Justin Ashley and partner Dustin Davis have accelerated their timetable for Ashley’s Top Fuel debut and the second-generation nitro racer will now make his NHRA national event debut this fall in the Justin Ashley Racing/Davis Motorsports dragster.
Ashley, son of former Funny Car and Pro Mod national event winner Mike Ashley, and Davis, who has a strong background in nitro racing in both the Mello Yello and in NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage series, made a big impression earlier this year in announcing a 12-race 2020 campaign for Ashley. But, after making good progress in preparing the car and setting up the team infrastructure, they’ll now begin testing in May on the West Coast and make their debut during the Countdown to the Championship in the fall. The team will run no more than four events to maintain Ashley’s rookie status for the 2020 season and the opportunity to compete for the Auto Club Road to the Future award as the season’s top rookie.
“We wanted to give ourselves a chance to win at every race we go to in my rookie season, and we agreed that the best way to do that was to get a headstart this year,” said Ashley, who already has won two national event wins in the Alcohol Dragster class. “We started the process pretty early and have been making good progress. If everything goes according to plan in testing, we’ll be out racing in the fall.”
Ashley upgraded to a Top Fuel license in June 2017 in Antron Brown’s Don Schumacher Racing dragster, running an impressive 3.78 at 314 mph on just his third pass, and the team has purchased that same chassis for Ashley’s debut in the class. The team will be based out of Davis’ shop in Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Lance Larsen, who helped Davis and longtime nostalgia racing partner Richard Townsend make their way into the Mello Yello Series with their popular Nitroholic Funny Car in 2017, will serve as the new team’s crew chief. Mike Ashley, of course, will be significantly involved in the team as both an advisor and voice of experience to his son.
“Mike has given Justin some wonderful footprints to follow, and I think Justin has the pedigree to drive these cars,” said Davis. “I’ve been watching Justin drive and he’s got that robotic mentality behind the wheel. All of his lights are grouped together, he’s calm and cool and does the same program every time.”
Ashley, 24, will become the third young Top Fuel pilot to join the tour this season on the heels of Jordan Vandergriff and Austin Prock, and Ashley has been monitoring their progress.
“I have a lot of respect for Austin and Jordan and the way they’ve handled themselves on and off the racetrack; the way they have represented themselves and their teams is something that I admire and that it’s good for the sport to have this infusion of young racers in the professional categories,” said Ashley. “I’ve been tracking their progress and have been impressed; both of them look like veterans already. I'll definitely make it a priority to talk to Jordan and Austin to see how the transition has gone for them and to see if I can get any guidance; I’m always open to learning and anything that can make my transition easier or better.
“I feel pretty confident, but this is a new challenge for me,” he added. “I think that the A/Fuel car does a pretty good job of preparing you for what to expect, but obviously a Top Fueler it’s totally different car than anything out there. There’s certainly going to be a learning curve, and I expect that, which is why I’m looking forward to spending the time testing and getting some more laps; the more laps I make, the more comfortable I’ll feel. I expect to go out and be successful with this team, but I know it’s going to take some time for me to get used to certain things in the car, like feeling when it’s spinning or shaking the tires or when a run is going good or not going good."
Davis is high on his new partner and the bright future ahead, but will be taking the measured steps necessary to succeed in the long game.
“We fully expect to qualify and go some rounds; that’s how we’re going to approach this,” he said. “We don’t want to put a product out there that’s not top-notch. We want to be competitive, but we need to get Justin comfortable in the car, make sure it’s safe, and that we have all of our i’s dotted and t’s crossed before we go to the next level. After this year, I think we’re still pretty focused on running a limited schedule for 2020; obviously, if we get additional funding we might add to that but I don’t know that it will go immediately to a full season. Right now, we’re working with some marketing partners on getting our schedule for this year nailed down.”
“I feel very fortunate to be able to work with Dustin and the team,” added Ashley. “The most important thing for me was the culture that Dustin has been able to establish with his team, and I feel like I was able to slide in there and become a part of the team already, and we’re just beginning.”
You can follow Ashley on Twitter and Instagram at @justinashleytad and Davis on Instagram at @davismotorsportsllc.