JUSTIN ASHLEY: GOT CAROLINA ON MY MIND FOLLOWING SEMI-FINAL FINISH
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. Ashley is competing in his first Countdown and entered the seven-race playoffs in the No. 7 position heading into the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. After a runner-up finish, he's now fourth headed into the Dewalt Toos NHRA Carolina Nationals.
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.