Just the 10th woman licensed to drive a fuel Funny Car, the 24-year-old Force hopes to become the seventh racer to qualify for an NHRA national event and the first to reach a final round.
Following almost a year of testing, supervised by her father, and months of speculation, John Force the reigning Funny Car champion confirmed Tuesday that the oldest of his three racing daughters will move up in classification. She will drive a fourth Ford Mustang Funny Car for John Force Racing, Inc., Castrol and the Automobile Club of Southern California.
Ashley Force, whose racing apprenticeship and family life was detailed last year in A&E's reality TV show called "Driving Force," will pilot an 8,000-horsepower car prepared and maintained by first-time crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli, a member of the elder Force's crew for 12 years and 10 of his Funny Car titles.
"(He's) worked around Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly for as long as I can remember," said Ashley, referring to her father's co-crew chiefs, "and he's like a sponge, soaking up everything they teach him. He always has the answer I'm looking for. I feel real comfortable knowing he's going to be making the decisions on the car."
She has been clocked at a low of 4.809 seconds and a high of 320 mph during recent tests at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track on which Ashley earned her competition Funny Car license last April.
"I've done all I can do," John Force said. "Now it's up to her. She's got a great car, a great crew and great sponsors. She'll need all of them to compete at this level.
"But, whatever happens, I'm really proud of her and how she's evolved. It's just good to know that whenever I step out of the seat, the Force name is going to go on with Castrol and the NHRA in this great sport with Ashley and maybe even with her sisters, Brittany and Courtney."
The last female Funny Car driver to qualify for an NHRA national event was Cristen Powell. Although she won in Top Fuel in 1997, she never advanced beyond the second round in 21 Funny Car events. She last drove a Funny Car at the 2000 World Finals at Pomona, Calif., failing to make the 16-car starting field.
In three seasons in Top Alcohol, Ashley Force went to nine final rounds and won five times. She finished fourth, seventh and fifth in national points during her three seasons in the dragster.
A graduate of California State University-Fullerton, where she majored in communications with an emphasis on TV and film, Ashley will compete for rookie of the year honors.