In spite of all the challenges of the 2020 racing season, Top Fuel rookie Justin Ashley turned in a banner year, winning his first career race and being named the NHRA Rookie of the Year.
It also led to Ashley appearing on the cover of Drag Illustrated’s latest issue, which serves as “The Best of 30 Under 30” tribute. With PRI cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Drag Illustrated was unable to have its typical and popular 30 Under 30 reveal at the event. Instead, the publication chose to recognize 15 standouts from the previous five 30 Under 30 selections, recognizing the young stars who have since gone on to do even greater things since being first recognized.
After his standout season in such an unprecedented year, Ashley, who appeared on the 2017 DI 30 Under 30 list, led the way and called it an honor to appear on his first Drag Illustrated cover.
“Appearing on the cover of Drag Illustrated is a very exciting thing for me. For years, I’ve read Drag Illustrated. In the magazine, I’ve looked at people on the cover, and I thought, “Man, imagine if that could be me one day?” and now to be in the position that I’m in and to actually be on the cover, it’s very rewarding,” Ashley said.
“It’s an honor, and I’m very grateful to be in that position. I’m grateful to have the opportunity. I think that, again, it just puts things in perspective to look back and say, “Wow, I’m on the cover of Drag Illustrated.” That’s a really, really important thing, and it’s shown that we’ve come a long way.”
Drag Illustrated, which celebrated its 15th year in 2020, highlighted 15 past honorees who have since become champions and leaders for its 162nd issue, continuing the tradition of shining a light on all the young standouts in the sport.
Along with Ashley, other previous 30 Under 30 recipients who are honored in the issue include Aaron Stanfield, Megan Meyer, Blake Copson, Jake Sanders, Jeff Pierce, Troy Coughlin Jr., Krista Baldwin, Ty Tutterow, Leah Pruett, Jonnie Lindberg, Johnny Pluchino, Joey Haas, Charles Myers and Kevin Brannon.
“The fact that we couldn’t do our usual 30 Under 30 list and ceremony at the PRI Show presented a unique opportunity to look back at our previous lists and identify honorees who’ve gone above and beyond since appearing on the list,” Drag Illustrated Editor-In-Chief Nate Van Wagnen said. “These young people have gone on to win world championships and become industry leaders. We felt Justin Ashley was a great representative to lead this group on the cover, as he was not only successful on the track this year, but he’s also a great person who will continue to be a positive ambassador for the sport.”
It’s a responsibility Ashley and each 30 Under 30 recipient has taken seriously since Drag Illustrated started the list in 2015.
For Ashley, being a young driver comes with a lot of responsibility and he’s been eager to become an ambassador in the sport. That’s meant working with young fans who have dreams of their own, while also recognizing the importance of having a strong presence of young talent in the sport.
He’s seen that take place in recent years and notes the infusion of young talent can only benefit drag racing’s long-term future.
“I think it’s so healthy for the sport that we have this youth movement,” Ashley said. “A lot of these guys that were on this 30 Under 30 list have done so many great things over these last few years. I just think that it’s critical for the sport that there continues to be that infusion of youth. I think it’s healthy. It’s going to continue to help the sport in a lot of ways.
“I’ve definitely seen an uptick in the amount of people that have asked me for advice or have just asked me to pick my brain or talk about a few things, and it’s very neat for me. But when I see them come to me and ask me at such a young age, “What do you do,” or, “What kind of advice can you give me?” it really puts things in perspective. I try and do everything I can to take the time to speak these people because I was in their shoes, and I’m still in their shoes asking people for advice. It’s very humbling. It’s definitely a privilege to be in that position.”