BRAINERD, Minn. – Ashley Force Hood received a nice assist from Mother Nature at Brainerd International Raceway today as the clouds parted and temperatures warmed up for the 29th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. With the new conditions her Friday night provisional No. 1 qualifying pass of 4.102 seconds was safe from being challenged and became official at the end of the day. Force Hood and her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang did not rest on their laurels today gobbling up five more qualifying bonus points on Saturday.
A round of qualifying was lost to rain storms yesterday so the maximum number of qualifying bonus points available to each pro category was nine and Ashley Force Hood won eight over the two days. The qualifying success has the 2009 championship runner-up in a good frame of mind heading into the last regular season race.
“It is great to be No. 1. It is a better feeling to have strong runs in both lanes. I don’t know how different the two lanes are. No. 1 can only take you so far if you can only get down one lane. You never know what tomorrow will bring. We feel good in both lanes. We are good in the field,” said the 13-time No. 1 qualifier.
More important than position for Force Hood is the fact that her opponent will not be a fellow JFR teammate or Ford Mustang.
“We don’t have to run any of our teammates in the first round. That is a different way to start the race. It seems like almost every race this season we have raced either my dad (John Force), Robert (Hight) or (Tim) Wilkerson in the first round. I don’t know who I have but I don’t have a teammate and that is all that matters. We are just going to go up there and try to go some rounds.”
Force Hood will square off against Paul Lee in the opening stanza. The Cal State Fullerton grad has never faced the multiple master degreed driver for Jim Dunn.
Thanks to Force Hood’s No. 1 qualifying effort a lucky fan will once again win a Whirlpool washer and dryer compliments of BrandSource (www.brandsource.com) and the Win with Force promotion. If one of the three JFR Mustangs wins the race another fan will win a Mitsubishi 52” flat screen television.
While Force Hood was consistently covering the 1000 ft. race surface of BIR her father and 14-time champion John Force was battling to lay down a solid run. In the last session Force made a respectable run of 4.192 seconds but even that run had its issues.
“To get that 4.19 was good except my Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang was trying to run a 4.14 and a fuel shut off vibrated off or I hit it or something. We know we have a car we can race (Bob) Tasca (III) with. It is a couple of Fords up against each other. I stay away from Robert and Ashley. That is good for me. My confidence is good. I have a good rounded team and I have all these other cars to learn from,” said the 11-time Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals winner.
Force was able to hold onto a two round advantage over Hight going into Sunday’s eliminations. The race is between the teammates to see who will head into the Countdown as the top funny car. His advantage shrank from 28 points to 21 points over the weekend but since each round win on Sunday is worth 20 points his 21 point lead equates to the slimmest two round advantage possible.
For a few minutes it looked like Force and Robert Hight might face each other in the first round. At the end of the day Force will enter Sunday as the No. 13 qualifier and Hight will be No. 3.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get Robert first round. I was right on him. I got bumped down one spot and I thought one more spot and I’ll get him. Even though it would be nice to get that out of the way and you would know who gets the lead for the Countdown you really want your cars to have a chance to win this race and the money because everyone shares the money.”
Force will race Bob Tasca III in the first round and Hight will race Countdown hopeful Tony Pedregon. All three JFR Mustangs are spread throughout the eliminations ladder and they could advance to the semi-finals.
A win in Brainerd would not be a new experience for Force but for Force Hood she knows that this track hold special meaning for the entire organization.
“Dad has done really well here for a lot of years. I wasn’t always able to come to this race because it fell when school started some times. There were a handful of times I was here including when Eric (Medlen) won for the first time. It is a special race for us. That was a special day. The video clip of him sliding across the hood we love to watch and we use it just about any chance we get. His birthday weekend is this weekend as well. It puts things in perspective. Racing is important but if the day doesn’t go as we hope it doesn’t mean the world is over,“ said Force Hood in the BIR pressroom.
“This weekend kind f helped us to turn a few things around. Maybe we have a better way of thinking going into the race and giving us maybe a better chance of having a good day tomorrow.”
With eleven race wins in his illustrious career at BIR John Force does not lack confidence about his chances on Sunday. He will be starting from his worst qualifying position ever at this track. He has never started from worse than No. 6 before this weekend. In Norwalk Force started from the No. 16 spot and raced to a runner-up finish versus Tim Wilkerson.
When asked if his race success gave him more confidence going into race day the 130-time NHRA event winner shifted the attention to his young teammates.
“I take confidence from my two other teams, Auto Club and Castrol GTX. Ashley running low ET and Robert right behind her in 3rd was good for everyone here.”
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JOHN FORCE, 61, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 13th at 4.192, 275.17 mph
Qualifying bonus points: 0
First round opponent (W-L): Bob Tasca III (5-4)
Quotable: “We know we have a car we can race (Bob) Tasca (III) with. It is a couple of Fords up against each other. I stay away from Robert and Ashley. That is good for me. My confidence is good. I have a good rounded team and I have all these other cars to learn from.” – JOHN FORCE
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD, 27, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 1st at 4.102, 302.56 mph
Qualifying bonus points: +8 (Quickest of Q1 and Q3, 2nd quickest of Q2)
First round opponent (W-L): Paul Lee (0-0)
Quotable: “We are trying to start a tradition of winning the race leading into the countdown. Every run in the countdown is going to be important in qualifying and every round win. There are all those little points you can gain. This weekend we could move up to 6th in the points possibly.” – ASHLEY FORCE HOOD
ROBERT HIGHT, 40, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 3rd at 4.131 seconds, 302.35 mph
Qualifying bonus points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q1)
First round opponent (W-L): Tony Pedregon (6-13)
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FOLLOW JOHN FORCE RACING AT www.twitter.com/jfr_racing.com
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Sunday, August 15:
Eliminations, 11 a.m. (local time)
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