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National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Drag Racing Topics:  NHRA

National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Ashley Force Hood
April 29, 2008


THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everyone to this teleconference for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Joining us on the teleconference is the driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, Ashley Force. As many of you know, Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Georgia, Ashley became the first woman in NHRA history to win a event in Funny Car beating her father, four-time world champion and NHRA legend, John Force, in the final round of eliminations.
As well, Ashley is the first woman to ever lead the point standings in Funny Car, and her win on Sunday gave her a 59-point cushion over second-place Tim Wilkerson.
Ashley has been in back-to-back-to-back final rounds this season and has a round win/loss record of 13 and 4 for the year.
Ashley, now that everything is calmed down and you've had a chance to reflect on your win this past weekend, what are your thoughts on not only getting your first career win but having it come against your father?
ASHLEY FORCE: It's been a long road. Started in '07 in Funny Car and had so many ups and downs and struggles with the car, and having a new team and driver and everything brand-new, but we were able to build on that and the same group of guys joined me this year in the '08 season and it was exciting to kind of step up, go to the next level, be going around, going to finals. We knew if we kept getting to finals, we'd eventually get a win. We had to be patient and keep doing what we were doing.
But it was a great night for us. My team is still texting me. Some texted last night, Can you believe it? It's not a dream. We're reading it in the newspapers.
We're so excited our day finally came.
THE MODERATOR: You had an eventful week. And you've gone back-to-back-to-back in the final rounds. I know you mentioned before that you were focused on winning races, not necessarily the point standings. But making it to the final round that many times has got to help your chances looking into the countdown to the championship this year.
ASHLEY FORCE: Absolutely. Our car is very consistent, and that's the key in drag racing. If you can have consistency, it's going to pay off. So we're just trying to stay focused, not get caught up in everything. It's so easy. You don't want to be looking at the points every round seeing where you're at. And it changes so quickly that we're really trying to not get into that. It would only distract us from what our main goal is, and that's to win rounds, because you can't win races without doing that.
But it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Especially my whole life watching my dad win championships and now with my team to be at the top of the pack, we're very motivated and excited. And we just want to stay ahead of the rest of the guys and gals.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Ashley.

Q. You've said before that you learned from the best, meaning your dad. And I'm wondering, when you made it to the two final rounds twice before then, what kind of advice did your dad give you?
ASHLEY FORCE: He actually came in and said: You know, you don't need any of my advice; you just keep doing what you're doing because you're going rounds.
He didn't want to change our routine. We have our own way of doing things in our camp. He taught me when I started and now he's kind of letting me find my own way, learn from my own mistakes.
But the biggest thing that he talked to me about was in the past month, was just to stay focused and not let the mental side of things get into our minds: Oh, we can't get past this final round. Because going to the finals is a good thing. We're happy to be there. And we knew if we could just not get in our minds that we can't get past the final, then we'd be all right.
So he kind of just talked to me about staying focused and all the craziness. Not changing our routine, doing what we always do. And it's been paying off for us.

Q. I wanted to ask you a question, because Danica Patrick just won her first IndyCar race not that long ago, and I was rather disappointed to see general lack of respect from the Indy Racing League, who are spouting off with all kinds of ideas and stories about her being the first female driver to win a major automobile race, which we know isn't true because Shirley Muldowney was winning races back in the '70s. I don't know if you're aware of that or if you would have a comment on anything like that.
ASHLEY FORCE: It's frustrating for those in drag racing. We've had such a history of females doing great in drag racing. But you don't want to take anything from Danica. She did a great job. That's a tough motorsport to be in. I don't know really anything about that type of racing.
But I do know that growing up in racing I've watched Shirley Muldowney, Shelly Anderson, Angelle, just so many women win race after race, win championships. The gals in NHRA drag racing, they know what they're doing. And we're lucky to be in a sport that is open to having us there. They promote us. They're excited. Our competitors are happy to have us there.
So we know the truth, that we have a lot of gals that have done great things, but it's great for Danica as well. Never take anything away from her. I think we just -- you just want to bring the knowledge to everyone that there's a lot of different motorsports around here and there's a lot of women in all different kinds and all different levels. And we have some great ones in drag racing. They're the ones I've looked up to and followed, and I'm excited to now be in that lineup of winners.

