September 30, 2014

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Family a real Force

John Force and his daughters starring on track and tube

They’re fast. Dad’s furious. The tagline for the A&E channel’s reality television series “Driving Force” says it all. The show follows the lives of legendary NHRA driver John Force, his wife Laurie and their three drag-racing daughters, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney.
John and Ashley were in Norwalk over the weekend and the local fans flocked around their trailers in hopes they’d get to interact with the 14-time world champion or his second-eldest daughter Ashley, who’s in her rookie season in the Funny Car class.
“There was always fans and media, then we started the reality show and within a week of the show airing we started doing tons more media and had tons more fans at the ropes, and that was a shock,” Ashley said. “So this year wasn’t too bad because of what we went through last year.”
The show, which is in its second season, was something the girls weren’t exactly on the same page about when it started.
“Who knows whether we made the right choice or not?” Ashley said. “Sometimes I want to wring their necks. But it’s been a lot of fun for us and fun for the fans to see a completely different side of what they see when we’re out there racing on the track.
“You’re being filmed when you haven’t had a chance to do your hair or makeup, or you’re saying something stupid. Every time I hear that (theme) song I’m like, ‘Ohhhh, I’m going to go crazy.’ I get embarrassed real easy and I don’t like seeing myself on there. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes.”
But her younger sisters were all for the show.
“The two little ones wanted it because Ashley was already getting the exposure and everyone knew her,” John said. “The two little ones were like, ‘We’re going to be like Britney Spears.’ I said, ‘Just don’t be like Paris Hilton.’”
John Force is the defending Funny Car champion and has won his 14 titles in the last 17 seasons. Ashley raced in the Top Alcohol Dragster class last season — the same class Brittany and Courtney now compete in — before going pro this year.
“It’s gut-wrenching to me because she’s still that little girl I remember all those years ago,” John said of Ashley’s move to the pro class. “When I look at those little eyes under that helmet and she goes 330 miles per hour, it’s like back when she was on her trike as a little kid. The eyes don’t change, and she still has that same big old smile, just like her mama.”
Overprotective seems to be the word of choice when it comes to John’s thoughts on raising his daughters. He jokingly says Ashley can think about having children after she races for 30 years and tried to get her to go on a prearranged “date” on the show. He admits he worries incessantly while she’s in the cockpit of her car.
“He is a little overprotective, but I think most dads are,” Ashley said. “Then throw in that he has four daughters and they’re out there doing something so dangerous, you’d be crazy to not be worried about your kids.”
He has a good reason to be concerned with his daughters’ career choice — the same reason that caused the midseason hiatus of the show.
Force Driving teammate Eric Medlen, who John called the son he never had and said was like a brother to Ashley, died March 23 after succumbing to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.
“We took a break after Eric’s accident and haven’t gone back to filming yet,” Ashley said. “It’s not just tough for us drivers, but for the (television) crew as well. They’re all going through a hard time with this.”
“It gets a little easier every day,” Ashley said. “To have something like that happen, it’s mind-boggling. You don’t understand how somebody can be perfectly fine one minute and not there the next. We’ve all just kind of stuck together.”
Two more scheduled shooting sessions are needed to complete the second season, and John believes that Ashley will come out of the show as one of motorsports’ greatest celebrities.
“I don’t want to turn my daughters into men,” John said. “If we can keep Ashley the way she is now, where she can drive that thing down the race track like the men but still keep that big smile, I think we just might have a big star.”
It’s easy to see why the cable network, her father and just about everybody else has been captivated by the 24-year-old. Not only is she a talented driver and an exceptionally beautiful woman, she also cares about the people around her, especially her crew.
She was asked if it was emotionally difficult to race against her father or Robert Hight, her brother-in-law and teammate, who’s married to John’s eldest daughter, Adria.
“Once you’re up on that line, you don’t really think about it,” Ashley said. “You know what your team went through at that point, and they don’t get to go home and get to see their families and they are on the road all the time.
“So you don’t think, ‘Hey, that’s my dad I’m racing.’ Who cares? You’re racing for your eight guys that spend their life out here preparing this car for you.”
Another great moment came when she broke in on her dad’s interview to explain why things are better at Force Racing now that she’s a member of the group.
“It’s amazing how this team needed a little femininity,” Ashley said. “We write thank you notes, and we draw flowers and we do that kind of stuff. One of the guys had a birthday this weekend so I went out and got him some cupcakes with little frog rings on top. The guy was all like, ‘I’ve never got a birthday cake in my life.’ Now the whole crew is out there wearing their little frog rings. They appreciate things like that.”
While the show and John’s racing success probably helped bring people to Summit Motorsports Park last weekend, the fact that fans have already had the opportunity to see the Forces in action in Norwalk was also a big deal.
“We’ve been coming here a lot of years and doing the ‘Night Under Fire’ (promotion),” Ashley said. “It’s always a fun time because the Bader family does fireworks and a crazy show at the end of it. So we were excited when we heard they were going to make it a national event because it’s a good track and a good area — a lot of people come to the track.”
“They invested millions and made it state-of-the-art,” John said. “Bill Bader and his dad are very smart individuals. I joke and call him P.T. Barnum because he really knows how to put on a show.
“They love it and they live it — I can’t say enough good things about them.”
The good feelings are shared. That’s obvious by the Norwalk grandstand being named after John Force three years ago and his getting partial credit for the landing of the NHRA Nationals.
“John Force is one of the guys that helped get us here,” Bader Jr. said. “He’s been racing with us for 14 years. That’s kind of like an endorsement — if it’s OK for John Force to go there, maybe we should go there, too.
“John was instrumental in this. We’ve been very blessed to always have good support from the drivers and the teams.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.