JUSTIN ASHLEY: THAT'S A WRAP
2020 Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley, driver of the Smart Sanitizer Top Fuel dragster powered Strutmasters.com will be providing behind the scenes insight throughout the NHRA Countdown for CompetitionPlus.com readers.
When I look back at my first Countdown the biggest lesson I learned was you can’t count points. The points jockey and move so much during the Countdown that you just really need to focus on taking care of your business. At the end of the day if you don’t take care of what you have to do nothing else matters. I really enjoyed being in championship contention and what a privilege it was to be competing against so many great teams like Steve Torrence, Brittany Force and Mike Salinas. I learned you have to take care of your own business and let the points take care of themselves.
After 20 races this season I really feel great. This was definitely the most races I have done in a long time. For me looking at my career so far 20 races are really two seasons for me. Having it all wrapped into one and as I look back I feel good physically and I feel good mentally. It will be nice to have a break and spend time with my family. I have a sneaky suspicion that by this time next week I will be wanting to be at the track again.
The business side is always cranked but now it will really pick up speed. The off-season is about putting deals together. First and foremost, working with our existing sponsors to not only bring them back to the table but expand on those relationships. We want to highlight the value that we have brought them and even more new opportunities down the road. We had a great SEMA Show after Las Vegas and brought some people out to Pomona. Now is the time to hunker down and show people what we can do for them. Our program needs to have the right funding and we are fortunate to have the right partners and we want to build upon that.
I will be at PRI In December and we are setting up meetings and appearances. As a team owner and driver that show is one that I am looking forward to. This season has allowed me to improve as a driver and get more involved on the business side as an owner with Dustin Davis. We have a great relationship and the addition of Mike Green as our crew chief only makes us stronger going into 2022.
Finally, I was fortunate to present Dallas Glenn with his rookie of the year trophy at the season ending Wrap Party the NHRA produced Sunday night for all the teams after the Auto Club Finals. Dallas and Josh Hart each had amazing seasons and they will both be future stars in the sport for sure.
NHRA LAS VEGAS NATIONALS, Las Vegas, Nev.
We love coming to Las Vegas because a lot of the Auto Shocker folks come out and it was a successful weekend for us. Obviously, we wanted to leave with a win but, all in all, you really want to put on a good show for the sponsors and I think we did a good job. What we love about everyone at Auto Shocker is the type of people that they are. They have become more than sponsors or partners. They have become a real part of the team. We love hanging out with them and having a good time. Now we are shifting our focus to Pomona, and they will be there too.
Being at the track over Halloween was neat. We had a bowl of candy out for the kids at the track and that was awesome. The NHRA is what it is because of the fans. When you talk about the kids coming out to trick or treat and they can meet the drivers you can just see what an impact it has on them. It is a beautiful thing and to see some of the costumes was great. There were race car drivers and a million other things. It was fun.
You have to be appreciative that you are even out here. We want to win, and we expect to win but when you look at everything, I think I have the best job in the world. It is very important not to lose sight of that. When you really put that into perspective. I had four kids come up to me at the end of the day on Sunday asking for an autograph. It was very humbling. You want to give them some time, make them feel special because that can really have a positive impact on them.
This upcoming week I am going to be at the SEMA Show for the first time. Our car is going to be on display at the NHRA booth and I am going to be signing autographs at the Auto Shocker booth for ao couple days. I am excited since this is a good opportunity to spend time with our existing marketing partners like Auto Shocker and it is also a good time to meet some other companies. We are looking to make new connections and build our program. In this business it is all about relationships. I think attending an event like this and then PRI in December can be beneficial to get some of those relationships started. We have a great group of marketing partners and I think we have a lot to offer new companies as well.
NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS, Bristol, Tenn.
I love racing so many races throughout the season. This is far and away the most races I have ever run and by a significant margin. In fact, we’re now at the point where they all seem joined together. As a driver, it helps me get into a rhythm I might not otherwise experience. Competing for a championship during these races is intense. Every round matters and personally, I was not pleased with my driving in Bristol. We had a fantastic car and a very strong race. As always, Mike Green and our Davis Motorsports team were fantastic. We even set a track speed record and I left the race feeling great about program. But my lights weren’t nearly where they needed to be. My focus on the week off will be predicated getting my reaction times back where I expect them to be.
