Melanie Troxel and Hillary Will were part of the Top Fuel field, Erica Enders was in Pro Stock while Sampey and Karen Stouffer competed on the motorcycles. That number will grow in 2007 by one – a high-profile one. Ashley Force, daughter of 14-time Funny Car champion John Force, will make her pro debut this weekend at the Winternationals in Pomona. For the past several years, she has competed in the sportsman ranks. The younger Force will join her dad, Robert Hight and Eric Medlen as part of the John Force Racing team. It’s an event her father has been waiting for, although admittedly very nervous. “I’m excited because, number one, I look at the next generation – I’m not getting any younger,” said the 56-year-old Force. “I want to continue to win. That’s why Ford pays me. But, bottom line, I’m building three kids – Eric Medlen; Robert Hight, my son-in-law; and now Ashley, driving for Castrol and Ford – and of course we’re all under the Ford Mustang brand. The first victory by a woman in NHRA history actually occured at Pomona Raceway in 1966 when Shirley Shahan won the Stock class. In 2006, five women competed in the series there, the largest total ever. “Truth is, it’s kind of your legacy, that the company will go on long after I’m out of the driver’s seat. I’m in the game, I’ve just come off a 14th championship, but to see my daughter out there in this category, it’s the first time in NHRA history that they’ve had four women, one in every category.” Ashley has been under the media glare since announcing her future in January. In reality, she has grown up under such surroundings. “I grew up from within this team, so it’s not really any different from any other year, only now I’m a professional driver,” she said. “I was part of the team when I was younger. I would go to the team meetings, I would take in a lot of what (John Force) taught his team and his crew chiefs. I think the main thing that I’ve learned from him is coming together as a team – we’re one team, helping each other out.” The expectations are high, perhaps unfair, because of her background and her team’s history. “We want to qualify, we’d love to go as many rounds as we can, but it’s going to be tough,” Ashley said. “We just want to get through this weekend and not make mistakes, and if we make a mistake, not repeat it, fix it. Just be how we’ve been testing, not let all the extras of a national event get in our head.” The difference between tests in Las Vegas and Phoenix and the opener, according to Ashley, will be “fans and media.” “We can’t let it get into our minds,” she said. “We’ve got to continue running our cars just like we would if there was nobody around.” The Force team already has survived a scare during testing. Ashley escaped injury when one of her cars burned. “Ashley burned a car pretty decent at Vegas,” John said. “In the last few weeks, through testing between Vegas and Phoenix, I really watched her evolve as a driver and my other two drivers are telling me the only problem is me. They said the kid is ready to go. Ashley’s ready. She’s ready to win races.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! There is nothing new about women competing in the NHRA Drag Racing Series. Since the sanctioning body was first formed in 1950, 39 women have competed in the four professional classes. In fact, those women have accounted for 73 national event victories – starting with a Top Fuel win by Shirley Muldowney in 1976 to Angelle Sampey’s Pro Stock Motorcycle effort last spring in Columbus, Ohio.