Q. Are you ever going to let your younger sisters come to a race again?
ASHLEY FORCE: My younger sisters, they'll be out in Topeka, I think is the next race that we'll take the dragster out to. They were so mad watching on -- they were actually listening online. We've joked it would happen when none of my family is there, but fortunately my mom was there. Of course my dad was there. They know next time they're going to be at the next race. They'll be in St. Louis and told them, We'll just have to do it again when you're there.

Q. After you left the pressroom the other night in Atlanta, Mike Edwards, the Pro Stock winner, was saying he was rooting for you because if NHRA is going to move closer to NASCAR, you are the one leading they way. Is that a role you're comfortable with, and, if so, how do you go about doing that without letting your focus be distracted away from your racing focus?
ASHLEY FORCE: First, that was such a nice thing for him to say. I read it in an article actually this morning that someone had sent me. And just a very nice man. I never really talked with him before. We both were riding up to the Winner's Circle together. It was just a really fun night to be with those guys, just such nice guys that won in all the categories. Made it very exciting for me.
But as far as taking drag racing to the next level, that's what we're all trying to do. Not just John Force Racing, but all the teams out here. That's why we love what we do. We get to do something exciting. The fans love it. And that's the best way to promote our sport, is you really just show what it is, it is what it is; that it's an exciting sport, once you watch it you're addicted to it, you can't stop watching it. I'm excited to be a part of that. If I can bring more fans, more female fans, more kids, that's what I want to do. Because I was a kid growing up in drag racing. I loved it.
It's been a great part of my life. I've learned a lot from it. Things you wouldn't even think that you'd learn. I did college and I did schooling, but in drag racing you really learn about teamwork and you learn about staying focused and going after your goals, and no matter what the case is. And I think it's a great sport. It's a family sport. And I'm happy to be a part of it.

Q. When you were out here promoting, you said when you're here you get all these teachers and former classmates and everything come over and say hi and whatever. Have you gotten response or any kind of e-mails, any calls, anything from anybody from your past like that, since this happened?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, I'm still going through text messages. I got off the plane and I probably had over 20 text messages and 15 phone messages. They were all just from my family and friends and relatives. But I did have an e-mail from one of my professors at Cal State Fullerton. I saved it because I wanted to answer back to him. I haven't written back to him.
Yeah, it's neat that people still keep up. Friends I had long ago when I was in high school texted me and sent me messages they watched and seen it on TV. They were really excited. It's neat. It shows that even years later, people I don't see very often, they still follow the sport and they were excited to see us do so well.

Q. I was going to ask you, at a local track this last weekend we had more girls than boys competing in the junior dragster division for the first time. Is there any particular reason you think that girls are being attracted to drag racing now?
ASHLEY FORCE: I think that's great. And I think there's a lot of women kind of out in the media right now that are racing, but there's been a lot of women involved for years. It's just maybe being brought more to the forefront. But I think you're going to keep on seeing young girls getting into junior drag racing and young boys, because it's an opportunity that maybe isn't so in other types of motorsports, that you're able at age seven or eight to climb into a race car and race at the same tracks that the professional drivers race at.
It's a great -- it's what I love about drag racing. And I get asked a lot why there's maybe more women in drag racing than other types. And I think it's because NHRA offers so many different categories that you can jump into. You don't have to just jump into a 330-mile-an-hour race car. You can bring your street cars to the track. There's the sportsman, all the sportsman categories in junior racing. That's where a lot of families will bring their children, boys and girls, and they're the ones that get the racing bug and it gets in them and they want to keep doing it.
So I'm sure you'll continue to see more, and I think that's just great.

