Justin Ashley’s plan for his second season in the Top Fuel ranks calls for 12 races, with the possibility of two more.
“We’ll start at Pomona, then we’ll go to Phoenix and Gainesville to kind of try and get ourselves into a rhythm by doing the first three races of the year. We would love to do all 24 and compete for a championship just like all the teams out here, but it’s going to take some time and we’re going to continue to work together on the business side of things and as a group and we’ll get to that point. But right now 12 to 14 races is where we’re going to be at for this year,” the 24-year-old New Yorker said.
And that’s a mind set that distinguishes Justin Ashley from the pack. His passion is tempered with a strong sense of business.
Moreover, he seems to be finding companies that are genuine marketing partners, good fits for his brand.
“Yes, that’s a big deal,” Ashley said. “I kind of look at sponsorship a little differently. I don’t look at it so much a sponsorship like, ‘Here’s a check, put my name on the side of the car, go run your program.’ I don’t look at it that way. I look at it more of like a marketing partnership. When we bring companies on board, our top priority is to make sure that they get their return on investment. So we always want to provide more value to them than they provide for us. Now, that’s easier said than done. But we work hand-in-hand with the companies that we’re involved with to try and make sure that they’re getting so much significant return that they’re thrilled from the dollars-and-cents side of things but they’re also thrilled from the emotional investment of it and being a part of the team.”
He’s a natural at it, this second-generation driver whose father, Mike, excelled both on the track and off when it came to wooing sponsors.
“That I can say I got from my dad. He’s been a tremendous help throughout this whole process, because when I first started this process just like anyone else, I’m trying to learn how this whole thing works. So he’s been a tremendous resource for me to be able to lean on and give me a lot of business and guidance and advice,” Ashley said.
“The big thing for me is we want to be out here. We want to be racing. That’s the end goal, and then we work backwards from there,” he said. “And we know that getting companies involved is something that we have to do. So I try and absorb and take in as much information to make that as much a possibility as I can.”
So far he has Strutmasters.com, Biocide Systems’ Auto Shocker, KATO Fastening Systems, Lucas Oil, Justice Brothers and newest partner King Engine Bearings.
But he hasn’t done it all by himself.
“Going into the off-season we knew that one of the areas that we wanted to improve on was the parts of the car, because we know that our performance is directly correlated to the parts that we use. So we got into conversation with Ron Sledge [Performance and Technical Manager ] and King Bearings and we’re fortunate they helped us out and [decided to] hop on board for this year. So we’re going to be running King Bearings throughout this whole year, and this is their first foray into creating bearings for Top Fuel dragsters. So it’s really an exciting time for them as a company. They are continuing to evolve and grow, and we feel like we’re kind of in that same space, where we’re evolving and growing as a team. So we think it’s a really good fit – it’s a great fit,” Ashley said.
“And thankfully we had a mutual connection, Rich Bailey, who is my Director of Business Development. He handles all my marketing. He linked the two of us together and when we kind of got to talking about where we are as companies and where we are as programs, we said, ‘Wow, this is a perfect fit.’ I knew from speaking with Ron Sledge from King and from speaking with Rich Bailey that the sportsman bearings that they made were of the highest quality. They were great,” the former Top Sportsman and Top Alcohol Dragster racer said.
“So we knew that the Top Fuel bearings they were going to make were great and of top quality, so we’re excited to test them out,” Ashley said. “We tested them out last year at Pomona, and it went so smoothly and we’re so happy with how they look. So we’re happy to hop on board with them for this year.”
He called Bailey “unbelievable” and said, “Richie works day in and day out. He really does.”
Ashley entered only three races last season but was impressive in all three. In his debut at Charlotte last October, he qualified 12th and reached the semifinals. He started 14th at both Las Vegas and Pomona in November and lost in the first round at Las Vegas and exited in the second round at the season finale. And he’s ready for more Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action.
“I’m very excited. I am. I’m looking forward to the season. It was a short offseason, but for me it felt longer than it actually was. Anytime you have to get out of the seat and wait a few months to get back in, you start getting a little bit antsy. But these last few months have been good for us, because it allowed us to evolve and take that next step as a program,” Ashley said. “And me personally, as an individual, I spent a lot of that time making sure mentally and physically I’m in good shape and making sure that we help our existing partners to expand upon what we have already and trying to bring in new marketing partners.”
Of course, he’s also busy starring in his own online home-renovating series, “Fix, Flip, Fuel.”
He said, “That keeps me super busy. Thankfully, I have a lot of really good people that I work with that allow me to come here and race and they take care of all that. They help me with it. But some of these houses are just unreal. Some of the stuff that you see, it’s just crazy. But by the time it’s all said and done, they look nice and pretty and brand-new.”