DRO file photo by Tim Marshall
Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman. That's especially true in drag racing, where quick reactions and concentration take precedence over strength and endurance.
Of course, it also helps if you're the daughter of 10-time Winston Funny Car Champion John Force.
Ashley Force, 18, a soon-to-be sophomore at Cal State-Fullerton, has taken the first tentative steps toward a possible career in straight-line racing to the utter delight of her famous father.
"I'm just like any other father that wanted his son to grow up and drive his race car," Force said, "like Kenny Bernstein (the five-time Winston Champion whose son, Brandon, will take over driving duties in the Budweiser King dragster at the end of the 2002 season).
"The problem is that I don't have any sons (so) I always hoped one of my daughters would want to drive. Ashley showed an interest and I just want to support her all I can."
Under the watchful eye of Super Comp standout Rob Slavinski and at the wheel of the Castrol Super Clean dragster he regularly drives in the NHRA's Federal Mogul Series, the second oldest of Force's four daughters recently made several checkout runs at Bandimere Speedway outside Denver, Colo.
She is scheduled to take part in a second practice session following the 20th annual Colonel's Truck Accessories Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, an event over which her father has reigned as Funny Car Champion nine times in the last 13 seasons.
While her ultimate goal is to drive the 320 mile-an-hour Funny Cars in which her father has won 97 NHRA tour events, the California co-ed is no hurry.
"I'm still in the learning phase," she said. "(At Denver), I went through the staging process over and over. Then I just did launches."
Eventually, Slavinski okayed a series of halftrack runs and, finally, even a couple of full-out quarter miles, all to the delight of the Winston Champion, conspicuous as the only spectator in a grandstand vacated the day before by hordes of national event spectators.
"Dad promised he'd leave me alone and wouldn't watch," Ashley said, "because he said he didn't want to put any pressure on me. Then I'm up there doing a burnout and I look in the stands and there he is."
While she acknowledges that dealing with her father on a day-to-day basis will be a challenge, she is looking forward to the experience.
The nine-time Auto Racing All-American already has ordered two new rear engine dragsters for her from Victory Race Cars, has commissioned an 18-wheel transporter that will double as a parts trailer for his three Funny Cars and has hired Ron Williams to oversee the operation.
"Dad says as soon as I get my car, I need to start sleeping in it," Ashley said. "He said I should walk around with my (new robin egg's blue) helmet on. That's dad for you."
After completing the entry-level "Adventure Course" at the Frank Hawley Drag Racing school when she was only 16, Ashley returned last February and earned her Super Comp drivers' license.
"I want to test as much as we can this year and get used to the dragster," she said. "Before we can enter a national event, I have to run three divisionals, so it may be next year before (dad and I) are racing in the same race."
For his part, Force is trying to give his daughter every advantage while at the same time avoiding classification as overbearing, high speed "stage mother."
"I want to get her racing as soon as possible," Force admitted. "I'm just trying to teach her what it took me 25 years to learn. Right now, I'll be happy if she just learns a real love for the sport. I tell her all the time that, bottom line, it's all about the love of the people because they have the power to make you or break you.
"The dragsters are going to be really nice," Force said, "and the folks at Ford are fired up about the program. They're excited about Ashley driving a Ford-powered race car. They're going to help us develop a Ford racing motor for her. They know that women today take the kids to school and then drive straight to the boardroom. They make the decisions on what vehicles to buy."
Although Force sees his daughter in a Super Comp dragster for the immediate future, he thinks her natural progression should be from Super Comp to Federal Mogul Dragster to Top Fuel dragster to Funny Car.
In the meantime, the nine-time Auto Racing All-American's legacy appears to be in very good hands.
Dave Densmore, a paid columnist for DRO, also works for John Force.
Photo of Densmore by Jeff Burk
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