With that said, my Bristol Dragway experience was great. Although I never raced there, I spent a lot of time at the facility watching my dad compete in Pro Mod and Funny Car. Normally, I sign the most autographs at races I’ve previously attended because people recognize me from the year before. But in Bristol I signed more autographs than ever before. I love the Bristol fans. Each one of them were engaging and passionate about NHRA drag racing. I respect and appreciate that very much.
I even got the chance to go up to Bruton Smith’s suite on Friday and spend some time with his sponsors and friends. It was the best view of the racetrack, and the people were incredibly nice. On Saturday I popped into the Thunder Valley Club to sign some autographs for the fans who were sitting trackside. That was an amazing room and a great place to watch the race. They do everything first class at Bruton and Marcus Smith racetracks.
We know the facility is beautiful and the track is great, but the fans are what stood out the most. It was great to engage with some new fans. A lot of them even congratulated me on my win in Dallas.
It is going to be back to work for me. That is the best thing. I would rather go right back to work, step aside from racing for a few days and focus on real estate. Racing is always in my head because this is what I love to do. But I need to take this time to focus on work before quickly shifting my focus back to these last two races.
NHRA FALLNATIONALS, Dallas, Texas
The whole Stampede of Speed event at the Texas Motorplex was exciting. It was a totally different event than anything I had experienced before. In addition to the actual event, it became a show which I thought was fascinating and was a lot of fun for the drivers, the teams and fun for the fans most importantly. That whole event was a completely new experience. To be able to go out on Sunday, look at the ladder to see the potential match-ups we could face throughout the day with the championship implications on the line was exciting. To go out and in four rounds knock out some of the best cars in the world and collect our first win of the season was just amazing. The Smart Sanitizer Vita C Shot Top Fuel dragster was running great all weekend and it was fantastic on Sunday. Every opponent we had to face was not only an elite opponent, but they brought out their A Game. Everybody made it down the track it was a hard-earned win. It was extraordinarily satisfying for me personally, but also really for the team because I knew how hard they had worked and how hard our sponsors work to provide us with a great marketing platform. That win was all for them. It was a lot of fun and an exhilarating experience.
After the race my week got even busier. There was crazy weather in Dallas the night after the race so Monday morning we were traveling home all day. Tuesday morning first thing I was back to work and ever since then it has been all about real estate and media appearances. On Wednesday afternoon I did a Zoom media session with the Bristol area media and on Thursday morning I did a radio call in with WXSM-FM and talked up the race with the morning show hosts Bobby Rader and Bud. On Friday I am flying into Bristol and going in-studio with WJHL-TV the CBS and ABC TV stations to promote the race. It has been exciting for me to have those opportunities to talk to the media. I am just trying to do everything I can to take advantage of these opportunities because they are important to build a brand and really help our sponsors like Auto Shocker, KATO, Strutmasters and more. We want to be out there talking about what we do with the mainstream media and their audiences.
As great as that win was in Dallas and make no mistake, I am still on cloud nine, and I am sure the team is too, we have to put that behind us and focus on Bristol. It is about Bristol now. It is not about Vegas or Pomona. It is about Bristol. We must control what we can and that means taking care of business this weekend. It is going to be tough. Bristol Dragway is a track I have never competed on before. I am looking forward to that challenge. We have to be completely and singularly focused on this challenge.
This race is one that I have been looking forward to all year. I have never raced there but it is my favorite track. I spent so much time there as a kid watching my father race there and I have so many great memories there. I know what a beautiful facility it is and how the drag strip sits between the two mountains. The noise that radiates throughout the facility is great and the fans are so passionate. I am really looking forward to getting on track and facing this challenge. It is a historic track and place where everyone wants to win.
NHRA MIDWEST NATIONALS, St. Louis, MO.
