Force Hood And Team Are Rolling At The Right Time

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 7 2010

The Wally which Ashley Force Hood won last year in Indy will have company in the trophy case as a result of what happened this year in Indy. (File Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Ashley Force Hood had faded to the background during the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season. Hers was the No. 3 story on her own team and hers were the worst stats on the three-car John Force Racing driver roster.

Seven times she was ousted in the first round of eliminations this season and four of those stumbles had come in the five races leading up to the all-important Countdown to 1 playoffs.

As the season sped along, hopes that she would become the NHRA’s Funny Car champion were replaced by thoughts that maybe her terrific 2009 season was an aberration.

But following the Countdown-opening Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, which ended Sunday afternoon at O’Reilly Raceway Park near Indianapolis, hopes for a big year for the 27-year-old Force Hood moved back to the foreground.

Force Hood blew through the eliminations, taking down top drivers such as Del Worsham, Jack Beckman. And, in the finals, she beat her father and 14-time Funny Car champion, John Force.

The victory was her second straight at the world’s most important drag race and it gave the boot to eight months worth of  blahs.

“This has just been an amazing day,” Force Hood said. “This win might be bigger than last year’s win because we struggled this year. Last year at this point in the season we were on a roll. We had been to finals and we had won some races. We were up high in the points going into the Countdown. This year we have been at the complete other end of the spectrum. We have struggled. We couldn’t get past first round or second round.”

The fact that Force Hood was a back-to-back Nationals winner impressed her father, of course. Launched him, of course, into a lengthy, meandering monologue.

“I know no woman has ever won two in a row and I don’t know if a man has,” Force said. “I think Don Prudhomme has for sure and if you are doing what Prudhomme accomplished that is big. He is my hero. He is the man. I am just proud of her as a driver. I am proud of (co-crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. What they have put together is special as team. She had a .061 light against me in the final. Credit goes to that team and to the driver on a day when it needed to get done. If you won no other race Indy is the one to win.”

Standard stuff.

But what Force Hood did over the Labor Day weekend also impressed other veterans of the pressure-frought Nationals.

“In all the times I have been to Indy there is one thing I have never (done) which is win back-to-back… and up next (in post-race interviews) is someone who deserves everything she gets,” two-time Top Fuel world champion and winner in that division on Sunday, Larry Dixon, said of Force Hood.

Force Hood, who began the day from the No. 6 qualifying spot, said the big match of the day for her was the one against Don Schumacher Racing’s Beckman. It was personally gratifying and it was professionally gratifying.

“For me personally I think running Jack, that was big for me,” she said. “He was my teacher back when I was 16 and I went to Frank Hawley’s drag racing school. He taught me in a Super Comp car. He is a good family friend of ours. That Schumacher team is our arch rival and to have him and (Matt) Hagan against me and dad in the semis that is one of those ideal stories. It could have gone either way. It just happened to fall on our side.”

The finals were anticlimactic from a straight-up racing standpoint as her father broke an injector during the run and coasted to the finish line.

And yes, Force shouted, his parts failure was genuine and not a case of handing the victory to his daughter.

“When we looked at the video replay of the final round,” Force said, “the injector was only part way open.  It looked like I wasn’t stepping on the gas.  It had broken off up at the injector.  It was obviously bent on the run before against (Matt)Hagan, when I had to pedal it,” said Force.

Whatever. Her race against her father was still a hoot, Force Hood said.

“The pressure really is off when you run your teammates,” she said. “When you run them later in the day that is the best. (Teammate) Robert (Hight) and I were able to get to the final last year here and this year it was me and dad. We went up there and we were having fun. The hardest part was the semis.

“We were so excited to win that round and then to have dad win right behind us was really the final round for our team. We could go up there and whatever happens would happen. We are going to end up 1 and 2 not in the points but in the Indy finish. It is just fun. It takes off all that pressure.”

While Force Hood and her father were enjoying the moment late Monday afternoon, others on the team were thinking about next steps.

Next up is the six-race Countdown are the  O’Reilly Auto Parts Carolinas Nationals in Concord, N.C.

Hight and his team – last year’s Funny Car champions – have to figure out went went wrong in their first-round loss at Indy. Force has to avoid parts failures and find a way to keep his No. 1 points position protected.

And Force Hood and her team has to figure out a way have to figure out how to avoid sinking back into their struggling ways. That should be a bit easier after what happened during the long holiday weekend at ORP

“(Winning Indy) was part of the plan honestly,” Douglas said. “It doesn’t matter if we were in Indy or Charlotte or Dallas whatever the first race of the Countdown was our goal was to win that race. We had a good weekend and a good car. We are very happy.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 7 2010
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