Q. Your dad was really subdued and I don't know if he just wanted you to have your own moment in the spotlight or if he was still kind of frustrated because this was a big moment to come back after his crash and this is the closest he's gotten to winning again. Was it all very confusing for him or how did you handle him and how did he handle you, I guess? And the other question was, IHRA, Laurie Cannister, won her second race this year. They've only had two races over there and she won them both. She's had the quickest and fastest car in every round of eliminations and qualifying. And nobody once asked her about being a woman. Are you excited about the day when people will just say, hey, the girl won, and it will just be Ashley Force, driver?
ASHLEY FORCE: I think every female driver, deep down, we really want to be recognized as how we are as a driver. Really the girl/guy thing, it's exciting for the fans and media. But as drivers as we work and train with our teams, we want to be recognized just for whether we're doing well or not. But as drivers.
And sometimes it's hard because I get all the attention for being a gal in the seat, yet I have a group of ten guys on my team that work 24/7 on that race car and give me a safe, good race car. I feel they need more credit. They're the ones. If it was an all-female team, that would be cool. Some day that would be pretty awesome.
But for now I've got a great group of guys. I wouldn't be in the driver seat and I wouldn't be winning races without them. I always want to remind people of that, that I am a gal and I do like being a girl in racing, I do love my team and they're a great group of guys.
And for the first question, the question about Dad, yeah, he was very quiet. I think he was trying to give me my space and let me do my thing. And I didn't mind. I would have loved to have him up there and around me. He always worries that he's stepping on my turf or something, and that's not how I feel at all. It was exciting to race him.
I learned everything from him, and I really enjoyed it. That's why I chose the Funny Car class, so I could race with him. But I also think it was a long day for everyone, the fans and the teams and with the rain on and off. It was a strange day. And when we ended it it was nighttime, and I think everyone was just so excited but kind of exhausted that we made it through the day, that we had two of our teams in the final round.
You couldn't ask for anything more than that when you have team cars. So we were real happy. He was real happy for our team and just happy that we got the race to happen that day. We weren't sure in the morning, when I got up I didn't think we'd be racing that day, but it turned out to be a great day for us, and Dad was very proud.

Q. Ashley, are there any other plans this week for you to do any national media? I know you were on Tony Stewart's SIRIUS program last night. But is there anything else, TV or stuff?
ASHLEY FORCE: After this conference call we're going to be doing a satellite media tour. I sound like I know what I'm talking about, but I don't quite know. But I think it's reaching out to different media across the country. So I know we're doing that.
And I have Elon and Dave and Kelly. Poor Elon, I picked on him this week because he's got me so busy. But that's his job and he's trying to get it out there, let people know about our day and everything. So I'm not sure what's lined up next. I'll check my e-mails after we finish everything today and see where we go.
All I know for sure is I'm heading to St. Louis on Thursday. I can't miss that one.

Q. Danica Patrick got her first win recently too, of course. And many say finally. But often overlooked is her performance, her consistency over many races to get where she is. Now you get your first win. Do you think your consistency, your performance has been overlooked as well?
ASHLEY FORCE: No, I think that we kept going to the finals and we knew if we just stuck to it we were going rounds. We were able to take the points lead. It's so tough. You get frustrated because in drag racing we want everything in less than five seconds and it's so easy for us to be like, oh, we haven't won a race, we want to win a race.
But in the big scheme of things, I'm racing people, some with over 30 years' experience, with championships under their belts, including my dad and Scelzi. So many great drivers out there. We have to take a step back and say, let's look at this the right way. We're happy to go rounds. We're happy to get to finals. If we can get that win, that would be great. But we also know how tough this category is.
It's not just going to be something that's easy that happens. It's going to take a lot of work and effort and we can't give up. That's how we looked at things.

Q. Ashley, are you glad the way that it happened with the way it did with your dad in the opposite lane, or a part of you wished that maybe it would have been somebody else over there and your dad could have been the starting lines just cheering you on?
ASHLEY FORCE: Well, I had mixed emotions. And it really doesn't matter. It is what it is. But you never want to race your teammate. But yet you really want to have two teams in the finals. So it was a strange night. It was such a late night, and it was odd, the whole thing. But it was fun to get to race against him and to have to beat some of the best of the best to get to that final. It was a tough weekend. Each of our rounds were tough competitors.
So it makes us proud that we were able to get through all those great teams and great drivers, and we ended up standing at the end of it all. It was fun racing his team. We were making all kinds of jokes on the radio before we got -- before we got up to run. I was actually joking with his crew chief, Austin Coil, because I was his flowergirl in his wedding when I was five. I got on the radio and said, Do you really want to beat your flowergirl? And he gets on and just very calmly quietly says, Yes. You could hear all the guys laughing.
It was fun to race against some of the greatest buddies in life. They work on my dad's team, but then you think I had to beat my dad to do it. But if that's what it's going to take, that's what we're going to do.

