Justin Ashley’s first full season was a stellar one in 2020, culminating in the young Top Fuel standout winning NHRA Rookie of the Year honors.
But the abbreviated and unprecedented season also meant plenty of new experiences remained for this season, including racing for the first time at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. That takes place at this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals and Ashley is eager to race at a track that holds plenty of special memories for him already.
As a 12-year-old, he watched his father, Mike, win the inaugural race in Funny Car in 2007 and then Ashley earned his Top Fuel license at the track a decade later driving Antron Brown’s dragster.
Now, in his first official laps on the track, Ashley wants to have his own memorable weekend in Norwalk driving his 11,000-horsepower Smart Sanitizer/Strutmaster.com dragster.
“This is my first time racing in actual stretches like this and it gives the team a chance to get into a rhythm and go to tracks I’ve never raced at in Top Fuel,” Ashley said. “To be back here racing in a national event here, it’s really cool for me. The fans are super engaged and awesome, and the Bader family puts on a great show.
"Not having the race last year, all the fans seem really pumped and excited. Saturday and Sunday are going to be packed and it’s just a good group of fans who love their drag racing, and that’s nice to see.”
Ashley is eager to put on a show, which he hopes will lead to his team’s breakout moment of the 2021 season.
The team made significant changes in the off-season, adding veteran tuner Mike Green and his championship resume. The potential is substantial and that’s been apparent in flashes this year, but it’s also about laying the groundwork for future success.
Ashley and his team have learned the importance of patience, but it hasn’t changed his strong desire to rack up victories.
“I feel like our program is in a better position than we’ve ever been before. We’ve given ourselves a foundation to really build something for the future," Ashley said. "It just takes time. We’re six races into a new program, so it just takes races together. But we’re getting there. You have to be patient racing against the best competition in the world, but we expect success as well.”
A successful weekend in Norwalk would do wonders for the team’s position in the Top Fuel standings as well.
Currently seventh in points, Ashley hopes to be the one who breaks out of the tight group that sits 7th-11th. He leads 11th-place Mike Salinas by just 19 points, which means there can be plenty of shuffling this summer.
Thankfully for Ashley, he’s secured enough sponsorship where he’s racing every event this year minus the stop in Denver. That adds extra importance for this weekend, but Ashley appears ready to take advantage.
“This is huge. It’s critical for me and it’s critical for the team, too,” Ashley said. “We’re able to gel as one and we really need to take this first half of the season and really lay a foundation for the Countdown. It’s our goal to make the Countdown and if we make it, then you try to make a run at a championship. Now’s the time to try and give yourself the opportunity to do that.”