MINNEAPOLIS -- Ashley Force Hood will probably be smiling a lot this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway.
There's a good reason. Now in her third year as a Funny Car driver, Hood hasn't felt this good about her career since she first became a professional.
The hurdles she faced were daunting. The list goes something like this: Driver moves to a new racing category; driver turns pro under her legendary father and faces pressure of being great; driver struggles during the first year of learning; driver loses teammate and best friend in a freak crash; and then, when things get somewhat better, driver's father is hospitalized after life-threatening crash.
The final problem: Would racing ever be fun again?
"My first year was not a typical rookie year," Hood said. "The loss of Eric Medlen and my father's crash was devastating. We didn't have time to focus on racing. Luckily, each year since then has gotten easier."
Medlen was killed after a Funny Car crash in March 2007, and in September of that year John Force was seriously injured, making Hood's first season for John Force Racing very rough. Since then she has established herself as one of the top contenders to win the Funny Car championship this year.
Now third in the Funny Car points standings behind Tony Pedregon and Ron Capps, Hood has the chance to regain the lead if she wins at the annual Lucas Oil Nationals, which started Thursday.
In March, Hood won her second event, at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals in Houston.
"She's evolved, and we've put her with a great team," said John Force, a 14-time Funny Car national champion who is eighth in the points race. "They have magic with them right now and can win the whole thing."
Force can still remember when he knew his daughter would be fine. Force was recovering from his crash in a Dallas hospital in 2007. Hood came into her father's room, motivated to make sure her father never used the word "quit." Seven months later, Hood defeated her father for her first NHRA victory, the first for a woman in Funny Car.
Yes, the memory of losing Medlen is still rough. Remembering her father being crushed in a car on fire is tough.
"I know it was hell for her," Force said of that first year. "She still fights it every day. Some days are bad, but most days are now good."