Ashley and Junior Have A Lot In Common
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Commerce, Ga. – If there have ever been two race drivers who really understand what the other is going through, it’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ashley Force Hood. Although they race in different series, both know the pressures and expectations that come from having fathers who are icons in their respective sports. They often find themselves carrying their sports on their young backs, so to speak, being in great demand from fans and the media even when they’re not the dominant driver.
And both also have managed to grow up in the bright spotlight, yet maintain clean images and serve as good role models for their fans.
Force Hood said she’s met Earnhardt Jr. a couple of times and found him to be nothing like she expected. “He’s a super nice guy,” she said. “When I was watching him before I ever met him, I thought, ‘This guy’s probably a crazy guy, wild,’ but the times I met him he’s very shy.”
And they soon found they had a lot in common.
“I kind of felt a bond with him,” she said. “When you’re in the middle of all this, and your father’s such a big part of the sport it can get a little intimidating.
“[Earnhardt] seems similar to how I feel about things. You can tell he really loves what he does, and he grew up around it just like I did. And you can tell that maybe all the other stuff, the publicity and the fame, is not what he’s out there for. He’s there’s to race.”
Neither Earnhardt nor Force Hood have a place to hide when things aren’t going well on the track. The demands for their time – and their popularity – just continue to grow, even when the on-track results are headed in the other direction.
That can create an awkward situation, but both drivers have learned to cope with it.
Earnhardt’s cousin and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said that after a couple of miserable weeks early in the season, his driver tried to put a positive spin on he situation. He came to Eury in the garage, smiled and said, “At least I got them off your back for a week or two.”
Force Hood also has to cope with being in the spotlight even when the on-track results are sub-par and she’d probably rather go off and hide.
“I know that being a female driver and my father being John Force is still going to be interesting to people,” she said. “But it really does make you even more want to do well because you think, ‘If I’m getting all this attention I need to be doing something.’
“It’s something that’s in the back of your mind.”
Both young drivers also have earned the respect of their peers, even the ones who sometimes get overlooked because of them.
Fellow Funny Car driver Ron Capps is one who is solidly in Force Hood’s corner and appreciates the role model she’s become.
“I know first-hand because I have a 12-year-old daughter that loves her,” Capps said. “People don’t realize how much hoopla she brings to our sport. ESPN has numbers on how many people tune out of the broadcast when she falls out.
“I love her to death. There are a lot of role models in the world that aren’t really that good a role models. I couldn’t think of anybody better for my daughter to have as a role model. She handles it so well it just blows me away.”|
Capps, who has spent a good bit of time around the NASCAR garages, sees lots of positive parallels between Force Hood and Earnhardt Jr.
“You never hear Dale Earnhardt Jr. out getting crazy in the press and doing stupid stuff, and she’s the same way,” Capps said. “You hear great interviews from her. She’s good to race, and she’s great for the sport.”
And Capps said he thinks Force Hood handles her popularity as well as anyone in that position could.
“A lot of guys took offense when she came in and hadn’t won a race and was getting more press than the guys that were leading the points,” he said. “But you have to look at the big picture and accept it. Now she’s got a good car on top of it.
“I’m not sure I could have handled it as good as she has.”2 Comments