.

After a dismal performance two weeks ago at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where her usually consistent Castrol GTX? Ford Mustang was victimized by engine woes, Force Hood enters this week's 45th annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway trailing Hight by 105 Full Throttle points.

The irony is that without the help of Ashley's crew chiefs, Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas, Hight has said many times that he would not now be in position to deliver a 16th championship in 20 years to John Force Racing, Inc.

That her team played a role in Hight's recent success provides some small measure consolation for Ashley who, through the first three quarters of the season, was the team's lone championship contender.

She started from No. 1 a category-best five times, advanced into seven final rounds, won two races including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the sport's most important single event, and swapped the points lead with Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon. In the Countdown, though, the 26-year-old has struggled, winning just six rounds in five races.

"This is one of the weirdest times of my life," Ashley said. "It is like crushingly sad (for my team), but so exciting for Robert. I'm really proud of Robert's team. They took a way longer journey than the rest of us to get to this spot. They went from the very back of the pack to the front (and) that's what we're all so proud of."

Despite her disappointment, Ashley still considers this a successful season, one in which her team established itself as one of the best in the series.

"I've got the best bunch of guys," she said. "We were in a position to win but things don't always go like we want them to. I've said before that in addition to skill, you have to have a little luck, too."

In Ashley's case, the luck she got down the stretch was all bad. The grooves in the new pistons delivered to the team at Las Vegas Nationals were not within the normal tolerences. As a result, the engine suffered significant damage on four straight runs culminating in a No. 14 starting spot and a first round loss to Hight. That turned a 13 point deficit into 105.

Still, for the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, a former high school cheerleader, it's not all bad.

"Here we are in just our third year (as a team) and we're battling for the NHRA championship," she said. "That's a pretty neat spot to be in (and) we're trying to enjoy it and not let (everything) take away the fun of it."

Is it important for her to be the first female Funny Car champion? If not this year, then next?

"It's not a big deal to me," she said. "I had nothing to do with being a female. I'm just a race car driver. I have a team of men that work on my car (and) it's them and me, together as a team, that are going for that championship.

"I've made plenty of mistakes," she said, "but it's been a big advantage that I've had a team that has supported me. Guido' (Antonelli) and Ron and the team have given me such a good race car, it really shortened the learning curve for me, I think."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Ashley Force