National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Ashley Force Hood
October 21, 2009
MICHAEL PADIAN: Two-time -- NHRA Larry Dixon who drives the Al-Anabi dragster. It's been a crapshoot all year with yourself, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher winning five races each.
What do you expect over these final two races and what do you think will be the difference?
LARRY DIXON: Well, it has been kind of open, open season, as far as being able to get wins. Last week just saw Brandon get his first win in almost two years, so that was -- it's just kind of how the season has been going. If one car kind of falls off, the other one steps up to the plate and gets it done.
You know, legitimately, there's two or three, probably four cars that can still win the championship, and it's going to come down to, you know, you're still in charge of your own destiny. If you out there and you win out those two races, you've done as much as you can do and hope it's enough and try and get the Full Throttle Championship and obviously bring it home to the Al-Anabi team is what we are looking for.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Larry trails Tony Schumacher by 47 points, Cory McClenathan is in third place 68 points back, and Antron Brown is in fourth place, 81 points back, effectively, that's four rounds with eight rounds of racing left for the two race, 20 points per round.
Ashley Force Hood is the third-year driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Ashley has won twice this season, been to seven final rounds and currently trails teammate Robert Hight by 14 points as she seeks to become the first female driver in NHRA history to win a championship in the Funny Car class.
Can you share with us the mood of the team entering these final two championship-deciding races in Vegas and Pomona?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: We are really pumped. We have had a really great season. We are right where we want to be up there in the top couple of spots, but a lot can change in these final two races and obviously we are aware of that. We know that we are second, Robert is first and we are only a few points behind him, yet there is a handful of guys that are right behind us.
So we are just going to try to do the best we can and enjoy this. And it can get easy to get caught up in the stress of it all and getting nervous about it and anxious, but we are really trying to look at it from another point of view and say, our third year in, we are battling for the NHRA Championship. That's a pretty neat spot to be in, especially as a relatively newer team compared to a lot of the teams we compete with.
So we are trying to enjoy this and not let the stress and nervousness of it take over the fun of it, which is getting to be in this competition and having the car that has the capability of winning a championship.
Q. Larry, how satisfying is it for you being the first year with this team doing as well as you have done, because a lot of people thought, okay, new team, you have to have break-in time, learning time, seasoning among all members of the team. How are you feeling about your great performance so far this year?
LARRY DIXON: I'm feeling great about it. You know, winning five races so far, you know, I mean, that's -- I had not won five races in three years.
So to be able to do that in one season is good. But you know, the rest of the guys on the team, Alan and Jason and the rest of the Al-Anabi team, this is an off-year for them. Last year they won 15 races. So they are sorting things out and getting things going and just, you know, probably since maybe Braynard (ph) just before Indy, the cars really stepped up their performance. We have been -- if we have not been on pole, we have been close to pole just about every event. And I really think that, you know, we have contended for wins at every event we have gone to.
So it's good. You know, I know some of the guys -- this season is not over with, but a lot of the guys on the team are looking forward to this winter. It's going to be a lot calmer. Last year they didn't even have a shop to work in at this point in the season. Everybody was still on their old jobs.
So to be able to still have the opportunity to win a championship, you know, in the fashion that Alan and the guys have done in the past where they are not leading the points, and there's two races to go and we are certainly in the mix of it. You know, we are certainly going to do our best to try and bring it home to the Al-Anabi team.
Q. Of course this is a top season for you, you seem to adapt to the Funny Car which is a very difficult car to drive as we all know; how have you accommodated adapting to the Funny Car so quickly and so well?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: When I started in '07, I think I had five years of racing some type of a car or another under my belt. So I had the basics of the burnout and the staging and all those kind of things. And I also tested for about a year and a half before I jumped into the Funny Car, which I don't know if a lot of people realize that.
