After a childhood spent in the NHRA Pro Mod and Funny Car pits, one might assume Justin Ashley, 23, would have a passion for ill-handling, short-wheelbase race cars. However, rather than follow directly in the footsteps of his father, Pro Modified pioneer Mike Ashley, Justin decided to pursue a driving career in the dragster classes. He’s now one of the quickest drivers in the history of NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster, with a 2017 rookie scorecard that boasts a runner-up finish and two wins – including one at his national-event debut, the historic Gatornationals.
“I definitely knew – because of the Randy Meyer Racing team – that I had a car that was going to be capable of going out and running quick and winning races from the get-go,” Ashley asserts. “But I also knew I would need to hold up my end of the deal because it’s a team effort. I expected to have success. To what amount, I wasn’t really sure. It was a great year, and I think for anybody to have this kind of success in their rookie year would probably surprise them a little bit.”
Ashley’s driving career technically started with a Jr. Dragster when he was 10 years old, but he only made test passes and entered a couple races. He returned to the driver’s seat last year when he drove Barry Brown’s blown Top Dragster at a handful of events. The Melville, New York, native then earned his Top Alcohol Dragster license in Meyer’s car at the Charlotte fall race before embarking on an eight-race campaign this season.
Despite his relative inexperience – or, perhaps, due to his fresh mindset – Ashley has developed a reputation as one of the most consistently quick leavers in a nitro-injected A/Fuel dragster.
“We usually get three qualifying sessions, and I take each of those sessions and I hit the tree aggressively each time as if it’s eliminations,” says Ashley, a real estate developer. “By the time first round comes around, I’ve already had three live hits at the tree. There’s no difference for me, mentally, between the first round of qualifying and the fourth round of eliminations. It’s the same thing for me every time I go up there. I think that’s why my reaction times are so good and so consistent.”
Even though Ashley drove Meyer’s EPIC Motorsports Marketing/Realty Warehouse-backed dragster to a 5.143-second pass at 282.36 – the sixth-quickest Top Alcohol Dragster run of all time and the second-quickest under the current rules – that pass at the NHRA Gatornationals wasn’t even close to being the quickest run he made this season. That title would go to the 3.788 at 314.90 he ran in 1,000 feet behind the wheel of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster, usually driven by Antron Brown, to earn his NHRA Top Fuel license.
“That was done more so for experience than anything else,” Ashley says of his licensing. “Right now, I’m racing with Randy Meyer again next year. I plan to stay in the alcohol class for a few more years because I think it’s the smart thing to do. I have a lot of growing and learning as a driver that I need to continue to improve. I did (the Top Fuel testing) for the experience and to get my license because one day, even though nothing’s in place right now, I do definitely plan to race Top Fuel.”
This story originally appeared in DI #127, the third annual 30 Under 30 Issue, in December of 2017.