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Keeping Pace

With NHRA Countdown to One position secure, Ashley plays new role

Ashley Force Hood, the only Ford driver to have yet earned a starting spot in the NHRA’s Countdown to One, plans to do double duty at BIR this weekend.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

Brainerd, Minn.-Before she was a race car driver, Ashley Force Hood was a varsity cheerleader at Esperanza High School in Yorba Linda, Calif., training that should serve her well this weekend when the NHRA Full Throttle tour moves to Brainerd International Raceway for the 28th annual Lucas Oil Nationals.

Force Hood, the only Ford driver to have yet earned a starting spot in the NHRA’s Countdown to One, plans to do double duty at BIR, pumping up her own resume at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang while at the same time leading the cheers for her three struggling John Force Racing teammates.

Her father, 14-time champion John Force, her brother-in-law Robert Hight and second year teammate Mike Neff need all the help they can get this week as the first phase of the Countdown races to a conclusion.

Force and Neff currently occupy the eighth and ninth transfer spots, respectively, while Hight is on the outside with just three races remaining before the NHRA certifies the 10 drivers eligible to win the $500,000 championship.

Ashley credits crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas for her own lofty status this season.

In only her third pro campaign, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton has started four races from the No. 1 qualifying position, has been to six final rounds and her win last March in the O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas, represents the only Funny Car victory this season for JFR.

“My crew chiefs, ‘Guido’ and Ron, decided (that) if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Ashley said.  “We haven’t been trying a lot of new things.  Because the NHRA has limited testing, we’re running the same combination we always have where the other three teams in our camp have been trying a lot of new things that they’ve had to test at the races.”

That difference in philosophy is reflected in the point standings.  Ashley rolls into BIR in third place as one of only three drivers to have clinched a starting spot in the Countdown.  She also is one of only three drivers to have led the points this year and is the only driver to have led each of the last two years.

“If you look at all the drivers in our category, there’s not one dominant person,” she said.  “It could be anybody’s championship (and) that’s exciting for us because we are a newer team.  You wouldn’t think that, going up against teams that have been racing longer than I have been alive, including my father, that we would be thinking about a championship, but in our sport, anything can happen.  It’s not impossible.  We definitely have the car to do it if we can just not make mistakes.”

The difference between this year and last is that a year ago Force Hood’s team was randomly doing well.  This year, it has achieved the kind of consistency that was the trademark of her father’s team during its run to 10 straight titles (1993-2002).  

“I think we have a great chance at it but, on the other hand, we want dad and Robert and Mike to have a shot, too.  There’s still time (for her teammates to make the Countdown),” she said.

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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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