We would stay, because I was racing my A/Fuel Dragster and other teams were racing the Funny Car and we would stay on Mondays and I would jump into dad's car or Robert's or Eric's and test. It wasn't that I was getting ten runs a day or anything, but a couple here or there every week after the national event, I think really helped me to kind of get a good baseline for once our 2007 season started and we went to testing and went all-out with that.
But it's really a big advantage that I've had that when I look at a lot of other teams and a lot of other drivers, you know, people moving in the ranks and teams that have struggled, a big advantage that I have is that we have the financial backing; that they give me a really good new car, good new parts, and we have all of the great pieces together and it makes my learning curve. I think it lessens it a lot because I can really focus on my driving and learning those mistakes and you're not trying to learn how to drive a car while it's having motor problems and parts failure and that side sort of a thing.
I think it's unfortunate for the teams that do have lower budgets that I think they get maybe picked on a little more because their car isn't performing, a lot of people want to look at the driver, but a lot of times it is just if you just don't have the right pieces together, your car is not going to be able to go down the track and make good runs. The car, the seat that I was able to move into in '07, and the same seat that I'm in now, they have always given me a really great -- all of the tools that I need. It really lessens I think the mistakes that I was making.
As usual, I still made plenty of mistakes. That's not to say anything about that. But I think it would have been a lot harder if I didn't have the tools and just the right parts and pieces in this Funny Car. It made my learning curve easier.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Footnote in the Funny Car race. Of the Top-10 drivers if Funny Car competing for the championship, only two have previously won championships, that's John Force and Tony Pedregon. And of course those names I mentioned, only Tony Pedregon is among the top six drivers. So five of the top six drivers who are within 86 points of the championship have not previously won a championship. So very good chance that we'll have a first-time champion in Funny Car.
A note to follow up on Larry's reference to five wins this season, that gives him 48 wins in his career, that ties him with Jeg Coughlin for ninth place on the all-time NHRA wins list, and those two drivers are one victory behind Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, who is eighth on the all-time list.
In the other classes in Pro Stock, Mike Edwards has not yet clinched the title but he was 128-point lead over Greg Anderson. If he leaves Las Vegas with 151-point lead or greater, he will have clinched in Las Vegas. Otherwise Pro Stock will come down to Pomona, and in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana leads Eddie Krawiec by 28 points, and the next closest rider is Michael Phillips with 165 points.
Q. How about you racing your teammate for a possible title here in Funny Car?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: It's the best spot that we could be in. At the beginning of the year when we have our big team meetings and we get ready to head off to the winter nationals, that's always our goal if we can at the end of the year when we are back on Pomona for the world finals, if we can have our own teammates battling for the championship, there's no better scenario because we are going to win no matter how the day ends up.
Obviously Robert and I are not the only ones, but we are the ones -- we are one and two. So they are going to have to catch up and go around us. So if we can just keep doing what we have been doing and not have anything go wrong, no mistakes, no mess-ups, just the tuners can get Vegas and Pomona figured out as far as the tuneup and how they want to set up the car, we just better our chances of getting the championship.
It's fun and it's exciting for both Robert and I. He's been close so many years. This is my first time really being right in the mix of it being down to the last two races, so it's exciting for both of us and for our team. For my team, being a newer team to be in this; and for his team from the other angle of being out here a lot of years, and yet having such a tough season that they were able to kind of come around and do what they can do.
All of the guys are pumped up and we are ready to head off to Vegas. We still have to wait another week but we are excited.
Q. What kind of relationship, if any, do you have with Tony Schumacher? Is he a guy you enjoy racing against, or is he a guy that is just tired of being at the top of the game for so long?
LARRY DIXON: I get along great with Tony. You know, we will trade texts during the week and the like and he definitely -- at the end of the day for the last five years, he's had the No. 1 on the car, everybody has been trying to take him out.
So for me, it's the same thing. I mean, you can be buddies in the staging lanes but as soon as you throw the helmet on, light the car up, it's game on. We are going to go out there and do everything we can to bring the Al-Anabi team home a win.
