Patrick’s stock car learning curve on the high-banked, 2.5-mile DIS trioval is being accelerated following a successful, sixth-place finish in Saturday’s ARCA season-opener. Today’s Nationwide practice will be televised live from 3-5 p.m., ET, on ESPN2. And while Patrick has been actively seeking advice from NASCAR regulars in the garage area, rising NHRA Funny Car star Ashley Force Hood offered some unsolicited moral support.
“I think she just needs to do her thing,” Force Hood said during a recent teleconference. “A lot of people have asked me about her. I’ve met her a couple of times. She was real nice. Came over, introduced herself."
“I don’t know that much about the motorsports that she’s involved in. I kind of am just an NHRA girl, and I always have been. But as a fellow-female in racing, I think, you know, the best thing she can do is just do what she wants to do and not let other people’s opinions and thoughts get in the way. It seems like she’s very competent in doing that.”
The management of JR Motorsports – the Nationwide team co-owned by Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr., crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and Rick Hendrick – announced on Monday that Danica would drive the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala in Saturday’s season-opening Drive4COPD 300. Patrick, who qualified 12th for the ARCA Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, is guaranteed a starting position in the 43-car field based off JRM’s acquisition of points from CJM Racing’s No. 11 team, which finished 15th in the 2009 Nationwide Series owners point standings.
Force Hood, who finished second in the Funny Car Countdown to John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight last year, is rated among the class favorites in 2010. The Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season is scheduled to begin Thursday with the 50th Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
Force Hood’s second-place point finish continued a trend that has seen an improvement in her performance level each season. She finished 10th in her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007 and was sixth in 2008. Force Hood, 26, became the first woman to win a Funny Car national event in 2008 at Atlanta Dragway, and remains the only woman in NHRA history to have led the point standings – a feat she accomplished in 2008 and 2009. She is aiming to become the first woman to win the NHRA’s Funny Car championship.
Patrick will run the entire IZOD IndyCar Series schedule for Andretti Autosport, the team owned by former open-wheel star Michael Andretti. Patrick finished a career-best fifth in points last year, her fifth in the series. Patrick made racing history in 2008 with her victory at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, where she became the first woman driver to win a major closed-course event. Patrick is booked for a 13-race Nationwide schedule fashioned around her open-wheel commitments.
“I think it is going to take time (for Patrick),” said Force Hood, who won two national events in 2009. “Especially if you jump into a new type of car or motorsport, you’re not going to just get it in one day. That has been the fortunate part in my upbringing in this. That was clear from Day One.
“I never felt that pressure. Oh, you’ve got to go out and win it all and do everything. It was made very clear to me this was not going to be easy, and there was going to be a learning curve. It has to be there. That is the only way to learn to drive these cars. You’re going to hit walls and hit cones and things are going to happen, and you’re going to make mistakes. But you can learn from those. That’s the only way to learn.
“I’ve had some really great teachers. My father (Brut Force) has won, you know, many, many championships (14) and races (126). Yet, he can try to explain to me for days at a time, and sometimes those speeches go on for days at a time. But the experience that I get on my own in that car teaches me a hundred times more.
“So, I’m sure she’ll go through some ups-and-downs. But I think it’s easy for people watching to give their opinions and maybe be a little tough on her if she does have any bumps or tough times. But they’ve got to remember, you have to start somewhere. You have to learn. It’s not going to be a flawless performance. You’re going to make mistakes. If you can take that with a grain of salt and say these mistakes are carving me out to be a better driver and you’re willing to take that and not have a problem with it, then you’ll become a better driver some day.”
Force Hood recalled that her meetings with Patrick, 27, have been brief, and that they mostly discussed non-racing subjects. “So, I don’t know her that well, but I always root for the girls, because it’s not an easy thing,” said Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “These cars are very challenging to drive. Just like for the men, it’s no different. You know, we all face the same challenges, and some people have different ones. I know for me it’s always the reaction time that’s been a battle that I’ve dealt with. And for other people that’s nothing that they even think twice about.
“But we all have our own things that we work on to become better drivers. When all those things come together, that’s when you start winning. That’s when you get championships. So I think she’ll be just fine if she does decide to jump over.
“She needs to not let the opinions that I’m sure are all around her get to her. I’ve always had a nice protective bubble around me with my father and our team. So I’ve had probably an easier path than maybe she’s gone through. I’ve had a lot of support within the NHRA, even my own competitors. I don’t think it’s like that in all different types of motorsports. But I’m proud in this motorsport (NHRA), we are competitors on the track but we appreciate that these cars are not easy to do. We’re all in the same boat.”