Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals
A rookie no longer, Ashley seeks more
Phoenix, pre-race: In her first season at the wheel of the 330 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, Ashley Force learned her lessons well, which is why the 2007 NHRA Rookie of the Year is more contender this week than pretender as the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Firebird International Raceway for the 24th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals.
Ms. Force, the 25-year-old daughter of drag racing legend John Force, demonstrated just how far she's come two weeks ago in
It wasn't so much the fact that she reached the semi's that stamped her as a contender; it was more the manner in which she did so.
Paired with Bob Bode in a first round match, the former high school cheerleader reacted to an unexpected loss of traction like, well, the daughter of the most prolific winner in drag racing history.
Feathering the throttle to regain traction, she recovered in time to win the round despite a pedestrian time of just 5.959 seconds. It was a rite of passage for the Cal State-Fullerton graduate, who last year became the first woman ever to race in an NHRA Funny Car final.
"That had never happened to me before," said an elated Ashley of her first round win. "Usually it's the other drivers beating me on a pedal-job."
A five-time winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster division, in which she competed for three seasons, she acknowledged that the biggest adjustment for her has been learning that, despite portrayals to the contrary, Funny Cars require more finesse than she ever could have imagined.
"When I ‘pedaled' in the (dragster), it just hooked right up and went," she said. "That's not the case with these Funny Cars. It definitely takes more finesse. I'm still working on that, learning that 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
The other major lesson learned is that in Funny Car and Top Fuel, there is a definite racing "groove" that, at most tracks, is unforgiving.
"In Super Comp and (Top Alcohol Dragster), the car just kind of went right down the lane," Ashley said. "In Funny Car, if it's not in the groove, it'll smoke the tires or it will shake. I always heard dad talk about the groove. Now I know what he means."
Presently tied with her father for third place in POWERade points behind only her brother-in-law, Robert Hight, and Cruz Pedregon, Ashley returns to Firebird with a confidence that was lacking a year ago when, after qualifying sixth, she was ousted in the very first round by Phil Burkart Jr.
"I learned a lot (at the season opener) about how different this car is to drive than the one we had last year," she said, referring to the complete redesign of her team's cars following her dad's crash last September in Dallas and the fatal testing accident that claimed the life of rising star and close friend Eric Medlen in March.
"It was great to get to the semifinals," she said of her
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