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Ashley Set The Table For The Force Sisters

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 7 2018

Ashley Force Hood, daughter of NHRA icon John Force, paved the way for her sisters. (File Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Before sisters Brittany and Courtney Force emerged as NHRA “Women of Power,” Ashley Force Hood forever changed the look of the Funny Car category on an historic Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Dragway.

A daughter of Funny Car icon John Force, Force Hood already was a fan favorite via her Sportsman career when she moved into the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in nitro Funny Car in 2007. Ten years ago Force Hood defeated father and team-owner John _ then a 14-time time world champion _ in the 28th annual Southern Nationals final in Commerce, Ga., to become the first female to hoist an NHRA Funny Car Wally trophy.

When Ashley hung up her fire suit at the conclusion of the 2010 season to start a family, she had racked up four pro wins, including back-to-back victories at the prestigious U.S. Nationals, in 16 final-round appearances.

“Winning Atlanta in 2008 was a huge deal for me personally, for many different reasons,” Force Hood said. “It was my first win as a Funny Car driver and I was the first female to win in that category which was special. But it also followed a very difficult 2007 season, losing our teammate Eric (Medlen) and my dad’s crash.”

Eric Medlen died on March, 23, 2007 from a closed head injury suffered in a crash

Ashley Force Hood was a true force in Funny Car.

while testing his Funny Car at Gainesville Raceway in Florida on March 19. The son of then John Force Racing crew chief John Medlen, Eric was 33-years-old. John Force often referred to Eric as “the son I never had,” and his death prompted a massive revision of Funny Car cockpit and chassis design to improve safety led by John Force Racing, Ford Motor Company and the California-based sanctioning body.

Ironically, John Force sustained career-threatening leg and foot injuries in a massive crash during eliminations of the annual NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis in September 2007, casting a further pall on the organization.

“To have a really happy moment at the track with my team, that’s what made that day (at Atlanta Dragway) most special,” Force Hood said. “And to get to compete against my father in the final round was really exciting. There wasn’t the nervousness or pressure that usually comes with a final round because JFR had already won the race. I remember being in the lanes with his team and mine, joking with each other and it was just a really great night.”

However, that win was not without a bit of Force family drama.

Courtney Force has been a consistent Funny Car driver. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

“One unique memory about the win that not many people know is that I actually got really upset with my father on the starting line before the final,” Force Hood said. “We had done our burnouts and then it started to sprinkle and they shut us off. At the time we all had radios between teams and dad was freaking out on the radio about the safety of the track and if it was dry down track. Meanwhile, I was trying to stay focused in my car.

“Looking back, I know yelling over the radio and talking nonstop was his way of keeping his energy up during the delay. But this was really distracting to me. I even remember wondering if he was trying to mess with me. I finally ripped the earplugs right out of my helmet. So I was actually really amped up and irritated by the time we started our cars and made the final run.”

Force Hood’s gender-breaking victory also was shrouded by the suggestion that “Brute” Force intentionally made the win happen for his daughter.

“Atlanta was big…even if it was against me,” John Force told RacinToday.com after Ashley’s second career victory almost one year later. Ashley defeated “Fast” Jack Beckman of Don Schumacher Racing in the final of the annual O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, on March 29, 2009.

“Sometimes people want to question it…but she outran me,” John Force said of the Atlanta final. “This (second career win) kind of cleans that up.”

Force Hood was bemused by the notion she was room-serviced that first win by her dad.

Reigning Top Fuel champion Brittany Force. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

“We knew in our camp it was a heads-up race (at Atlanta) but there’s been a lot of people who have asked about it,” Force Hood told RacinToday.com. “It is frustrating because these guys work so hard and to have people think that takes the wind out of our sails. No teammate of ours is a good teammate if they let us win. We have good enough teams that we don’t need that.

“To get another chance _ and we did race dad (at RPR) _ and finish up against a guy (Beckman) from another team who was really gunning for us, it was a different scene. We definitely had more fun (in Texas). Atlanta was such a strange day…so long and it was raining and everyone was exhausted. We really didn’t get excited. We were glad we won but we were happy to survive the day.”

Since that win three more females have won in the Funny Car category, including youngest sister Courtney, who has surpassed Force Hood’s win total and reigns as NHRA’s winningest female Funny Car driver. Courtney, in fact, added to her total with a victory over two-time world champion Matt Hagan in Sunday’s final of the 38th annual edition of the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Courtney claimed her second Funny Car victory of the season with a 1,000-foot pass of 4.046-seconds at 313.73 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS. After earning the No. 1 qualifier on Saturday, Courtney secured her 10th career victory by defeating Hagan for the third time in a final.