St. Louis was not the outcome we expected or the outcome that we wanted. We took a little bit of a hit in the points but fortunately it did not knock us back too far. We are still very much in the chase. We learned from that experience in round one. All the focus and effort has shifted to the Texas Motorplex race and getting ready for the Stampede of Speed. The margin for error is so small in the Countdown to begin with. We have four races left and after our early exit in St. Louis we really have no margin for error now. We must be on our “A” game over these last four races.
I have been on the road for such a long time I am looking forward to a break. It will be good and healthy to have this off week to regroup. I am going to gather myself and get ready for this last push. This week Monday came along, and it was a regular Monday. By today I am already to go back to the race track. I think all I needed was a good 24 hours and I am ready to get back at it. I am going to try and get myself mentally away from racing and focus on work. Beginning next Monday, it is back to having all the energy and effort focused on winning a world championship.
During this week off we have a couple different houses we are finalizing. We have some minor construction going on. Mostly we are in the process of trying to sell a few homes. We have some houses that are under contract, and we are working on closing those deals. We have a few houses that are under construction, and we are working to get inspections. We want to get that wrapped up so we can get those on the market.
There is a definite correlation between racing and business because when you are going into contract to sell a house obviously that will have a direct impact on your livelihood. I feel that same way about racing. You are on the track to win just like you want to win in business. Business teaches you a lot of lessons for racing and vice versa. You learn about discipline and focus in both areas. One kind of feeds off the other.
I am very excited about the Stampede of Speed. I have never participated in a race like this before. It is more than a race it is more of a show. I think that will be really cool. It is a template for other tracks to use. It will be a fun experience for the drivers but more than that it will be a fun experience for the fans. That is what we are there for. We are there to win races, but we are also there to entertain and interact with the fans. This whole week and what the Motorplex is doing is a fantastic idea. I am going to make it a point to enjoy all the action.
DEWALT TOOLS NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS, Concord, NC
This past weekend in Charlotte we had another very strong start for this Smart Sanitizer Vita C Shot Top Fuel dragster. These Countdown races are critical, and we treat every race the same whether it is a Countdown race or regular season race. You feel a little more pressure and intensity in the Countdown. A lot of our match-up have had Countdown implications so we are trying to stack up rounds wins. Our goal is to come out here and win races and we fell a little short in Charlotte. We moved up to third in the points and my crew chief Mike Green and team owner Dustin Davis did an awesome job. It was really a positive weekend all the way around. We announced Vita C Shot as our co-primary for the rest of this year and all next year on Friday night before qualifying started. That was a big deal for our team.
We are very fortunate to have Vita C Shot onboard. This deal came together thanks to Chip Lofton who a lot of people recognize from Strutmasters.com. I have known Chip for a long time in a professional and personal capacity. He is the guy that has believed in me since day one. Before I ever sat in a Top Fuel car, he took a chance on us. That is something I am very appreciative of and will always be thankful for. He let Mark Beaver from Vita C Shot know that there was an opportunity for them to come on board with our team. I am excited about the opportunity to represent and promote Vita C Shot. They fit perfectly with what we do because it is a healthy energy drink.
It was a great return visit to Charlotte again this season. We had beautiful weather and the facility is incredible. It was good to see the fans again and one thing that I have noticed about tracks we visit twice is you see a lot of the same fans. You are seeing people that you recognize, and it is cool to be able to spend some more time with them.
We had some tough opponents on Sunday and getting some of the wins over other Countdown competitors gives us some confidence. We are going up against the best teams in the world but at the same time we must focus on our lane. In the semifinals even though Josh Hart isn’t in the Countdown we all knew he had one of the better racecars. Josh has an excellent team, and he is a great driver just like everyone out here. Anyone can win on Sunday. We must stay focused for the last five races, and we are not going to look too far ahead. Our focus now is St. Louis.
MOPAR EXPRESS LANE NHRA NATIONALS, Reading, PA.
This weekend was so much fun for me getting the NHRA Countdown at Maple Grove Raceway. I couldn’t believe how many people came up and said ‘Hey you’re from Long Island? I’m from Long Island.’ or ‘Hey you’re from New York? I’m from New York.’ There were some close ties with the fans and there were some people who knew the area where I live or knew my dad from when he was racing back in Englishtown. This was a fun race, and it was the first race for me as a Top Fuel driver at our home track. We got off to a pretty good start. Getting to another final round really moved us up in the points and we just need to keep the momentum going. It is always fun to engage with the fans, but this weekend was a little different because I had a lot of people come up to me and just tell me how impressed they are with the team or that they were taking pride in the hometown kid.
