St. Louis: Ashley Force Hood preview

Ashley Aims for No. 1 at Midwest Nationals; Champ's Daughter Chasing Full Throttle Points Lead MADISON, Ill. -- Ashley Force Hood is blazing hot -- and we're not talking just in a "World's Hottest Athlete" kind of way. The 26-year-old...

Ashley Aims for No. 1 at Midwest Nationals; Champ's Daughter Chasing Full Throttle Points Lead

MADISON, Ill. -- Ashley Force Hood is blazing hot -- and we're not talking just in a "World's Hottest Athlete" kind of way. The 26-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, who two years ago won AOL sports' "World's Hottest Athlete" poll, suddenly isn't just a novelty on the NHRA Full Throttle tour. She's a real threat.

Having already become the first woman in 40 years to reach an NHRA Funny Car final, the first to win a race, the first to lead the points and the first to finish in the Top 10, she returns this week to Gateway International Raceway focused on adding the 13thannual O'Reilly Auto Parts Midwest Nationals to her expanding resume.

Six races into the 2009 season, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton is the only member of the John Force Racing consortium to have won a race, the only one to have appeared in multiple finals, the only one within real striking distance of points leader Ron Capps, whom she trails by 70 points.

Furthermore, she is coming off a performance two weeks ago at Atlanta, Ga., that conjured up vivid images of her dad back when he was dominating the series.

Driving a Ford Mustang decked out in the familiar Castrol GTX0x00ae green-and-white her father made famous, she qualified No. 1, posted the quickest time in each of the first three rounds and registered the three fastest speeds in 1,000-foot racing history: 310.48 miles per hour, 311.41 mph and 312.13 mph.

The only thing that kept her out of the winners' circle was what she characterized as "driver error" against the man who taught her the skills that have made her a contender: "Fast Jack" Beckman, an instructor at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School.

On her way to another likely sub-4.10 elapsed time, the 2007 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year became briefly disoriented and, unsure of her track position, did what she was trained to do. She got off the gas, allowing Beckman to race by for a narrow win that denied her a second straight Atlanta victory.

"I just got lost and couldn't figure out where I was on the track," she said. "My dad tried to make me feel better. He said if you don't know where you are, you should lift, but I was upset that my team gave me such an amazing car and I couldn't (get it to the winners' circle)."

It is that "amazing" race car that Ashley brings to Gateway. Although Capps has won three of the season's first six races, it's difficult to believe that his is a better race car than Ashley's Castrol GTX Ford.

After all, in addition to a victory at Houston, the new face of high performance has been a serious contender at every race this year, losing five times by a combined total of .086 of a second. The only race she knew she lost without a clue from her crew was the Atlanta final, which Beckman won by a whopping .068 of a second.

"Our team has always believed that consistency is the key," Ashley said. "We have always had a real consistent car. Maybe we haven't had the fastest car, but recently we have been able to maintain our consistency but take (the performance) up a notch. Guido' and Ron (crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas) really have a good handle on it.

"Atlanta's behind us now and we're really excited about getting our car to St. Louis and doing it again -- only better."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Ashley Force , Frank Hawley