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And finally, there was what I think was a coming of age moment as a driver for Ashley Force Hood. First, let’s get one thing straight: Ashley Force Hood is a hell of a talented driver. Even if her dad put her in the best equipment, she's still won three Wallys at the U.S. Nationals, and no driver accomplishes that with just luck.
Second, if any other driver except the daughter of John Force won three U.S. Nationals Wallys with two of them coming in Funny Car so early in his or her career, we’d label him or her a future superstar.
Ashley Force Hood not only has to race in her famous father’s shadow, but she practically can’t do an interview without her dad getting in the camera, and even answering questions directed at her.
Her dad has carefully crafted her racing career to this point with a lot of PR help from various sponsor and team reps. I’ve never been able to get close to her like I have other John Force drivers. As a journalist, I found her to be somewhat choreographed in the way she spoke and reacted.
I never saw that spark of attitude that great drivers give off when they don’t want to talk or the attitude and single-mindedness that separates the good drivers from the great. Her dad has it, so did Prudhomme, Garlits, Muldowney, Jenkins, Glidden, and Foyt, just to mention a few. It’s that edginess that made interviews with them always interesting.
I can’t say the same for Ashley Force Hood. I got the vague feeling when interviewing her she was working off a set of PC rules and doing the racing gig ‘cause her dad expected her to. She was very good at what she was doing, and survived some scary incidents early on.
Until this past Sunday, I just didn’t get the feeling that she had bought in completely to the sport as a career. But I’ll tell you that her actions on Sunday not only convinced me that she is a driver first and politically correct second, but that she has that drive that separates the great ones from those that are merely good.
By the first round on Sunday, she was having as bad a weekend as a professional racer can have. She was the highlight reel from Friday when her blower exploded with enough force to launch the body. She got in her spare and qualified it, and then on the first round on Sunday she had the same engine explosion kill the body, any chance to win the race, and possibly any real chance to win the title. It was all gone in a flash of burning nitro and oil.
So as soon as an ESPN reporter could get to her she was asked the obvious question of what happened and what she would do. Her response was pure, unadulterated, pissed-off drag racer. The “Princess” answered by saying they had burnt all of their “crap” up this weekend. They'd just have to see what they could do!
For the first time I heard Ashley talking about her car using the same language that the crew and other drivers do. She spoke like a real racer.
And she made me a real fan of hers, both as a person and as a drag racer in that moment. I didn’t hear some PC drivel starting with the sponsors name and ending with the same. Instead, we got the unvarnished words of a disappointed driver who expected more from herself and her team.
And that, dear readers, is what I want from the drivers I root and care for. Maybe Ashley has been like this all along but only showed us the image her public, kitty-loving, sponsor-shilling persona required. Before, and even after, Castrol and Ford, honest and unpredictable was how her dad was. And that honesty and off-the-cuff speaking is one of the secrets to his popularity.
Well, with that candid assessment she convinced me that she is a racer first. In these politically correct days, I need all of those kinds of drivers and personalities I can get. And in this case, the father and daughter share those qualities and the sport is better off for it.