Sonoma: Ashley Force preview

A NEW FORCE HOLDS FORTH IN FUNNY CAR DRAG RACING Champ's Daughter Battling for Spot in NHRA's Countdown SONOMA, Calif. -- If Ashley Force is to put her Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang in the NHRA's hotly-contested Countdown to the Championship,...

A NEW FORCE HOLDS FORTH IN FUNNY CAR DRAG RACING
Champ's Daughter Battling for Spot in NHRA's Countdown

SONOMA, Calif. -- If Ashley Force is to put her Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang in the NHRA's hotly-contested Countdown to the Championship, all she has to do is take the position away from the most prolific winner in drag racing history.

For the 24-year-old rookie, the first woman to compete in the Funny Car division since 2000, the task seems less daunting when she remembers that she's not chasing the driver who once won 10 straight series championships; the only driver to have won as many as 100 races on the NHRA tour; the driver who 14 times has been named to the Auto Racing All-America team.

She's just chasing her dad and that, she believes, gives her at least a shot at grabbing the eighth and final position in the Countdown. Her bid to make the elite eight (she presently is 10th in the driver standings) will be the focus this week when the POWERade tour moves to Infineon Raceway for the 20th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals.

John Force, her father and drag racing's all-time winner, presently occupies the No. 8 position after rallying from the worst start of his 30-year career. It's a spot he's not likely to give up to Cruz Pedregon or Tommy Johnson Jr. or Del Worsham or Jeff Arend or, even, Kenny Bernstein, all of whom remain in contention.

But it might be a different story with his kid.

Never was that more apparent than last week at Seattle, Wash., where, after crashing her Mustang in a second round race against Bernstein, Ashley was uninjured and unfazed. Her father, on the other hand, was a basket case after watching the incident unfold from the far end of the track after he had climbed out of his own Ford.

The truth is, John Force isn't the intimidating presence in his daughter's eyes that he is in the eyes of so many others. He's "a little nuts, a little overprotective," Ashley said, "but he's a great dad. He's always worried about his 'little girl' and when we race, I think that gives me an edge."

In fact, Ashley won the only meeting between the two in the first round of last April's Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Atlanta, Ga. Moreover, she has a "secret weapon" in crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli who, for 13 seasons, was a key member of her dad's team.

" Guido' and I have a great relationship," Ashley said, "and I have a great team around me. We're all learning about Funny Cars together, which is good. Not very many (crew members) had previous experience in Funny Cars.

     "The big thing is that they've been really supportive and they've been great about
letting me make my rookie mistakes and learn from them.  Every run is a learning
experience.  Look at my dad.  He's the best there is, but he's been down the track
thousands of times.  I don't think I'm even in the hundreds yet."

Ashley credits her two seasons as one of the stars of Driving Force, the A&E Network TV show, for preparing her for the media circus that sprung up around her after the announcement that she was moving up in classification.

"It's been one of the most up-and-down years in my life," she said. "I was pretty prepared for the driving, but that's just a small part of this job. You also have media, fans, sponsors and appearances.

"It's been fun, but it's been an emotional time this year losing our teammate (2006 Sonoma Funny Car winner Eric Medlen who lost his life in a testing accident last March in Gainesville, Fla.). Facing everything together, I think, has brought us a lot closer as a team and as a racing family."

Although she thus far has been shut down in her bid to become the first woman to reach a Funny Car final round, Ashley twice has reached the semifinals (equaling the best-ever performance by a woman in the Funny Car division) and has qualified as high as No. 2, establishing another gender milestone in the category.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Del Worsham , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Jeff Arend , Eric Medlen , Tommy Johnson Jr.