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Force Hood gets best of dad

9/6/2010

CLERMONT, Ind. -- The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series got a dream matchup for the Funny Car finals of the 56th annual Mac Tools U.S.
Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park.

John Force and his daughter Ashley Force Hood squared off in an all-Ford, all-Force final, with Ashley making a 4.141-second pass to win her second Funny Car "Wally" trophy in the past two years.

For Ashley, who qualified sixth for the finals, one position behind her father, it was her first overall victory of the 2010 season. And it couldn't have come at a better time or in a bigger event.

"This has been an amazing day and I think this one is maybe even bigger than last year because we struggled this year," said Force Hood, who moved from eighth to fourth place in the Funny Car standings with her Nationals win. "We got to the Countdown at [No.] 8, but the team stayed positive.

"We were hating this point system last year, but we're loving it this year because you can turn your season around," she added. "It shows when you are positive about things and believe in yourself, you can turn it around. Today we didn't have any luck -- we had hard races and tough conditions, but we worked hard and came out on top."

By winning at Indianapolis for the second year in a row, Force Hood managed to accomplish something her 14-time Funny Car champion father has never done.

"Dad never won back-to-back Indys, but there's plenty of other records he's set that would take me a lifetime to achieve," she laughed. "I've probably been to every Indy for 27 years since I was a kid. I was a kid in Victory Circle with my dad and to be racing him in the finals is kind of surreal."

Force Hood said her toughest round of the day was the semifinals, where she squared off against Jack Beckman, winning with a 4.156-second pass to Beckman's 4.209.

"Maybe people won't believe this, but the pressure is off when you race your teammates, especially in the later rounds," she said.
"The tough part for me was the semis -- I was so excited to win that round and to have Dad get into the finals behind us.

"Jack was my teacher back when I was 16, going to drag racing school in a Super Comp Car," she continued. "The Schumacher team [Don Schumacher Racing] is our archrival, so to have him and [Matt] Hagan race me and Dad in the semis was really big for us."

Force Hood's teammate, defending series champion and fast qualifier Robert Hight, made a shocking early exit, losing to Paul Lee's 4.114-second pass in the first round.

"They must have had a malfunction, because Robert and [crew chief] Jimmy Prock don't make many mistakes," said team owner John Force.

A competitive Top Fuel final between the two points leaders saw Larry Dixon edge Cory McClenathan 3.838/3.870 to boost his chances of unseating six-time defending category champion Tony Schumacher. "The Sarge" lost to his Don Schumacher Racing teammate McClenathan in the semifinals in a run in which both drivers smoked their tires.

Dixon's domination of the 2010 season has been remarkable. He's 10-0 in finals this year in the process of winning 10 of 18 events, and he has reached the semis or the finals in 12 of the past 14 events.

This was his fourth U.S. Nationals victory.

"Winning Indy means so much to me personally -- it means everything to win this race," Dixon said after increasing his Top Fuel lead over McClenathan to 46 points. "Cory made a great run in the final, probably one of the best of the day in the heat. A lot has been talked about me and Tony, but I'm racing Cory every qualifying session and he's not going to go away."

Although he has an 87-point advantage over his chief rival, Schumacher, Dixon knows he can't let off the gas.

"It's hard to watch Tony dominate, and I appreciate what he has done," Dixon said. "There's no jealousy or anything like that. A lot of times I had to race him for the Indy trophy and we didn't get it done. We just weren't good enough to beat him.

"He's earned every one of them, but we got ours today!"

The biggest surprise of the day in the Pro classes was No. 4 qualifier Greg Stanfield taking Pro Stock honors, besting defending category (and Nationals) champion Mike Edwards on a holeshot. Stanfield's 0.020 reaction time (versus Edwards' 0.084) was the difference, with Edwards clocking a
6.621 run to Stanfield's 6.665.

LE Tonglet was victorious in Pro Stock Motorcycle, edging points leader Andrew Hines in the final 6.869/6.962.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing and other motorsports for ESPN.com.