NHRA: She’s the people’s champion, for now

Robert Hight celebrated his Full Throttle NHRA Funny Car championship on Saturday when his third-place qualifying effort clinched the title.

In the six-race Countdown to the Championship, Hight had the car to beat – and it seemed like no one could. With crew chief Jimmy Prock finding his groove, Hight won three of the first five races. He was The Man.

Yet Hight’s first title didn’t come without controversy. The apparent choking of team owner John Force in a key race at the U.S. Nationals guaranteed that Hight would be in the Countdown; in the process, Hight’s free pass eliminated defending champion Cruz Pedregon from the playoff.

Chances are that Hight would have beaten Force anyway, but it clouded the integrity of the process and resulted in a first-class row between Force and his former driver, Tony Pedregon, brother of Cruz. Tony said he didn’t expect Force to get down the track, and Force didn’t get down the track. If anyone had the street cred to call out Force, it was Pedregon, who won a championship for Force in 2003.

Which brings us to Ashley Force Hood.

The people’s champion.

Had Force beaten Hight and kept him out of the Countdown, the NHRA’s No. 1 driver may well have been Force Hood.

She won’t have her name in the record book, but it will likely be galvanized in the hearts of many in the grandstands.

The people’s champion was the No. 1 qualifier for the season-ending Auto Club Finals on Sunday in Pomona, the division-best sixth time this season she qualified atop the field under the tuning acumen of Dean Antonelli.

The people’s champion was runner-up to teammate Mike Neff in the final, meaning she finished 68 points behind Hight.

But on the season, the people’s champion scored more than any other driver out there. Under the old format, she would be The Man.

The people’s champion may be the daughter of a legend, but she stepped out of his shadow. The people’s champion finished second in the official standings. Her dad, the 14-time champion finished ninth.

The people’s champion took a huge step in 2009, some might even call it a leap. She is no longer learning the ropes, no longer feeling her way. The people’s champion showed the confidence this season one might expect of a veteran.

She has remained grounded in circumstances that might put other heads in the clouds.

There are other ways, too, that the people’s champion distanced herself from her famous father’s aura.

The people’s champion made her own decisions.

The people’s champion announced that all her merchandise next season will include her married name. Ashley Force may be a stronger brand, but those who picked up “Ashley Force” t-shirts over the weekend now have a collector’s item. Next year, those t-shirts will read “Ashley Force Hood.” All of them. Deal with it.

The people’s champion has more merchandise sales than anyone else in the series. That’s a lot of pink, as well as a lot of green.

The only woman racing in the class, she has earned the respect of her male peers, and plans on keeping it.

The people’s champion isn’t going to undress for Maxim or FHM. While so many other athletes and celebrities – or perhaps they are “celebrities” in quotation marks like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian – eschew most of their clothes, which no doubt increases their Google Search numbers, the people’s champion prefers the shoes of a role model for the youngest of her fans.

You get the distinct feeling the people’s champion prefers flats to high heels or pumps, unless we’re talking gas pumps.

The people’s champion is 26 years old and is going to be a force in more than name only.  When she and her team start winning half their finals – they won two of eight this season – you can count on a new world order.

The people’s champion will eventually be a real one.

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One Response to “NHRA: She’s the people’s champion, for now”

  1. As far as I am, concerned; John Force totatly screwed his daughter (Ashley) out of a funny car championship. I hope he is proud of himself. I would think a lot more people were pulling for Ashley than Robert. It would serve John right, if Ashley were to go to Al Anabi or Shumaker. I have had Auto Club of So Cal insurance since I was old enough to drive. I am now looking at other options.

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