Champ's Daughter a Contender in Funny Car Class
HOUSTON, Texas – She may have earned the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA's 2007 Rookie of the Year, but Ashley Force still is a novice at Houston Raceway Park, the Texas track on which she will make a belated professional debut this week in the 21st annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals.
A full year later than anticipated, on a track on which her father has won seven times and on which her brother-in-law, Robert Hight, won his very first tour event, the 25-year-old graduate of Cal State-Fullerton will try to make history as the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car title.
She' s come close before, losing in the final round to Tony Pedregon last fall at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and reaching the semifinals at this year's season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
"I've run at Houston before, but it was in the (Top Alcohol Dragster class)," she said, "so I don't know a lot about how my Castrol GTX Funny Car will act.
"The first thing I'll do when I get there is get with my crew chief, Dean Antonelli, and put together a mental game plan. I know dad has run great (at Houston) and so has Robert, so it must be a pretty good Funny Car track. We missed the race last year, so I'm excited about making my first (Funny Car) runs there."
After stumbling at Phoenix, where she failed to make the 16-car starting lineup, Ashley rallied two weeks ago at Gainesville, Fla., where hers was the only one of the four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs to advance beyond the first round of the ACDelco Gatornationals..
"I think we've gotten things pretty figured out from the runs that we've made (this year)," she said, "and I'm finally learning to pedal (feather the throttle) when the car loses traction. At Pomona was the first time I ever won a round on my pedaling.'
“I had another chance at Gainesville against Tony and even though we didn't win, I think I'm getting the hang of it. Like dad says, I just ran out of racetrack. Hopefully, it will all pay off this week.
"When I pedaled' in the dragster, it just hooked right up and went," she said. That's not the case with the Funny Car. It definitely takes more finesse. You need to take the time to let the tires settle down (before you get back on the throttle).
"That's what I was able to do at Pomona but, at the same time, you don't want to wait too long, which maybe is what happened at Gainesville. It's something you have to get a feel for.
"I've also learned a lot about how different this car is to drive (from) the one we had last year," she said, referring to the complete redesign of all four JFR team cars in the aftermath of her dad's crash last September in Dallas and the fatal accident that claimed the life of Eric Medlen.
Medlen, one of the brightest young stars in the series, succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident the day after the 2007 Gatornationals. It was his death that prompted the team's withdrawal from last year's Houston event.
"Overall, I feel much safer in this car," she said.
Ashley not only is trying to become the first woman to win a tour event in the Funny Car division, she also is trying to become the first to start a race from the No. 1 qualifying position. She was the No. 2 qualifier three times in 2007, twice losing the No. 1 spot to Hight.
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Did You Know:
– Ashley is ninth in POWERade driver points, one position behind her father, 14-time series champion John Force. She finished 10th last year en route to Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
– Ashley also is eighth in points that will determine the eight Funny Car drivers who
compete Aug. 31 for a $100,000 top prize in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown at Indianapolis, Ind.
– Courtney Force, 19, is competing this weekend in the Jerry Darien-owned A/Fuel
dragster in which sister Ashley won five NHRA tour events in the Top Alcohol Dragster
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Off the Track:
– Ashley appeared last year on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on Good Morning America. She also was one of the keynote speakers at the national convention of BeautiControl, Inc., at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Dallas, addressing a crowd of 5,500.
– Ashley and her younger sisters, Brittany and Courtney, are featured in national print ads for Oakley sunglasses. She and her dad appear in regional television ads for the Auto Club of Southern California, one of the team's major sponsors.
– Although she failed to achieve her goal of winning a POWERade tour event last season, Ashley did win big off the track, beating New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the final round of the inaugural "world's hottest athlete" poll conducted by
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