But he's got the same thing on me. I've read and heard him say, you know, he gets pumped up when he races us and a lot of the guys on that team is his old team. But for me, when I look over it's still the Army car and he's still got No. 1 on it. So I'm trying to do everything I can to help change that.
Q. For both of our guests, this break between -- well, the three-week break before Las Vegas, would you prefer to have moved this up a little bit, or is this break coming at just the right time to kind of regroup and get things together for the final two races?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: All of the team, especially the crew members, they really needed a break, just to go home, get their mail, see their wives and their kids and just to have a little time to kind of relax and get ready so that we are all ready to go and pumped up and ready to focus for the final two races.
So it is kind of the perfect timing. It is a little strange when we get back to Vegas; that first day is odd when you have not been to the track for a couple of weeks to get yourself organized and get back into your routine of a race day and qualifying and everything like that.
But I think it was well needed and I think it really adds to the excitement that the fans have had to race a couple of weeks and now you'll get to see the final two big championship races. It was perfectly -- I think it was right what everybody needed.
And a funny thing I was actually thinking a couple of minutes ago during one of my answer that was rambling on, I thought, you know, I haven't done an interview in about a week and it really shows.
That's probably the one thing about the drivers, it seems when you jump right back this your race car, it comes right back to you, because it's not something you're thinking about, it's more your body is reacting in a race car.
But the talking side of things I'll definitely need to be warming up and finding my words in the next week to be ready for Vegas, because I feel like I'm mumbling a lot today.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Larry, what about you, the break after the four straight races to The Countdown?
LARRY DIXON: You know, it is what it is. I think if you ask most racers, they would like to race every weekend because they love racing.
But it certainly affords a team, you know, after four in a row, I mean, that's -- you'd have to go back to the few years to go into even rain outs where we have had -- where we have run four in a row. It's been a while.
So you know, it let's the teams go over the cars and go over all of the engines and just have everything restocked up, let them catch their breath, check in with their families, pay their bills and get ready to head out west and go to Vegas and Pomona, because that's -- and it's nice to have everything restocked and have all of your batteries recharged and get back out there for those last two events because that's, everything is on the line for those two.
MICHAEL PADIAN: And one of the things on the line is the chance for Ashley to become the first female to win a championship in the Funny Car division. Of course females have won championships before in NHRA, Shirley Muldowney won three championships in Top Fuel, and Angel Sampey won three championships in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Ashley, would you talk for just a second about if you've thought about that and what historically it would mean in the sport for to you win a championship in Funny Car?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I think it's not such a big deal to me and the main reason is, I am a female driver, I had nothing to do with that, God makes that decision, and my parents, and I also have a team of ten men that work on my core. If you've ever seen me trying to work on an automobile, you know I would not be second in the points for the championship if I was working on it. But it's them and me together as a team. We are the ones going out for the championship, not just me as an individual.
Now, some day, I think if we could get an all-female team, that would be pretty amazing to have the mechanics, the tuners and the driver. That would be something to really -- I hope that I get to see that in my lifetime and I think it will happen. More and more women are just moving up in the ranks. There are so many girls in junior drag racing and sportsmen categories and those are the ones that will move up into the professional level. I think that will come.
And if wasn't me, I happen to be the one in Funny Car right now and with a great team so, we have, you know, both -- all of the variables that we need to go after a championship. But I think if it wasn't me, there will be another girl that will come along over the years, and I think it will happen eventually. It's just a matter of when and hopefully it will happen for us this year.
Q. You're 47 points behind with these eight rounds of racing left; are you of the mind-set that you have no margin for error and that you must really sweep points and qualifying, you have no margin for error anymore?
LARRY DIXON: I mean, you know, the way we have been going in qualifying, we have been able to make up over the last couple of events, make up more than a round of races, just in those bonus points for qualifying. Seven points back on that side of things, you know, so if you made up four points per event, now you're less than two rounds back, and if you went out and you're racing Tony, then you're still in charge of your own destiny.
