Ashley Force is Hot!
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh boy, here comes another testosterone-charged celebration of young Ms Force’s obvious feminine pulchritude.” Or words to that effect.
Well, I have two perfectly functioning eyes, so I can’t deny I’ve noticed she’s a good-lookin’ gal. Besides, it’s official; according to a recent AOL Sports poll, the rookie Funny Car driver defeated all comers to emerge as “America’s Hottest Athlete,” which apparently makes it okay to say out loud, even if you repeatedly substitute “sexiest” for “hottest” and come across as kind-of-dirty-old-man creepy while saying it to a national television audience. But that’s another story.
No, I’m referring to Ashley Force’s impact on the sport, certainly as a result of her on-track performance, but more so by her extracurricular efforts, such as a scheduled appearance (Sep. 10) on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the late-night TV talkfest that airs in every major market in the country. According to Nielson Research, Force will reach well more than five million viewers during that single chat, which I suspect dwarfs the cumulative number of individuals who will watch any part of the 2007 NHRA season.
The Tonight Show is big, man. It doesn’t get any bigger. Celebs from all walks of life covet and cherish each moment they get to settle in beside Leno and hawk their newest project or do damage control on their latest social indiscretion. For Force to get the call—regardless of whether it’s for her “Hottest Athlete” title or the fact that the name “Force” didn’t belong to Papa John on the qualifying sheets at this year’s U.S. Nationals—it can’t help but expose big-league drag racing to people who otherwise would never give it a second thought.
Recall for a moment Indy Racing League poster girl Danica Patrick (one of the lovely ladies Force ousted during AOL eliminations, by the way). After temporarily leading the 2005 Indy 500 and eventually finishing fourth, “Danica Mania” swept through pop culture. For a while there it seemed like Patrick was everywhere and as a known “car guy” I had people who normally wouldn’t care asking me about who she was and what I thought of her. There’s no reason for “Force Frenzy” not to inspire similar interest in John Q. Public.
Of course, we all know Patrick’s popularity and presence gradually waned due to her subsequent lack of on-track success. Sure, she still pulls off the odd top-10 finish, but at least in her current ride she’s no longer considered a serious threat to win.
Unlike Ashley Force. She’s in a top-notch car and her driving is getting noticeably better, almost event to event. Watch that tank-slapping recovery in her second-round loss to Del Worsham at Indy and tell me that’s not a real Funny Car driver in the making! Especially after tagging the wall hard at Seattle just a few weeks earlier in a similar situation. It may not happen this year, but a win seems certain for A. Force’s future.
Plus, with probably the best self-promoter going in her corner and the powerful Force publicity machine headed up by former DRO contributor Dave Densmore managing the info flow, she’ll be getting solid career advice from people who truly have her best interests at heart (FHM, Danica?). I’m confident Ashley Force can have a great, positive run before the public eye and it will boost all of drag racing, not just that of the NHRA variety.
I have to admit here, I took a real wait-and-see position when it was announced that Ashley Force was stepping up to the nitro-burning, short-wheelbased Fuel Coupes. I knew all about her success in the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks, but really didn’t know if it—or she—would translate well to Funny Car driving.
I also harbored doubts about her work with the media in front of cameras and microphones, as she clearly doesn’t have her father’s gift of gab (but then, how many do?), or even that of teammates Robert Hight and the late Eric Medlen. I still think her interviews tend to be too clumsily sponsor laden (though I recognize that’s the nature of the beast), but even worse I find much of her post-race comments to be rote and somewhat superficial. Even this is getting better, though, so like the on-track pedaling let’s just chalk that up to the experience factor and look forward to improved performances.
NHRA and ESPN2 often catch criticism for making their broadcasts too closely resemble “The Force Show,” but can you really blame them? They have two of the sport’s greatest ambassadors at hand, with one of them poised to grasp the nation’s collective attention. You can be sure, they’re more than willing to put up with griping from a few Internet-based coffee klatches if it means mom, dad and the kids tune in to see racing’s new speed queen.
PS. I’ve said it before and unfortunately I’ll probably feel compelled to say it again, but ORSCA has to get a handle on its shoot-from-the-hip rule-making style or the ensuing controversies will eventually kill a great series. I was recently speaking with a former ORSCA class champion who no longer races there because he’s had it with all the conflict and said, “it’s just not fun anymore.” And please, please, please ORSCA officials, stop engaging in public online debates with the peanut galleries. It really doesn’t look good to anyone. State your case—and move on.