Ashley Force Hood will be the first to admit that after landing a lackluster eighth-place effort in the regular season, she wasn't expecting to be suddenly thrust into the playoff spotlight in the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. But that's what a stellar performance at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals can do for a driver in the blink of an eye. Now she heads to this weekend's round 2 of the Countdown to One in the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Charlotte's zMax Dragway.
Force Hood raced to her first victory of the season at the Labor Day event and in the process moved four positions up the Funny Car championship ladder, within striking distance of her 14-time world champ father, series leader John Force. The victory, along with the generous points reset for the six-race Countdown playoffs, have given new life to the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car team, who was able to post only two runner-up finishes during the 17-race Countdown to 10.
Force Hood will try to continue her march to join Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey as the only female world champions in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series at the third annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, Sept. 16-19 at spectacular zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C. Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the race, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD and ESPN3.com.
Additionally, Force Hood would become the first female to ever win a title in the 7,000-horsepower Funny Car category. She says despite the early season struggles, which included seven first round losses and six second round exits, her team continued to work hard and focus on the Countdown. Now that they have the momentum early in the playoffs, they want to ride the wave.
"My team has stayed positive," said Force Hood, who now sits 69 points out of first. "We were hating the points structure last year, but we are loving it this year. You get a second start to your season."
Her victory at Indy could signal a warning sign for the competition. She qualified sixth and her car was very consistent and adaptable to different conditions throughout eliminations. Before taking out her famous father in the final, she beat playoff contenders Del Worsham and Jack Beckman in head-to-head meetings in earlier rounds.
"At one of the races, Guido (crew chief Dean Antonelli) said we are not going to win the championship on luck," Force Hood said. "We are going to win it on consistency and doing our job from one end of the track to the other."
She knows winning the title will be a tough chore. She finished second overall last season to teammate Robert Hight. In addition to the elder Force and Hight, there are a host of other drivers who are still in championship contention and hoping to add their names to the NHRA history book, including Beckman, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Bob Tasca, Worsham and Tim Wilkerson, among others.
"It is going to be interesting," Force Hood said. "It is going to be exciting. That is what the fans want to see and that is what we want to be a part of."