“It was great to get a win here in Atlanta at the track my sister Ashley got her first Funny Car win,” said Courtney, 29. “All day long I thought getting a win here would be so cool especially because Ashley is here with us. She doesn’t come to a ton of races so I’m glad she can be here to celebrate with me and my team. I grew up watching Ashley and to see everything she has accomplished in the Funny Car category is great. She’s been a mentor and I’ve always looked up to her. She’s always been there to give me advice or anything I needed from my rookie season until now. It’s been great to have her support and Brittany’s support. They are my best friends.”

With the win, Courtney took over the Funny Car point standings by 13 over Beckman, who lost to DSR teammate Hagan in the semifinals.

Older sister Brittany, 31, won the 2017 Mello Yello Top Fuel world championship in her Monster Energy dragster and both sisters credit Ashley with being one of their biggest influences and supporters. The feeling is mutual from Force Hood, who finished second in the 2009 driver standings by 66 points/three rounds of racing to JFR teammate Robert Hight, now a two-time world champ.

Force Hood and husband Daniel Hood, an employee of JFR, are the parents of two young sons. At age 35, Ashley is content to remain in the background of a motorsports juggernaut fronted by her father, now a 16-time world champ at age 69.

“I’m so proud of how well my sisters are doing in their careers, not only the driving part, but also handling the pressures that come along with it,” Force Hood said. “There’s so much more that goes into being a racing driver than just driving down a track. I’ve been especially proud of how they’ve handled this season, with the crashes we’ve had. That could easily get into a driver’s head and affect them but they’ve both won races despite the distractions, and are having great seasons.

“And most importantly, they’re enjoying it. They both are very close to their teams, have great relationships with their sponsors and really enjoy interacting with fans whether at a race or through social media.”

FEMALE FUNNY CAR WINNERS SINCE ASHLEY FORCE’S HOOD FIRST NHRA VICTORY

Beginning in 1970 _ NHRA’s Modern Era _ no woman competitor had posted a victory in nitro Funny Car in 569 national events. Since Ashley Force Hood’s breakthrough win in 2008 at Atlanta Dragway, women have won 20 of the last 232 Funny Car titles:

  1.  April 27, 2008, Atlanta Dragway, Commerce, Ga., Ashley Force defeated John Force
  2. May 18, 2008, Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn., Melanie Troxel defeated Mike Neff
  3. March 29, 2009, Royal Purple Raceway, Baytown, Texas, Ashley Force Hood defeated Jack Beckman
  4. Sept. 7, 2009, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Ashley Force Hood defeated Robert Hight
  5. Sept. 6, 2010, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Ashley Force Hood defeated John Force
  6. August 5, 2012, Pacific Raceways, Kent, Wash., Courtney Force defeated Matt Hagan
  7. Feb. 17, 2013, Auto Club Raceway, Pomona, Calif., Courtney Force defeated Ron Capps
  8. June 23, 2013, New England Dragway, Epping, N.H., Courtney Force defeated John Force
  9. Feb. 23, 2014, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz., Alexis DeJoria defeated Robert Hight
  10. March 30, 2014, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Alexis DeJoria defeated Robert Hight
  11. May 25, 2014, Heartland Park Topeka, Kan., Courtney Force defeated Cruz Pedregon*
  12. July 27, 2014, Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, Calif., Courtney Force defeated John Force
  13. Sept. 1, 2014, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Alexis DeJoria defeated John Force
  14. Sept. 21, 2014, Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Courtney Force defeated Del Worsham
  15. Sept. 28, 2104, Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill., Courtney Force defeated Matt Hagan
  16. April 3, 2016, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Alexis DeJoria defeated Del Worsham
  17. May 1, 2016, Royal Purple Raceway, Baytown, Texas, Courtney Force defeated Tim Wilkerson
  18. Aug. 20, 2017, Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minn., Alexis DeJoria defeated Tommy Johnson Jr.
  19. Feb. 24, 2018, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz., Courtney Force defeated Tommy Johnson Jr.
  20. 20. May 6, 2018, Atlanta Dragway, Commerce, Ga., Courtney Force
    defeated Matt Hagan
    *100th win for women in the NHRA series.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 7 2018
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