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Father, Daughter Savor Wins

Times Staff Writer

John Force’s domination of National Hot Rod Assn. drag racing became a family affair Sunday as daughter Ashley, 21, joined her father in the winner’s circle of the 40th Auto Club Finals at the Pomona Raceway as a crowd estimated at 32,000 roared its approval.

Moments before the 55-year-old, 13-time funny car champion collected his 114th national event win, Ashley defeated Mitch Myers in the top alcohol dragster final. It was the first time a father and daughter had won NHRA events at the same event.

For Ashley, in her first season driving in the highest sportsman class, it was her third win. Her first came in the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis on Labor Day. She also won at Dallas.

“I yelled and screamed just as hard today as I did at Indy,” she said. “I was so nervous all day.”

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Ashley won with a trick she probably learned from John -- a hole shot. Her reaction time of 0.084 of a second shot her dragster off the line ahead of Myers’ 0.132 and she held on to win.

Beaming like a proud father, John said, “I’m an emotional wreck. You’re looking at the changing of the guard. I don’t think I could be any prouder. I’d like to lie and say that I taught her, but I can’t claim that. I’m a race driver, not a teacher.”

Subdued as he sat between his wife, Laurie, and daughter, the usually irrepressible Force was asked why he was so quiet. “Trust me, I know when to shut up,” he said, smiling at his wife.

It was not the first time father and daughter had reached the finals together. In September, at Reading, Pa., both lost.

Force, who Saturday ran the third quickest quarter-mile in NHRA history of 4.698 seconds in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, dispatched Del Worsham of Corona del Mar in the finals, 4.734 to 4.804. The runner-up finish, however, enabled Worsham, driving a Chevy Monte Carlo, to take second place in the Powerade standings behind Force.

Before the Auto Club Finals, Worsham and former top fuel champion Gary Scelzi of Fresno had been tied for second. Scelzi also lost to Force.

In winning for the 11th time at Pomona, where he once climbed the fence as a teenager from Bell Gardens to watch the Winternationals, Force conquered the fastest 16-car funny car field -- from his own track record 4.698 to Tony Bartone’s 4.854 -- ever assembled.

Top fuel champion Tony Schumacher of Mt. Prospect, Ill., and pro stock titlist Greg Anderson of Concord, N.C., marched easily through their classes.

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For both, the wins climaxed record seasons. Schumacher won a top fuel record 10th national event in the same season when he defeated 20-year-old Morgan Lucas, car owner Joe Amato’s choice to replace Darrell Russell after Russell’s death in August.

“There was a lot of pressure out there, knowing if we won it would be the first time anyone had won 10,” said Schumacher, whose father Don owns the U.S. Army team. “It was quite a honor to share nine wins with Gary Scelzi and Larry Dixon, but it’s even a better feeling to know we’re all alone.”

Anderson’s win was his 15th, breaking his record not only for pro stock but for all pro classes.

“Force won 13 in 1996 and any time you get past Force in the record book you know you’re having a great year,” said Anderson, who defeated Jason Line of Terrell, N.C., his protege and teammate, in the finals.

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“It’s hard to line up against a teammate in the finals because you know he has the same stuff that you have, so you have to bare down extra hard,” said Anderson, who is treating his team to a week’s vacation in Hawaii.

Pro stock bike champion Andrew Hines of Brownsburg, Ind., was not so fortunate. After struggling with engine problems in his Harley-Davidson all week, Hines lost in the first round to his Vance and Hines teammate, GT Tonglet of New Orleans.

Three-time bike champion Angelle Savoie of Matthews, La., edged Antron Brown of Indianapolis, both riding U.S. Army-sponsored Suzukis, in the finals.


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