Second-generation professional drag racer Justin Ashley grew up watching his father, Mike Ashley, compete in Pro Mod and Funny Car match races and NHRA national events. Now, as a championship-contending Top Fuel driver in his own right, the 29-year-old from Plainview, New York, has crisscrossed the country for four seasons on the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, building a fanbase and experiencing national events at dozens of racetracks.
The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year is excited about the prospect of launching a new drag racing event in Bradenton, Florida, with the Scag Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout presented by Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage, February 8-10, at Bradenton Motorsports Park. The big-money race offering $250,000 to the Top Fuel winner has grabbed the attention of the drag racing world, and Ashley understands the growing excitement for the race from both the fan and competitor perspective. The uniqueness of the event, as well as the chance to launch a new endeavor, has Ashley eager to get the 2024 season underway.
“This is an opportunity for us as a group to do something special,” said Ashley, who has raced his way up the ranks from Jr. dragster to Top Fuel. “The message is clear, and it’s one that I firmly stand behind. This race is being held because it’s in the best interest of drag racing. Our hope is that it helps to elevate the sport we all love and appreciate so much. That includes the challenges of racing at a new facility, track entertainment, streaming, and taking fans behind the scenes so they can connect with teams and drivers on a more personal level. We are very thankful for PRO, Drag Illustrated and SCAG Power Equipment for putting themselves at the forefront of this new endeavor.”
As plans are coming together for this inaugural event, Ashley has been impressed by the level of collaboration across the professional drag racing community. Team owners, marketing representatives, public relations managers and drivers have all pulled together to work with new sponsors, new broadcasting partners and a new venue for professional drag racing to put together a first-time event that could have historic ramifications for the sport of drag racing.
“It’s a chance to race for one of the biggest monetary prizes in the history of professional drag racing,” said Ashley. “We are racing for something critically important because those winnings can be put directly back into the program in an effort to improve as we race during the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series. This purse adds a lot of anticipation and excitement to the entirety of the event and teams will do everything they can to leave with the big check. It’s taken a true team effort to make racing under these circumstances a reality and one for which everyone is very proud.”
While a big payday at the end of the event is enticing, Ashley knows only one team will reap that benefit. The impact on the fans and for his sponsors will be the new elements of access that the PRO Superstar Shootout will provide. Multiple cameras throughout the pits, driver interaction events, and exclusive merchandise will make this event a must-attend drag race.
“Fans can expect a few days of very exciting entertainment,” said Ashley. “We’ll have the fastest accelerating vehicles on the planet and various different categories of cars competing against each other. But what makes it even greater is everything that surrounds the racing. Fans are in for a treat. The music, entertainment, food and accessibility will create the ultimate experience. It’s going to be a show.”
The 2023 NHRA season was Ashley’s most successful campaign winning six NHRA national events, finishing the regular season as the No. 1 Top Fuel team, capturing six Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge wins and the overall Mission Foods Top Fuel challenge. The team was competing for the Top Fuel championship on the final day of the season thanks to a runner-up finish at the Nevada Nationals. Looking ahead to 2024 the PRO Superstar Shootout will be Ashley’s first chance to size up what is looking like, one of the toughest Top Fuel fields in history, again.
“It would be huge to win this race. Momentum is important,” said Ashley. “You never want to discredit how important it is to get the season started off on the right foot. In addition, winning this race will have meant we made more laps down the racetrack, which gives us more data to use moving forward. Regardless of the outcome we will learn from the experience, but we want to perform well and make sure we’re at the top of our game.”