CONCORD — This weekend, Justin Ashley will make his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series debut at the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at Concord’s zMAX Dragway. His Top Fuel debut includes a partnership with a new major sponsor and crew chief.
Ashley races this weekend under the sponsorship of Strutmasters and a new crew chief in Aaron Brooks.
“To be able to start my career here in Charlotte, it means a lot to me,” Ashley said. “I think back to when I was just a kid and my father was racing and I was just hanging out at the track, and I felt like every time he was going down the track, I was making a pass with him.”
Ashley came out Friday and started off his Top Fuel career with a bang. His initial run in the first qualifying session came in at 319.67 miles per hour, a faster time than his father, Mike, was ever able to reach in his entire Pro Mod and Funny Car career.
“It was actually an interesting fact, something I had never even thought about before, something I had never even realized,” said Ashley. “I think it’s a pretty cool fact, but other than that, it really doesn’t mean too much. More important than that, I was just happy we were able to go down the track and run fast and really get a baseline for us to move and be able to work off of for the rest of the weekend.”
That speed placed Ashley in the seventh spot before he was knocked down to 10th in the second session. With that, Ashley didn’t have to worry about his Saturday runs as much, as he had already placed himself into today’s elimination battles.
The elimination rounds will now begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, as NHRA officials moved up the entire Sunday schedule an hour with poor weather pending.
“To be able to come out here and make my Top Fuel debut is a little bit emotional for me, just because it’s been a journey for me and I’m very grateful to have that opportunity and be here,” Ashley continued. “With that being said, I am kind of trying to keep my emotions in check for the weekend and focus on the task at hand and do the best job I can do as a driver in helping our team to win.”
Ashley was joined by his father in zMAX Dragway’s media center Saturday, and he told the Independent Tribune what it means to be here in Concord for his son’s big day.
‘I’m so emotional thinking about everything, wanting him to first and foremost be safe, second wanting him to do well and enjoy the amazing experience that I had racing,” said the elder Ashley. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of anxiety, excitement, all of that combination, even when I was sitting in the car for the final round at Indy before I won Indy. I think it’s something that only a parent could understand, feeling something like that for your child.”
As nervous as Mike is, Justin is enjoying the time here with his dad as he prepares to battle in the third of six races of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“It means a lot to have my dad here with me,” said Ashley. “Growing up and watching him race, I always kind of knew that I wanted to do what he did. And then to fast-forward years later and have him here and kind of have the roles reversed, him rooting me on and supporting me, there’s really no feeling like it. It does mean the world to me.”
Away from racing, Justin has an action-packed career gutting and flipping 25 houses a year throughout New York.
He spends his weeks away from racing, working with contractors and building homes as part of the real estate business that he learned from watching his father.
“I love real estate,” Justin said. “It’s something that my father has been in. It’s something that I just kind of picked up on after I graduated from school,” Ashley said on his full-time job. “Part of that motivation is definitely being able to come out here and race, because I know without working I couldn’t even consider racing, and racing is something that I love to do. So it’s definitely a driving force in putting my best foot forward in the real estate business.”
Though the two may be extremely different, the learning Justin gains from the varying experiences is something he’s able to use in both fields.
“It’s an interesting difference; it’s like living in two worlds,” he said. “When I’m not racing, I’m in the fix-and-flip real estate business, flipping houses. Both have their own different challenges, but I think that both help me with the other with dealing with different things, seeing different things and kind of getting life experience.”