GAINESVILLE, FL (March 14, 2021) — The 52nd annual NHRA Gatornationals was shaping up to be a magical day for 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley and his Strutmasters.com GuardLab Top Fuel dragster. His qualifying effort did not reflect the confidence his crew had in the performance capabilities of his 11,000 horsepower race car. Entering Sunday’s first round of eliminations as the No. 12 qualifier Ashley was focusing on the fact that the weather conditions could level the playing field for all the Top Fuel competitors.
“The conditions were better than they had been all weekend,” said Ashley. “I knew it would take a low to mid 3.70 to be able to win. I tried not to think about it too much. I wanted to go through the same routine I had on Friday and Saturday. Brittany Force is a good driver and we were fortunate to come out with the win.”
The first round win was a great boost for the team with Ashley taking a starting line reaction time advance of .034 to .072 off the stripe. His Strutmasters.com GuardLab dragster crossed the finish line 3.733 seconds later for a holeshot win over Force’s quicker 3.727 seconds. The jump off the line paved the way to victory and a second round match-up with veteran Doug Kalitta.
After the run an emotional crew chief Mike Green talked about getting his first round win with Ashley and the Davis Motorsports team. The victory over friend and former teammate Dave Grubnic hit close to home for Green.
“That was an awesome run,” said Green. “(Monster crew chief) David (Grubic) and I were teammates not too long ago and he even helped me out with some stuff last night. He is a great guy. We made some changes and it worked out. We are going to get back to the pits and try to keep going.”
In the quarterfinals Ashley took the win when Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster went up in smoke as soon as he hit the throttle. Ashley was on a smooth run turning on the win lights with a time of 3.833 seconds at 321.81 mph. The second round was just over an hour after the first round due to an accelerated racing schedule to hit the live FOX national broadcast window. Ashley saw the plusses and minuses to the fast pace on race day.
“Being on a quick turn-around definitely keeps us moving,” said Ashley. “When we are live on FOX it makes it difficult. You are rushing. You are trying to get everything done on time. Everyone is thrashing. At the same time you do get into a rhythm. The less you think about it the better off you are. I kind of like moving at that fast pace and it definitely felt like I was able to get into a groove today. The more laps the better for me and its better for the team. In that second round we were fortunate to win against Kalitta who is the best to ever do this.”
Ashley was rolling with two round wins and a race coming up against rookie Josh Hart in the semifinals. Hart was racing in his first Top Fuel national event and Ashley was at his second Gatornationals in just over six months. Ashley knew Hart was a driver with a team that had to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the 2020 Summernationals Top Fuel winner suffered a mechanical failure immediately after executing his burnout. Ashley staged his race car but he did not have confidence he was going to be able to go head to head with Hart. As soon the tree fired Hart took off and Ashley barely moved off the line. His chance at his first Gatornationals Top Fuel final went by the wayside due to an air line malfunction.
“That is a tough way to lose when you have a mechanical gremlin like that. First of all I am happy for Josh,” said Ashley, a Gatornationals Top Alcohol Dragster winner. “It is his first race and he is a great guy. I am happy he is going to the final round. In terms of us it would be silly to look at just that one run. We have to look at the whole weekend. We had a great weekend. It was our first weekend out with the new car so everyone on the Davis Motorsports team and Mike Green and the whole entire group did a great job this weekend. Now we will just use this as the foundation moving forward.”
With a few weeks off before the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads to the west coast Ashley will turn his attention back to his real estate business and continued marketing opportunities for his race team. Ashley will leave the first race of the season tied for third place in the Top Fuel point standings.
“I am going to focus on my business and I am going to do my very best to stay in shape and focused,” said Ashley. “I know the guys are going to go back to the shop and grind. Mike (Green) and the team will have the car ready. I am happy for Chip Lofton and Strutmasters as well as everyone at Auto Shocker. We had The Daily Crave here this weekend and GuardLab. It is a great blessing to have them on board this season. We are underway and everyone on this team is looking forward to more success.”
Q1: 5.700 sec, 111.86 mph; Qual. 10
Q2: 3.966 sec, 302.89 mph; Qual. 11
Q3: 3.873 sec, 319.60 mph; Qual. 12
Bonus Points: 0
E1: Justin Ashley, Plainview, NY, Strutmasters.com GuardLab dragster, 3.733, 324.05 mph def. Brittany Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Monster Energy dragster, 3.727, 331.94 mph
E2: Justin Ashley, Plainview, NY, Strutmasters.com GuardLab dragster, 3.833, 321.81 mph def. Doug Kalitta, Ypsilanti, MI, Mac Tools dragster, 7.895, 84.83
E3: Josh Hart, Ocala, FL, Technet dragster, 3.811, 325.14 mph def. Justin Ashley, Plainview, NY, Strutmasters.com GuardLab dragster, broke
Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Ten – Top Fuel
1. Josh Hart, 113
2. Shawn Langdon, 94
3. Justin Ashley, 72
3. Antron Brown, 72
5. Steve Torrence, 64
6. Billy Torrence, 62
7. Doug Kalitta, 54
8. Leah Pruett, 52
9. Brittany Force, 35
10. Mike Salinas, 34
About Justin Ashley Racing
Justin Ashley Racing in partnership with Davis Motorsports fields the Strutmasters.com Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. During his Top Fuel rookie season in 2020 Justin won the NHRA Summernationals, finished in the Top Ten and was recognized as the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year. Prior to his professional debut Ashley has three wins in Top Alcohol Dragster on the Lucas Oil Series. He is the son of multi-time NHRA national event winner Mike Ashley. In 2017, he was named to the Drag Illustrated magazine’s 30 under 30 list, highlighting some of racing’s most promising young individuals on and off the racetrack. When he’s not racing, Ashley serves as President of Ashley Developers, a real estate investment organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of distressed properties. To learn more about Justin Ashley Racing, visit JustinAshley.com.