Sonoma: Ashley Force preview

ASHLEY A RELUCTANT STAR ON NHRA DRAG RACE TOUR Champ's Daughter a Contender in FRAM/Autolite Nationals SONOMA, Calif. -- She was the cover girl on this week's issue of AutoWeek. She was nominated for one of ESPN's ESPY Awards. She's appeared...

ASHLEY A RELUCTANT STAR ON NHRA DRAG RACE TOUR Champ's Daughter a Contender in FRAM/Autolite Nationals

SONOMA, Calif. -- She was the cover girl on this week's issue of AutoWeek. She was nominated for one of ESPN's ESPY Awards. She's appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, ABC-TV's Good Morning, America and on the pages of Men's Fitness magazine.

Her likeness appears on packaging for 46" and 52" Sanyo televisions sold in Wal-mart and other major retail outlets. She appears in national print ads for Oakley sunglasses and in regional TV ads for the Auto Club of Southern California.

Mattel created a Barbie-type doll in her image long before she became the first woman to win a race in the NHRA's 325 mile-an-hour Funny Car division. She's been a fixture in the sales brochure for the Ford Mustang the last three years and she was a star of the A&E Network reality series, "Driving Force."

Nevertheless, despite a growing popularity that rivals that of her father, drag racing icon John Force, Ashley Force is the most reluctant young star ever to be christened "the new face of high performance."

At the 21st annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals this week at Infineon Raceway, she is likely to attract the largest crowds in the pit, but she won't be truly comfortable until she is strapped into the cockpit of her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

Driving one of the world's most powerful race cars, one capable of zero-to-300 mile-an-hour acceleration in 4.05 seconds, Ashley feels perfectly at ease. Despite the sound and fury of 8,000 supercharged-and-fuel injected horses, the green-and-white Mustang in which she has reached three final rounds this season and four over the last nine months has become her "quiet place."

It's when she's back in the pit area, surrounded by hundreds of fans that she sometimes feels overwhelmed and claustrophobic.

"I'm basically a shy person," acknowledged the 25-year-old graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "I'm not comfortable in front of big crowds like dad. It doesn't come natural for me."

For many, that's an incredible revelation, especially considering the fact that she was the keynote speaker last year for an audience of 5,500 at the annual convention for BeautiControl, Inc., the Dallas-based cosmetics giant.

"I do love the fans, especially all the little girls who are at our ropes," she said, "but it's not natural for me, like (it is for) dad. I used to be on the other, getting autographs from my favorite drivers, and, honestly, I'm more comfortable on that side of the ropes than I am over here."

It's unlikely that she'll be back on the other side any time soon. In just two years as a pro driver, the former high school cheerleader has become one of the sport's most popular drivers, especially after earning the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award last year as the POWERade tour's top rookie.

Although she's struggled the last four races, Ashley rolls into Infineon with surprising confidence.

"It feels close to home. Adria and Mimi Medlen and all our family will be there," she said, referring to her sister Adria Hight and to the mother of the late Eric Medlen, who taught her how to drive a Funny Car before losing his life in a testing accident last year at Gainesville, Fla."

"The last two years our team has won (the FRAM/Autolite Nationals). Eric won (in 2006) and then dad won (last year). Hopefully we'll keep that streak going. It's a good track for us."

- credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Jay Leno