I know our team has very high standards, and as all the teams that are competing out there, you know, whether it's for the championship or not; everyone is going to go out there and try and win. But if we -- if we do win out, then we don't need anything to happen to anybody. There's nothing -- you know, they give us 24 events to get it done, and the rules are the same for everybody, and so we'll do our best and hope it's enough.
Q. You often get questions about your dad, and you were talking about being the first female to get a Funny Car title, but what's a comment you would have maybe about being a member of a family of racing daughters, and what do you think about the different personalities of your sisters and what do you share with your sisters about racing?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Well, they grew up at the races just like I did. There's photos in all of us in diapers at the track and everything. So they have the same memories and upbringing really of drag racing as I did, and I think that's really why there are the three of us are racing.
I know to the outside world it might seem a little strange that three sisters race cars. But to anybody who knows anything about drag racing, that's not such a far-fetched idea because we grew up around it and it's what we love to do and what we want to do on our weekends off and our summer breaks. There's a lot of kids, whether they are boys or girls that grew up in racing that ended up having a career in it.
So it's pretty common when you look out at even in the professional pits, the Worshins (ph), Morgan Lucas, Bernsteins, there's a lot of families and a lot of drivers that grew up around the tracks and ended up in seats or tuning on cars or somehow involved in the sport.
So it's neat to be able to share that with them, and also with our dad, it's not like we had very much in common with him had we were in kids. We were all at cheerleading and dance and school and everything and he was off racing. But how it has come full circle and we are out at the tracks a lot on weekends together and I get to see them a lot more, and my mom comes to every one of our events. And it's fun for us and it's really allowed us to spend a lot of time together that you wouldn't have if your family wasn't out there on the road with you. They are both in college right now, Brittany and Courtney both are, and so I'm impressed that they are able to balance both.
When I moved up to A/Fuel Dragster, which is what they race now, I had just graduated from college a month earlier and then I started the season. So I never had to do the homework at the track and all that with the A/Fuel car, and they somehow managed to make it happen. I saw Brittany this morning, and she was like, "I was up till three in the morning doing homework." And I remember those days.
But when you throw in that a lot of your weekends are spent around the country, it does make it hard. But they are enjoying it. They seem to like it. It is a crazy schedule that they live but they seem to enjoy it and they like doing both, and they do really well in the dragster and the fans are excited to see them out there racing.
So it's been fun to watch as they have moved up the ranks, they did supercom and they are in A/Fuel now, and I love the A/Fuel dragster that I raced. It's a really, really fun category and they are really enjoying it, as well.
Q. You talked about competing against Schumacher but McClenathan has come up strong; how much of a spoiler might he be in these last two races?
LARRY DIXON: Well, as tight as the fields are, we have had races -- and I can't think of which one it was over the last three or four, where the whole field was within a tenth of a second, which I think was tighter than Pro Stock at that point. So anybody can win. But obviously Cory's car, with him driving and Todd and Phil tuning, yeah, they are in the mix every week. That car is always real close to running top speed.
So, yeah, he's definitely another guy that you have to look out for. If you can roll up and you can stage your car on Sunday, you've got a car that can win the event. You just hope you're driving the right one and you're in the right lane for it when it happens.
But certainly Cory is doing real great.
Q. Which of the Top Fuel rookies has been most impressive, John or Spencer?
LARRY DIXON: I wouldn't even -- I'm glad I'm not voting for Rookie of the Year because I think both of them have done an unbelievable job in the car. You know, Spencer, you'd have to give him the nod because he's won.
But as far as driving goes, the driver doesn't have control of the tuneup of the cars. You can't shut down Shawn because he was not won an event. And he has not won an event because it's been his fault; he's done a great job. I mean, both of those kids are doing great in the car. They are going down the center of the track and you know, when the car starts to nose over, they are clicking it off. They are it doing everything right.
I think it's a pick 'em. As a former Rookie of the Year, I'm kind of excited to see who gets to join the class, because I think they are certainly deserving and very, very representative.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks everyone for joining us today.
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