NHRA flashback: 10 years ago, Ashley Force became first woman to win a Funny Car race

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This weekend’s race at Atlanta Dragway marks a significant milestone in the world of drag racing: the 10th anniversary of Ashley Force Hood becoming the first woman to ever win an NHRA Funny Car event.

Force Hood earned her first career win in perhaps the hardest way of all: she defeated her father, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, in the final round of the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Force’s second-oldest daughter, Ashley not only laid the groundwork for sisters Brittany and Courtney, she also helped advance the success for female drag racers in general, particularly on the professional level in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Ashley’s NHRA tenure, however, was fairly short-lived: she retired from the sport following the 2010 season to start a family. Her career scorecard shows four professional-level wins in 16 final round appearances, including back-to-back triumphs in the sport’s biggest race of the year, the U.S. Nationals.

Today, she serves as a vice president of her father’s company, John Force Racing.

“Winning Atlanta in 2008 was a huge deal for me personally, for many different reasons,” Ashley Force Hood said in a recent interview. “It was my first win as a Funny Car driver, and I was the first female to win in that category which was special, but it also followed a very difficult 2007 season, losing our teammate Eric (Medlen) and my dad’s crash (at Texas in October of that year).

“To have a really happy moment at the track with my team, that is what made that day most special. And to get to compete against my father in the final round was really exciting. There wasn’t the nervousness or pressure that usually comes with a final round because JFR had already won the race. I remember being in the lanes with his team and mine, joking with each other and it was just a really great night.”

For Force Hood, she recalls the Atlanta win — the actual date was April 27, 2018 — as if it was yesterday with great recall.

“One unique memory about the win that not many people know is that I actually got really upset with my father on the starting line before the final,” Force Hood said. “We had done our burnouts and then it started to sprinkle and they shut us off.

“At the time we all had radios between teams and dad was freaking out on the radio about the safety of the track and if it was dry downtrack. Meanwhile I was trying to stay focused in my car.

“Looking back, I know yelling over the radio and talking nonstop was his way of keeping his energy up during the delay. But this was really distracting to me. I even remember wondering if he was trying to mess with me. I finally ripped the earplugs right out of my helmet. So I was actually really amped up and irritated by the time we started our cars and made the final run.”

Ashley Force Hood

Since Force Hood’s win, three other females have won in the Funny Car class, led by her sister, Courtney, who has gone on to become the winningest female driver in Funny Car history.

And other sister, Brittany, won the Top Fuel championship last season.

“I’m so proud of how well my sisters are doing in their careers, not only the driving part, but also handling the pressures that come along with it,” Force Hood said. “There’s so much more that goes into being a racer driver than just driving down a track.

“I’ve been especially proud of how they’ve handled this season, with the crashes we’ve had. That could easily get into a driver’s head and affect them but they’ve both won races despite the distractions and are having great seasons.

“And most importantly, they are enjoying it. They both are very close to their teams, have great relationships with their sponsors and really enjoy interacting with fans whether at a race or through social media.”


Female Funny Car wins since Ashley Force Hood’s first victory:

In the modern era of NHRA racing (1970 forward), there was not a woman Funny Car winner in 569 events. Since Force Hood’s win, women have won 19 of the last 231 Funny Car races.

1. April 27, 2008 Atlanta: Ashley Force defeated John Force

2. May 18, 2008 Bristol, Tenn.: Melanie Troxel defeated Mike Neff

3. March 29, 2009 Houston: Ashley Force Hood defeated Jack Beckman

4. Sept. 7, 2009 Indianapolis: Ashley Force Hood defeated Robert Hight

5. Sept. 6, 2010 Indianapolis: Ashley Force Hood defeated John Force

6. August 5, 2012 Seattle: Courtney Force defeated Matt Hagan

7. Feb. 17, 2013 Pomona, Calif.: Courtney Force defeated Ron Capps

8. June 23, 2013 Epping, N.H.: Courtney Force defeated John Force

9. Feb. 23, 2014  Phoenix: Alexis DeJoria defeated Robert Hight

10. March 30, 2014 Las Vegas: Alexis DeJoria defeated Robert Hight

11. May 25, 2014 Topeka, Kan.: Courtney Force defeated Cruz Pedregon*

12. July 27, 2014 Sonoma, Calif.: Courtney Force defeated John Force

13. Sept. 1, 2014 Indianapolis: Alexis DeJoria defeated John Force

14. Sept. 21, 2014 Dallas: Courtney Force defeated Del Worsham

15. Sept. 28, 2104 St. Louis: Courtney Force defeated Matt Hagan

16. April 3, 2016 Las Vegas: Alexis DeJoria defeated Del Worsham

17. May 1, 2016 Houston: Courtney Force defeated Tim Wilkerson

18. Aug. 20, 2017 Brainerd, Minn.: Alexis DeJoria defeated Tommy Johnson Jr.

19. Feb. 24, 2018 Phoenix: Courtney Force defeated Tommy Johnson Jr.

*100th win for women (in all pro classes) in the NHRA series.

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After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”