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.”
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.