10 Minutes With Ashley
In her rookie year, 24-year-old funny car drag racer Ashley Force made NHRA history when she beat her father, John, the most decorated driver in the sport, in Atlanta in April. Ashley won the race with an elapsed time of 4.779 seconds, and a top speed of 317.05mph. She advanced to the semifinals, which tied for the highest ever Funny Car event finish for a female. Ashley, who’s been clocked at 324 mph, is one of only nine females to even qualify and the first woman in history to compete an entire season. Just back from Minnesota and on her way to Pennsylvania, Ashley stopped by Oakley headquarters yesterday, then took us to her favorite margarita spot on the lake…
Ok, for everyone who doesn’t know what funny car is…
It’s an NHRA drag racing class—the fastest field in the sport, zero to 324mph in about 4.6 seconds. Funny cars are long dragsters with big front-mounted engines and huge rear wheels. They’re different from top fuel because they have a body over the chassis. It’s the closest thing you can get to a nuclear explosion.
What is the driving experience like?
Because of the shorter wheel base, you have to drive aggressively. In A-field I didn’t really have to steer. In funny car, you really have to drive.
What do you think about when you’re in the car?
You really don’t have time to think. It happens so quick. I usually don’t even remember the race until 20-30 minutes afterwards. I have to do interviews right afterwards, but whatever I say isn’t really what happened in there. I can’t even put it into words.
I took a media class at the beginning of the year with a bunch of drivers to practice interviewing. I used to worry about crying if I lost or crashed, but the class told me there’s nothing wrong with showing some emotion.
You had a bad crash in Seattle earlier this year. What was that like?
Everything that could have gone wrong, did. I hit the wall, spun, caught on fire and the body came off. I was in shock. I knew I would crash, but I never thought I’d be facing the starting line. When I hit the wall, the impact was measured at 58 Gs. The fact I didn’t have a headache after that crash shows we’re going in the right direction making the sports safer.
How have things gotten safer in the sport?
Since Eric [Close friend and teammate Eric Medlan who died in March after a crash in Gainesville, Fla.] my dad’s number one priority has been making the sport safer. The extra padding on the side of the helmets is reducing vibrations. I went and had my ear filed with this gel that hardens and I now wear the piece. It has a radio by which I can hear the crew. It also measures the vibrations in the car, so they can see what I’m going through. We’ve come along way. Not too long ago a lot of teams just used simple padding designed to only take one hit, but they used the stuff over and over.
How do you stop your mind from wandering before a race?
I can’t think about it. There has been one fatal accident in 68 years of racing. Think about all the accidents on the freeway everyday.
You were obviously destined to be a race car driver…
I’ve definitely grown up in the sport. My dad was just getting into it when he met my mom. My dad was crashing all the time and they were sharing a hotel room with four other people. She mixed fuel, packed his chute.
My mom said I needed to get a college education before I could start racing full-time. I went to broadcasting school at Cal State-Fullerton and got a B.A. in communications with an emphasis in TV and video.
Did you think about taking any other path?
I thought about being a teacher…or a cop.
What do you do on the off season?
It’s a super short off-season—November through January. We are ordering new parts and organizing everything. But this year we’re going on a Carribean cruise.
When did you start racing?
I went to racing school in Pomona when I was 16 and was licensed in super comp. I raced A Fuel drag for three years then got into funny car. The tough part is finding a team that will let you get in a car. They cost $5,000 per run and that’s if nothing goes wrong. They can cost $200,000 to $500,000.
What does your dad think about his girls driving?
My two younger sisters drive and my older sister runs John Force Racing. He wanted boys and he got four girls. And my sister had a baby girl, so now it’s really funny.
Do you ever get tired of spending your life on the road?
Lately it’s been tough. Between a match race and rescheduling, we raced nine in a row. We spend the off weekends at home. My parents live in Yorba Linda and I’m in Anaheim Hills. I’ve been pretty homesick lately. But I threw the opening pitch for the OC Flyers last night and invited all my friends out, so I finally got to see everyone.
How did filming your reality show [Driving Force on A&E] affect your life?
I pretty much put my life on hold for six months two years in a row. They would even film during our off weekends at home. They followed us on a camping trip. My dad went skinny dipping and my niece started crying…after the reality show I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with cameras ever again!
There were times they’d film when I woke up. It was a lot harder than I thought. People notice me now—that never happened before the show. My mom gets it the most!
But you’ve been dealing with that your whole life…
It’s true, my mom gets hit on a lot. I remember this one time in church when I was little this guy kept looking at her. So I said really loudly, “Mom, dad called last night and he said he loves you.”
What is your most memorable moment in your four years with Oakley?
Probably when Deanna and Scott Olivet [Oakley CEO] picked me up in a limo and took me to a margarita bar, "my other favorite past time". It gets a little blury after that, but all I remember is ballrooom dancing with Scott and Deanna in a packed restaurant and it definitely wasn’t the kind of restaurant where people danced!