U.S. Nationals Champ Trying to Build on Momentum
HOUSTON, Texas – Ashley Force Hood inherited her dad’s competitiveness, his skill and his affinity for speed. What currently separates the two, at least on drag racing’s 1,000 foot race course, is John Force’s 33 years of experience.
Consider that Force Hood, the defending Funny Car champion at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals contested this week for the 23rd time at Houston Raceway Park has driven her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in a mere 73 NHRA pro tour events.
Her dad, the 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion and current Full Throttle points leader, has driven in 547 different races and appeared in 205 finals. Whereas Ashley has won 84 racing rounds, her father has won 1,049. Nevertheless, Ashley finally is beginning to understand some of things her dad has been trying to teach her since she turned pro and claimed Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2007.
“I've finally gotten into a routine (as a driver),” said the 27-year-old after losing by a scant .021 of a second in the final round of the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, N.C., just two weeks ago. “My dad has raced for over 30 years and he's not doing the mental checklist that I'm having to do. It's all natural for him."
Although she was forced to develop her skills in a fish bowl, in just three seasons Force Hood has changed the entire complexion of a sport in which her father has been competing for four decades.
Ashley at Houston Raceway Park:
?Ashley is trying to put her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in the final round at HRP for the third straight year. Since moving up to Funny Car in 2007, she has never failed to reach the final round of the Spring Nationals. ?Like her other John Force Racing teammates, Ashley missed the 2007 Spring Nationals in the aftermath of the tragic death of rising star Eric Medlen.
O’Reilly Spring Nationals summary:
2 starts, 2 final rounds, 1 win, no No. 1 qualifiers, 7-1 round record
69 starts, 14 final rounds, 3 wins, 9 No. 1 qualifiers, 84-66 round record
Ashley is the reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion and owner of the fastest Funny Car speed at the 1,000 foot distance – 316.38 miles per hour..
“it was a very different race for everybody. The toughest part about it was that (I) didn’t know who had won, who was runner-up. That was really a bummer because I actually thought we had won because the light came on in my lane.” ASHLEY FORCE HOOD on losing to her father in the final round of the 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte.
Ashley at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals
In 2008, she became the first woman EVER to win an NHRA Funny Car race. Last year, in addition to her victory in the Spring Nationals, she won the NHRA’s biggest race, the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., a win that laid the foundation for a second place finish in points behind brother-in-law Robert Hight.
Ashley credits crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas and a very supportive crew for her rapid development as a driver and especially for helping her address issues relating to her starting line reaction times.
“‘Guido’ told me to treat every round the same, whether it’s qualifying or racing,” Ashley said. “He told me that ‘the car doesn't know who you’re running, so why change how you tune the car or drive it?’”
It also has helped her to know that she isn’t the only driver to have struggled with the issue. The late Eric Medlen, one of the rising stars in the series until he lost his life in a 2007 testing accident in Florida, also had to deal with reaction time demons according to Antonelli, who was one of his closest friends.
“‘Guido’ told me there were so many times when Eric really struggled with reaction times (that) it became mental for him,” Ashley said.
“He told me that it wasn’t until Eric finally said, 'I'm sick of making myself sick about it and not having fun’ that his reaction times got better. I always try to remind myself of that. Every driver goes through that.
“When you start (driving), your reaction times are good because you're not thinking about it; you're just trying to remember to deploy the parachute and go through your checklist,” explained the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton.
“You’re distracted. It's when you get a hang of those things that you start to fine tune what you're doing. That’s when you put pressure on yourself and invariably screw yourself up. To teach yourself to NOT think about it is a big part of our sport and that’s where dad still has a big advantage.”
Neverthless, Force Hood slowly is gaining ground on her famous father in a rivalry that could play out in this week’s final.
“I only need 125 more wins to tie dad,” she laughed. “That may take awhile.”