You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And for rookie Top Fuel driver Justin Ashley, making a good first impression is traditional for the 24-year old driver of the Strutmasters.com dragster fielded by Dustin Davis Motorsports.
Ashley, who qualified No. 1 in his Top Alcohol Dragster debut and won his first national event the next week, made his graduation into Top Fuel a memorable one scoring a semi-finial finish in his first three rounds of competition.
Ashley understands today’s performance was the exception and not the norm.
“Anyone who keeps up with NHRA Top Fuel understands the competition here is the best in the world,” Ashley, 24, and from New York’s Long Island explained, “I have to be realistic about our expectations. Today was a pleasant surprise.”
Veteran tuner Aaron Brooks spearheaded Ashley’s bid to win in his debut; a tuner the rookie driver believes is a threat to win on any given Sunday.
“I have full confidence in Aaron Brooks and Dustin Davis and the entire team knowing that at any given time, we can go out and run well and be competitive,” Ashley said. “Being competitive was high on our priority list.”
Ashley made one full pull in qualifying, the first run down the strip, which resulted in a 3.831 elapsed time. The successful real estate developer then put together a pair of 3.77 elapsed times to beat Mike Salinas and then Rookie of the Year frontrunner Austin Prock.
Ashley is only racing in three events this season, and plans outings in Las Vegas and then Pomona. He understands the next outing might be tough to top this one.
“I’m going to take this and soak in the moment, but this race will be behind us,” Ashley explained. “I’m not going to focus anything on this race or focus on maybe what expectations might be there after this race. My entire focus is going to be on that race, but each particular run, and I’m just trying to continue to get better because I can improve as a driver, and we can continue to improve as a team.”
For about 300 feet, the rookie had the champion Steve Torrence, his semi-final opponent, concerned. As Torrence, the only driver to make a clean sweep of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, put it, “The kid tried to chop my head off.”
Ashley admits he was trying not to be intimidated by the moment.
“It definitely takes some practice to try and not get caught up in the moment and start thinking that something is maybe bigger than it is,” Ashley admitted. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Steve and his entire team and his entire program. But specifically him as an individual, he epitomizes what it takes to be a champion, and to be able to race against somebody like that, it does mean a lot to me.”
Ashley might have made his debuts look easy, but for him, the experiences were challenging and bordering on almost being overwhelming.
“Sometimes it might look easy, but it’s never easy,” Ashley said. “I try and focus on driving because I know that I wouldn’t be in this position without the team that we have. I just feel fortunate to have this team. I knew nothing was going to be easy. Nothing in the sport is easy.
“Nothing in life is easy, especially if it’s worth working for. But I’m happy that we were able to come out and make a lot of positive strides in our debut.”