Top Alcohol Dragster teammates Justin Ashley and Megan Meyer both grew up at the racetrack cheering on their successful racing fathers, but their days of merely watching from the starting line are over. The second-generation drivers took a big step towards cementing their own names in drag racing history Friday when the Randy Meyer Racing drivers fired off a pair of 5.15s during qualifying at the NHRA Gatornationals.
Ashley, the 22-year-old son of former NHRA Funny Car and Pro Mod driver Mike Ashley, sent a shockwave across Gainesville Raceway when his scoreboard lit up with a 5.150 at 280.49 mph during the opening round of qualifying. It was just his fifth full pass in the nitromethane-injected dragster.
“When I got to the finish line I had no idea it ran a 5.15,” Ashley admitted. “I was hoping maybe it ran something in the 20s – it felt good, smooth and fast. When I got down to the turnoff I spoke to a few people who had an idea of what it ran, then when the team came down on the golf cart and told me, I was pretty happy.”
The 5.15 has Ashley sitting on top of the Top Alcohol Dragster qualifying order after two of three sessions. It’s a bold first impression for his first national event appearance, but Ashley is quick to pass the credit on to tuner Randy Meyer and his family-based crew.
“To be able to make such a splash immediately is pretty amazing. To be honest with you, I have the easiest job in the world – I just get in the car and drive. Randy, Mary, and Megan Meyer and the whole Randy Meyer Racing team, they make the car go from A to B. To be able to find success, at least in qualifying this early, is a big blessing,” Ashley said.
Meyer, who opened her sophomore season in Top Alcohol Dragster with a win at the Gainesville regional race a few weeks ago, is no stranger to quick passes at more than 280 mph. She’s driven one of her father’s A/Fuel cars for over a year now, but even she was awestruck when her Meyer Truck Center/Burnyzz Speed Shop entry laid down a 5.153 at 283.73 mph in the second round of qualifying.
“I wasn’t expecting a teen run,” Meyer claimed. “I was expecting another 23 or low 20s. The car was really aggressive going down the track. We had just changed motors and made it up to the staging lanes just in time to make the run. We were thrashing, and sometimes when that happens, something doesn’t get put on all the way or there’s a mistake somewhere when you’re limited on time. So I wasn’t really expecting to have a great run like we did.
“The motor is happy, the clutch is happy, and the car is happy, so everything worked together. I had to drive it a little bit going down the track. It shook right as I launched. I didn’t pedal it but I was ready to pedal if it did go into some hard shake. Fortunately it just went straight on through.”
The pair of 5.15s rank sixth and seventh on the list of quickest elapsed times in Top Alcohol Dragster history, with Bill Reichert’s 5.148 set at the 2012 Charlotte spring race being the only quicker run that wasn’t recorded during the 100-percent nitro era. While the all-time record stands just five hundredths away at 5.103, Meyer realizes the mark is further away than it appears on paper.
“When we ran the 5.17 last year, that was a shock not just for us but I think for the whole class. There’s been a few 17s, 18s, 19s, but nothing really close to a 15. It doesn’t sound like that big of a jump but it is for our class. The 15 was exciting for us as a team because our best is a 5.13 and that was back in 2002 with Gary Ormsby Jr. driving. To be able to start inching closer to those numbers again is crazy. If it happens enough this year I have a feeling there will be some rule changes at the end of the year,” Meyer predicted.
Meyer says she doesn’t expect either Randy Meyer Racing car to dip much lower than the 5.15 during Saturday’s third and final qualifying session. Instead, the focus will shift to preparing for eliminations as the team chases their 41st NHRA Wally.
“Just because of how perfect the conditions were today, I don’t think we’ll see a run like that again this year. We’re just going to take what we can get; not really improve but be consistent and maybe back it down a bit because we don’t want to be hurting parts and changing motors going into eliminations.”
Ashley, Meyer and the rest of the Top Alcohol Dragster field will return to the Gainesville Raceway quarter mile for their third qualifying session at 10:15 a.m Saturday.