I am excited to be heading to Charlotte after a good weekend. It’s beneficial when you have races back-to-back and we have a bunch in a row to start the Countdown. This is my first time experiencing so many races in a row. To me the benefit is the team gets to gel and the only way to gel is to be out here. From a driver’s perspective I get in more of a routine. I can home in on my routine and fine tune it to find out what works best whether it is what time I go to sleep at night or what I are eating during the day. I am getting more comfortable in the car the more seat time I get.
It is a comfort factor knowing that we have been to zMax Dragway before and even earlier this year. It was the four-wide nationals in the spring and now we are coming back to the standard two wide deal. I love that track. It is a Bruton Smith facility, and it is beautiful. There are six races left in the Countdown no matter where we are racing, and it could be a dirt road it is going to be intense. This is when the best teams step up. I have full confidence in our Smart Sanitizer Strutmasters.com team that we will step to close out the season.
The Mopar Express Lane Nationals was really a great weekend. The car was fantastic running in the low 3.70s or high 3.60s. It was consistent and that is a testament to Dustin Davis and Mike Green. We have worked for this all year. We spent the year prior to the Countdown getting ready for this moment. When it was time to step up, we took advantage. Obviously, we didn’t get the job done in the final. We went to Reading with the goal of winning, but hat is off to Billy Torrence and their team. I feel good leaving here this weekend after taking a big swing out of the points. Now we focus on Charlotte.
DODGE//SRT NHRA U.S. NATIONALS, Indianapolis
Oh, I'm pumped for the playoffs. It's like you race all year for these last seven races, right? It's like all that hard work, energy, effort, dedication that yeah, I put in, but how about my team? All the work that they've put in, this is when it's time to step up. This is when it's time to turn your dreams into reality. I'm a big playoff fan. It has raised the intensity that much more. It's good for the sport and it's good for the teams and the fans. And I cannot wait to get out to Reading.
We're getting better race to race. I mean, we're a young team. We all had to come together and gel and the only way to gel is to be out here at the races on consecutive weeks. That's the best way to do it. I've been so impressed with this team and it's a testament to Dustin Davis and Mike Green for putting this group of guys together. I've been so impressed with this team since the season started in Gainesville. And I thought, man, we have an elite group of guys and somehow, some way, they continue to get better every week. I feel fortunate to be able to drive this car and for this team.
I've never raced at Maple Grove Raceway. It's important really when you go into a new racetrack to speak with some people, right? I’ll talk with my core group of people and see if there's anything significant, I need to know. I always kind of want to have an awareness of the racetrack, kind of where I’m at and where the turnoff is for obvious reasons. Maple Grove Raceway in Reading is my home track. That's three hours away from home. I will have some friends and family in attendance. So that's going to be fun and its playoff time. It really does not get any better than this.
My family is everything to me. To me, the two most important things in life are faith and family. And not only do I get to race, but I get to race with the people that I love and care about the most. They've had such a profound impact on my life. Without my mother, without my father, without my family, I wouldn't be writing this blog. I wouldn't be in this position today. And I'm very grateful that I have a close group of cousins, aunts, uncles, and my grandmother that care about me and support me and I'm privileged. I feel I'm lucky to have that because you only get one family. So all that plays a role in why I'm here today.
The ticket requests started going through the roof right in the beginning and I was like, whoa, let's slow down and take it easy. I had to figure this out. I told everybody I need one week's notice. We're past one week now. I don't think it's going to be too many people. It also happens to be football Sunday for the first week. I would say I’ll have between five and 10, maybe 15 family members throughout the weekend, which is plenty. A lot of these family members and friends haven't seen me race before. I think they're going to come out and have a good time and getting to race in front of family, you only get one home track, right? You want to do everything you can to take advantage of it. It will be a great weekend in Reading.