GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Second-generation nitro racer Justin Ashley learned a lot in his first season of Top Alcohol Dragster.
Ashley, who pilots the Epic Motorsports Marketing/Realty Warehouse A/Fuel Dragster for Randy Meyer, learned quickly to keep his emotions in check, even when he had plenty to get emotional about.
"What works best for me is keeping the emotions out of it - being mechanical.," explained Ashley, a two-time winner in 2017. " And that’s something I learned from my father and Frank Hawley. Get in the car and do the same thing every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first round of qualifying or the fourth round of eliminations on Sunday. You just put all your emotions to the side, don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Just get in the car, do your job. There’s plenty of time at the finish line to show your emotions."
Ashley proved a quick study as he laid down a No. 1 qualifier in his first outing, the NHRA Division 2 opener in Gainesville, Fla. A week later, he drove his way to the winner's circle at the NHRA Gatornationals. And for good measure, he added a No. 1 qualifier at the prestigious NHRA U.S Nationals and a second win in Brainerd, Minn.
Ashley will make his 2018 racing debut this weekend at the Lucas Oil NHRA Division 2 event this weekend in Gainesville, Fla. He's a much different driver than the unproven rookie who rolled through the gates last March.
"My nerve level was probably closer to 10 then, especially going into that race," Ashley said. "But at the same time when it was time to go and sit in the car and actually drive my nerves definitely calmed down a lot, and I was able to just focus on what I had to do. There was a lot of anticipation. A lot going on inside and outside the car at that time. But thanks to Randy and the team I was able to learn and grow as a driver.
"Relative to now where things are a little bit different. I’m looking at things a little bit different having those passes under my belt. You still get those normal butterflies but certainly different than last year."
Ashley knows what to expect when he rolls out for his first run.
"Starting out last year I didn’t know what to expect," Ashley admitted. "I didn’t really know very many people, and I wasn’t too familiar with the class. Now a year later having made as many laps as I’ve made, having been involved in the class I feel much different. I love the class because it’s highly competitive and the drivers and teams are all great and fun to be around. I feel like I’ve matured and I feel like I’m even ready to take one more step forward compared to last year."