Ashley Force Hood announced Tuesday that she is expecting her first child and will temporarily step away from competition in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series to focus on family and other responsibilities.
“This past November, after watching my dad clinch his 15th championship, Dan and I decided we would try to start a family,” the 2007 NHRA Rookie of the Year (with husband, LEFT) said in a media conference at John Force Racing's headquarters in Yorba Linda, Calif. “We knew it was unlikely to happen in such a short amount of time and, if it didn't, I could still race the 2011 season and we'd try again next winter.
“We felt that if God wanted it to happen, it would happen. Well, God didn't waste any time and I am pregnant and due at the end of the summer. Dan and I know there is always a risk at the beginning of a pregnancy so we waited as long as possible to say anything to make sure everything was all right and there were no problems,” she said.
“I will be taking off this season, but I will still represent Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource and Mac Tools; will still be involved in media, commercials and interviews; and will definitely still be rooting on my teammates to go after that 2011 championship.”
Force Hood also will spend time coaching youngest sister Courtney, who this year will be testing a BrandSource Ford Funny Car in anticipation of a later pro debut.
“I am excited to help my sister Courtney as she begins testing in fuel Funny Car,” Ashley said, “and I am very interested in seeing how she deals with Dad! Handling 8,000 horsepower will be the easy part.”
Mike Neff will take Force Hood's place on the team, but will drive the car in which Force himself won the 2010 championship – and he'll tune it, too.
Neff (RIGHT), the 2008 NHRA Rookie of the Year, was a Top 10 finisher in both 2008 and 2009. He won the season-ending 2009 Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona to become the first driver in 40 years to win an NHRA tour event in an all-Ford Funny Car – a Mustang powered by the JFR-developed BOSS 500 Ford engine.
When the economy compelled Force to downsize in 2010, reducing his rolling inventory from four Funny Cars to three, Neff hung up his helmet and assumed primary tune-up responsibilities on the Force-driven Mustang that had won just once in the two previous seasons.
Force won his first race with Neff at the helm, then sealed the championship by winning the last two events of the 2010 season, giving Neff the unusual distinction of becoming the first to win a Funny Car race (the Auto Club Finals) one year as a driver and the next as a crew chief.
“Neff showed me that he could do double-duty two years ago,” Force said. “When John Medlen had to step back for his health, that team never missed a beat with Neff tuning it and driving it. That's how it used to be, back in the match race days. You did everything. You financed it, you tuned it, you drove it and then you drove the truck to the next race. Neff has that mentality. If anybody can wear both hats, it's him.”
Neff's new driver-tuner designation means that the team that directed Force to six 2010 victories and a record 15th individual championship essentially will remain intact with primary sponsorship from Castrol GTX and Ford. The only significant change will be Dan Hood's new responsibilities in assisting with tune-up.
Force, meanwhile, will move over one pit spot to drive for crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas and the team that sent Force Hood to consecutive victories in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and second- and third-place finishes in Full Throttle points in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Force's Mustang will return to familiar Castrol GTX High Mileage livery this season.
Finally, Force announced that he is promoting his son-in-law, 2009 NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight, to president of the Yorba Linda-based drag racing dynasty that has won 17 of the last 21 NHRA Funny Car titles. Force outlined the new structure in which he will assume the position of CEO.
Hight, who started his career at JFR as a crewman in 1995, steadily assumed more responsibilities including facility manager of the Yorba Linda shop, test driver and, finally, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang in which he has won 18 NHRA tour events.
“Robert and my daughter Adria (Hight's wife and current JFR CFO) will run this company long after I am gone,” Force said. “Adria has been with this company her whole life. She used to sit in my lap and steer my truck. She had been running the business side with my brother-in-law David Arritt for over a decade.
"Robert is a strong leader and he understands every side of this company. He lives it just like I do every day of the year. At Thanksgiving, he and I always wind up going off in a corner and talking about business,” added Force.
For Hight, this is just another acknowledgment of his dedication to John Force Racing and particularly to his father-in-law.
“I have the highest respect for John. He never stops thinking about how to make this company better for everyone – from the crew guys to the crew chiefs to the sponsors to the fans. There is no way I could ever replace him and, trust me he isn't going anywhere. I am excited to continue learning from him. This is an exciting day for me and Adria,” said Hight.