Q. I know afterward you said you'd always like try to plan what you would say if you won. Obviously you were thinking about it for a while. Now that you got it, did it actually end up feeling to you like you thought it would or was it not actually what you dreamed it would be like, or more?
ASHLEY FORCE: It was a real mix of emotions, and it really wasn't until today that I could really fully enjoy it. I think it was such an exhausting day with the weather changes and the emotions of it. I mean, I had never realized before I climbed in the Funny Car how mentally taxing it can be.
When you go up and you're geared up to run and they started our cars for the final, then it started sprinkling, then they shut them down, then it was like a mad rush to get the tools, to get the car back where it needed to be, get it refueled or whatever they had to do. And you're sitting there watching all this chaos and you're trying to keep yourself calm. That wasn't how I wanted to go into that round. I was distracted. I didn't feel how I normally felt going into a run. I didn't know what the car was going to do, because we've never had that situation where we started up and shut down before.
So I wasn't as excited as I had thought I would be. When I won the semis and Dad won, I was so pumped. Let's go up and run together. When it came down to it, it was just kind of some craziness that went on. But we got to the end. We won the race. I didn't know what had happened to Dad.
Then it was just a whirlwind of, you know, running here and there and interviews. And the one thing I was really hoping was to get back to my team, and after we got everything done, finally I was able to meet back up with them in the Winner's Circle. That's when I started to enjoy myself to realize what had just happened.
But it took a whole day and a half, really, for it to kick in. Yesterday we flew home. Got home. I did my call-ins. I was in bed by 8:30. I was just exhausted, was getting sick. I think when your body kind of takes all that in, kind of like the kid at Christmas opens all the Christmas presents and eats all the candy, is so excited, then gets sick at the end of it all, just a little too much. That's kind of how I felt when I got home yesterday. I was overwhelmed by the phone calls. It was all great things, but it was a lot to take in and I never expected that.
But when I woke up this morning I had a full night's rest. Got home, got unpacked. I got up and I was just really happy this morning when I woke up. I was able to look back and go: We did it. It was a lot of craziness and it was tough, but we made it through and it was such a special day to get -- I've got flowers today and just a fun experience. But it was tough for a while. It was stressful would be the best word to describe it.
But in drag racing, that's part of it: Stress. I just have to learn to deal with it a little better.

Q. We'll be welcoming you to St. Louis for the Gateway Race. When you've had success like you've done, do you readjust your long-range goals or do you just take it week by week?
ASHLEY FORCE: I think every team is different. We're taking it week by week. We know in drag racing you can go from hero to zero easily. So we really want to keep focused. We've left Atlanta with a win but we want to go into St. Louis, and first things first, we want to get qualified. That's all that's important to us. Then from there we want to go rounds. And hopefully win again. But you can't get that win until you do all the steps before that.
So we're trying to keep calm and focused and not let one win take us away from our main focus, which is our race car and doing well.

Q. Ashley, two-part question, you mentioned that one of the things that you have to work on is dealing with stress. The victory is unquestionably only going to increase your popularity, which will bring more attention on the championship and probably mean some more demands on your time. So have you given any thought about that and how to deal with what will undoubtedly be increased popularity? And second of all, is it important to you personally to now have your own place in history separate from your father?
ASHLEY FORCE: For the first question, yes, you know, each event that we go to I learn new ways to kind of manage my schedule, manage my time and to be able to do everything I need to do in a weekend.
There's no point in doing a bunch of interviews or signing a bunch of autographs if you can't say what you want to say and be the person that you want to be. And there's sometimes when it just gets so crazy that you feel like you're not doing anything right. You feel like you weren't how you wanted to be with the fans or you said the wrong thing in your interview. And that's the biggest thing I'm trying to work on, is when I'm in my car I need to be focused and drive the car as best I can.
When I'm doing an interview, I need to be focused there and do the interview. And that's just something that will take time and I will learn to do. I think the more I do it, the easier it will get.
But it's part of it. And that's part of winning. Focus is a huge part of it. It's not just the car or the sponsors or the driver, it's can you put all those things together and can you, under pressure, still perform. And that just depends on the team. So we're working on that. And we won Atlanta, but now our goal is to win the next race. So we'll start again on Thursday and we'll try to do that again.
And for the second question was being a part of history. I'm just excited to be in NHRA drag racing. It's such a fun sport. They make it fun for everyone. There's so many great things that it offers. I invite friends all the time, come out. You're not even going to believe all the stuff you can see when you come out to a race, other than racing.
And it's neat to be now part of that history. And I hope to make more memories in it. And I hope to some day have a final against Melanie. I think a female and a female in the final that would be pretty neat. Maybe we'll make that happen. Maybe in St. Louis.
THE MODERATOR: Ashley, thank you for joining us today.



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