Motherhood and Movie-Making for Two-time Indy Champ

Long before she learned to manipulate an 8,000 horsepower Ford Funny Car and years before she applied those lessons to earn back-to-back victories in drag racing’s biggest single event, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., Ashley Force Hood earned a Communications degree from Cal State-Fullerton.

That formal education, a requisite for mother Laurie’s support of her racing career, began to pay dividends last year when the 29-year-old opted out of the cockpit of the Castrol GTX Mustang to await the July birth of her son, Jacob John Hood.

To fill the hours not devoted to her pending parenthood, the former high school cheerleader began a new job as President of John Force Entertainment, a position in which she has finally has been able to utilize all the skills she developed in her television and film classes at Fullerton.

As President of JF Entertainment, Force Hood took on the responsibility of managing a company charged with the task of expanding the JFR brand beyond the sometimes limited scope of straight-line drag racing.

Among the first projects developed by the company was “Destination Force,” a graphic novel loosely based on the career of Ashley’s famous father, 15-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force.

JF Entertainment also developed the popular internet series, “Nitro Rewind,” that focused last year on Funny Car and Top Fuel racing, produced several commercial projects for individual racetracks and sponsors began developing a documentary on Force’s comeback from a devastating 2007 crash at Dallas, Texas.

In her second year away from the competitive arena, Force Hood also is overseeing the completition of several additional projects including her dad’s authorized biography, a “day at the races” children’s book she has authored, and, possibly, a John Force Racing animated TV series.

“This has been a great opportunity for me to use the education my parents provided me to benefit the overall John Force Racing effort,” Force Hood said. “It’s different, not being in a race car, but I’m never far away from the sport.”

Force Hood will continue to work with Brent Travers, producer/director of the “Driving Force” series that aired for two seasons on A&E Network, along with Josh Miller, JF Entertainment’s video editor, Indy-based graphic designer Brandon Baker and JFR Public Relations Director Elon Werner.

Nevertheless, she has remained close to the on-track action especially since husband Dan remains an integral part of Mike Neff’s bid for the Full Throttle championship that just eluded him in 2011. Furthermore, she hasn’t ruled out a return to the cockpit herself.

With 16 final round appearances, 15 No. 1 starts, back-to-back Top 3 finishes in her last two seasons on tour and Auto Racing All-America Second Team recognition in 2009, Force Hood obviously stepped aside while at the top of her game.

After an apprenticeship in sportsman racing that included a stint in Super Comp followed by graduation to a Top Alcohol Dragster division in which she won five times in a Jerry Darien-prepped A/Fuel car, Ashley showed in her rookie Funny Car season flashes of the form that would make her one of the sport’s most popular young stars.

Winner of the Auto Club of Southern California’s Road to the Future Award as the 2007 Rookie-of-the-Year, she became the first woman ever to win an NHRA Funny Car event in 2008 and, a year later, the first to lead the points during the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs (before ultimately finishing second).

Regardless of what the future holds, Ashley’s legacy will be that she forever changed the perception of the Funny Car category and, more significantly, of women race car drivers as a whole. Before she turned pro, conventional wisdom suggested that the Funny Car simply was too physically challenging for a woman.

She quickly proved otherwise. Not only did she win four races and contend for the championship, she proved to be terrific in those situations in which everything doesn’t go according to plan. When she crashed at Seattle in her rookie year, she was calm and calculated in her assessment of what occurred and what she would do differently the next time.

It would not be the last time she was in trouble on the track but it would be the last time she wasn’t able to save the car. Despite her status as a role model for young women entering the sport, Ashley never has been comfortable with being characterized as the “most successful female driver in Funny Car history.”

“Yes, I am a female driver, but I had nothing to do with that,” she said. “That was God and my parents. Someday, though, if we could have an all-female team, now that would be something to talk about. To have females as the mechanics, the tuners and the driver would be amazing (and) I think it will happen in my lifetime. There are so many girls in Jr. Drag Racing and the sportsman categories and those are the ones that (eventually) will move up to the professional level.”

With her pedigree, her Hollywood good looks and her accessibility, Ashley has enjoyed as much success off the track as on it. In 2008, she accepted the Female Athlete of the Year Award from the Los Angeles-based Jim Murray Memorial Foundation. Before that, she won AOL Sports’ inaugural “World’s Hottest Athlete” poll, beating New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady in a tournament-style final.

One of the stars of Driving Force, which chronicled her development as a driver, she twice appeared on NBC-TV’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as well as on ABC-TV’s Good Morning, America and on the reality series Designing Spaces. She also did a stint as a guest DJ on Los Angeles radio station KCRW-FM.

That’s pretty heady stuff for an admitted tomboy who once considered a career as a crew member, the basis for her decision to take elective courses in auto shop and welding while attending Esperanza High School where she was a varsity cheerleader.

Ashley’s “need for speed,” of course, is all in the genes. In addition to her father, who has won a record 133 NHRA tour events and 15 championships, her mother Laurie is licensed to drive a Super Comp dragster, her schoolteacher sister Brittany, 25, is eyeing a possible Top Fuel career and youngest sister Courtney, 23, will compete for Rookie-of-the-Year honors this year in a JFR Ford Funny Car sponsored by TRAXXAS.

Surprisingly, for all her on-track success, Ashley never seriously considered a driving career until her father sent her to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing school as a 16th birthday present. She was hooked.

Nevertheless, even though she began racing sportsman cars out of high school, mother Laurie insisted that before she embarked on a full-time career, she had to earn her college degree. As a result, she spent her weekends racing and her weekdays in school, ultimately graduating in 3½ years.

Considering her new responsibilities at JF Entertainment, it seems that maybe it’s mother who knows best.