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Keeping Pace

Force Hood battling Hight, Pedregon for title

Ashley Force Hood, the 26-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force, remains on pace to reclaim for her dad and his team the NHRA Funny Car Championship that has been theirs for most of the last two decades.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

Richmond, VA-Halfway through the NHRA’s Countdown to One playoffs, Ashley Force Hood has yet to race in a final round at the wheel of a Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang that took her to seven finals during the 18-race regular season.

Even so, the 26-year-old daughter of drag racing icon John Force remains on pace to reclaim for her dad and his team the  NHRA Funny Car Championship that has been theirs for most of the last two decades.

With semifinal finishes in each of the Countdown’s first three races, Force Hood returns to Virginia Motorsports Park, site of this week’s fourth — and final — Virginia Nationals, as the Funny Car points leader.

The margin isn’t significant   three points over teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight; 26 over regular season champ Tony Pedregon – but the position is.

Before Force Hood sped onto the scene in 2007 as the first woman in seven years to compete in the Funny Car division, it was unfathomable to think that a woman realistically could compete for a season championship at the wheel of a short wheelbase, 8,000 horsepower beast of a race car like the Castrol Ford.

Conventional wisdom suggested that women simply didn’t possess the physical strength needed to ride herd on one of the most powerful cars on earth.  Yeah, right.

Not only did the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton prove that women could win on drag racing’s biggest stage, she proved they could do so with regularity.  Now she’s tantalizingly close to becoming the first woman in the 40-year history of the Funny Car class to win the championship.

In a sport in which a woman never before had reached the final round of a Funny Car race, Ashley began busting down barriers when she won the Auto Club’s 2007 Road to the Future Award as the NHRA tour’s Rookie-of-the-Year.

In her first season, she became the first woman to make it to the finals, the first to finish in the Top 10 and the first to smack the wall at more than 200 miles an hour.
In her second year, she became the first to win a race and the first to lead the points.  This year, after setting the national Funny Car speed record (312.13 miles per hour) becoming the first woman to win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in two different classes (Funny Car and Top Fuel), she has set herself up to become just the second woman after Shirley Muldowney to win a world championship in one of the two featured categories.

She believes she and her Castrol GTX team have an excellent shot at the title.  Few would beg to differ especially since the implementation of new qualifying bonus rules that reward the top three performers in each session with three points for quick time, two for second quickest and one for third quickest.  Ashley has earned more bonus points than any other Funny Car driver in the first three Countdown races (14).

“I have a great team,” Ashley said, “and two great crew chiefs in Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas.  They’re the real reason we’re in this position.  I’m still learning but they still give me a great car every round.
“I love being a driver,” she said, “but I’m jealous of the fans getting to watch all this go down   because it’s going to be exciting.”

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

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