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Mon, 12 Nov 2007, 11:34 AM

Ashley Force Named 2007 Auto Club Rookie of the Year Winner
Courtesy of Dve Densmore

Castrol GTX Ford Driver Joins List That Includes Bernstein, Line, Hight and Todd


Ashley Force
Ashley Force, 24, applied a measure of positive energy to a difficult season Monday when she accepted the Automobile Club of Southern California's 2007 Road to the Future Award as the professional Rookie-of-the-Year in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The daughter of injured icon John Force accepted a check for $20,000 from the Auto Club before crediting her father, her family and her team, especially crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas, for a history-making first season at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

Although she missed two races, one following the death last March of teammate Eric Medlen and the other after her father suffered the most serious crash of his 32-year career, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton made history last month at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where she became the first woman to race in a Funny Car final in a national series.

In addition to her performance at LVMS, where she was beaten in the money round by newly-crowned series champion Tony Pedregon, she went to the semifinals on three other occasions, qualified No. 2 three times and finished No. 10 in the driver standings, insuring her a position, on stage, with her father and brother-in-law (Robert Hight) during Monday's NHRA award ceremonies at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.

The elder Force, who is recovering from multiple injuries suffered in a Sept. 23rd crash at Dallas, Texas, finished seventh in points even though he missed the season's last three races. Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford, insured his second consecutive No. 2 finish by winning Sunday's Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Ashley, who distinguished herself in the Top Alcohol Dragster class before moving up to the Funny Car division this year, was one of five rookie racers nominated for the award including Pro Stock drivers Justin Humphreys, Craig Hankinson and Matt Scranton. The fifth nominee was Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Barry Henson.

"For more than 100 years the Auto Club has represented integrity, commitment, and professionalism to our millions of members," said president and CEO Tom McKernan. "The Road to the Future Award has come to symbolize these same attributes in the sport of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing."

Ashley is only the 10th woman in NHRA history to compete in Funny Car division and only the second to advance as far as the semifinals. She was the first woman to compete in the division since Cristen Powell in 2000.

In 2002, the Automobile Club's Road to the Future Award and the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award were combined to create one award recognizing the future stars of the sport.

Past winners include Pedregon (1996, Funny Car), Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (1998, Top Fuel), Antron Brown (1999, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel), G.T. Tonglet (2001, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Gene Wilson (2002, Pro Stock), Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel), Jason Line (2004, Pro Stock), Hight (2005, Funny Car), and J.R. Todd (2006, Top Fuel).

More than 100 of the nation's most distinguished auto racing journalists annually select the winner through a voting system based on the following criteria: number of events participated, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions, and relationships with fans, sponsors, and media.

In addition to the Road to the Future Award, the Auto Club is a major sponsor of John Force Racing, Inc., is the title sponsor for the Automobile Club of Southern California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Holley and the presenting sponsor for The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.

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