Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals
Event 9 of 21
Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park
June 23 - 25, 2023
Justin Ashley Races to Runner-Up Finish in Norwalk
NORWALK, OH (June 25, 2023) – Justin Ashley raced the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma to his fifth final round of 2023 and for the first time, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year did not emerge victorious, exiting Norwalk with a runner-up finish. Throughout the season, Ashley had established a pattern of racing to the final round and securing the victory, capturing four national event wins and four Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge victories including one yesterday at Summit Motorsports Park. Ashley dropped in the final round to No. 1 qualifier Leah Pruett after he defeated Clay Millican, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force throughout the day.
“This was a great weekend at the racetrack for our Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma,” said Ashley, who has raced to 16 final rounds in his Top Fuel career. “Our entire team did a fantastic job and I could not be prouder. This was a team effort from the start to the finish. To be able to turn on so many win lights in a row is something that is so difficult to do in a sport that has so much competition. Today and the rest of the season we will have our guardian angel Cathi Maynard riding with us.”
In the first round, Ashley drew veteran driver and No. 10 qualifier Millican to get his race day started. Both drivers were strong off the starting line with Ashley getting a slight edge .041 to .044 but Millican smoked the tires almost immediately. Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma made a smooth run at 3.715 seconds to advance to the quarterfinals.
Facing four-time world champion and fellow Toyota driver Torrence in the quarterfinals, Ashley had lane choice. When the tree flashed amber Ashley once again showed his driving skill leaping off the line with a strong .038 reaction time and that advantage held up at the finish line getting the four-time national event winner in 2023 a holeshot win – 3.721 to 3.703 seconds over Torrence. After the win light fired off in Ashley’s lane his crew chief Mike Green had nothing but praise for his driver.
“He’s doing such a great job, he’s learning every day,” said Green. “He’s great on the tree. Racing the Torrence family, you know, Richard, Bobby, Steve, Billy and Kay, they’re just a great team. They’ve obviously been one of the best teams out here for a long time. Racing them, they flat out outran us that time, but luckily enough Justin did a great job on the tree and we got the win.”
The win advanced Ashley to another semifinal and secured his spot in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge for the fifth time this season. To race to his fifth final round, Ashley would have to defeat the reigning Top Fuel champion Brittany Force who was also racing a strong Top Fuel dragster. In the semifinals Ashley continued to be locked in off the starting line with a .038 reaction time which put his Phillips Connect Toyota dragster out front and he never trailed in the race winning 3.711 to 3.713 seconds with both 12,000-horsepower Top Fuelers hitting over 330 mph.
"It's so much fun to be able to drive this Phillips Connect Toyota Racing Top Fuel dragster,” said Ashley, after his semifinal win. “I love putting our Mac Tools and Lucas Oil to work each round. The team does such a great job and everyone is focused on us, but how about the competition? It's so close, racing with such small margin of error. Everyone knows I love our marketing partners, but I love my mother. Happy birthday, Mom, I love you."
Throughout the season Ashley has had the support of marketing partners including KATO Fastening Systems, Lucas Oil, Mac Tools, Toyota and this weekend Okuma. In the final looking to turn on his 14th consecutive win light with his fifth win of the season Ashley pulled beside Pruett. Ashley was first off the line for the fourth consecutive time on race day with another stellar reaction time, .043-seconds. Ashley was on a strong run, but he had to pedal his race car, losing some momentum and opening the door for Pruett to drive around him. He was not able to get his dragster to hook back up and he had to watch Pruett pull away for the win.
The team will leave Norwalk with the points lead which they stretched to over 100 points over Torrence in second place. They will be back on track at the NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, July 14-16.
Qualified: No. 7 (3.708 E.T. at 332.59 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.715 E.T. at 329.34 MPH defeated Clay Millican 6.782 E.T. at 67.91 MPH
E2: 3.721 E.T. at 328.06 MPH defeated Steve Torrence 3.703 E.T. at 331.77 MPH
E3: 3.711 E.T. at 331.94 MPH defeated Brittany Force 3.713 E.T. at 333.16 MPH
E4: 4.497 E.T. at 198.90 MPH defeated by Leah Pruett 3.761 E.T. at 326.79 MPH
Tough Weekend for Tony Schumacher Ends in First Round at Norwalk Nationals
Racing with heavy hearts following the passing of JCM Racing co-owner Cathi Maynard, Tony Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team had extra motivation to turn on win lights Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Schumacher’s tiger-striped dragster overpowered the Summit Motorsports Park track surface in the opening round, though, leaving Schumacher to reflect on Maynard’s impact on his career.
Schumacher, who raced to a runner-up finish at the recent completion of the NHRA New England Nationals, came out of the gate swinging during Friday qualifying. He laid down a 3.759-second pass to qualify for a spot in the 16-car field, but after suffering from traction issues in the second and third qualifying sessions, he eventually settled into the No. 12 position on the eliminations ladder going into Sunday.
Schumacher’s traction troubles continued in the first round of eliminations against Austin Prock. The two drivers left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times, but the SCAG machine went up in smoke almost immediately.
Despite the early exit, Schumacher is confident it was merely a misstep on the path to a fast, consistent race car tuned by nitro racing veteran Mike ‘Zippy’ Neff.
“Great teams are built through patience, period,” said Schumacher, who won the inaugural NHRA event at Norwalk in 2007. “You don't wake up in the morning, throw a bunch of parts together, and have success. In the past working with Zippy, we had a moving car, moving parts, and he filled the spot of crew chief. Right now, we're starting over with all-new stuff. It will take time, but I have more faith in these guys than anyone else out here. That's why they were hand-picked. I stick with them, and they're going to be excellent at the end when we need it.”
Earlier in the race weekend, Schumacher and his JCM Racing teammates were saddened to hear that team matriarch Cathi Maynard had passed away. She had a profound impact on Schumacher both personally and professionally. Cathi and husband Joe Maynard provided funding for Schumacher to make his return to full-time Top Fuel competition in 2022, and they later purchased a majority stake in Schumacher’s team.
“My wife said it best: Cathi brought me back,” said the eight-time Top Fuel world champion. “I didn't have a whole lot of people out there saying, ‘Hey, let's put Tony back in the car.’ I think people thought I was retired, and she wanted me back out there. She helped get it done, and I’ll never forget that. I'm going to miss her greatly. She was an amazing person. There's no person that's ever met her, that's a lesser person because of it. She was a strength for a lot of people.”
Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment team will have a few weeks off before starting the ‘Western Swing’ at the NHRA Mile-High Nationals, July 14-16, at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado.
Qualified: No. 12 (3.759 E.T. at 321.50 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 10.944 E.T. at 73.40 MPH defeated by Austin Prock 3.740 E.T. at 319.45 MPH
Tim Wilkerson Runs Red in Eliminations but Boosted by Performance of SCAG/LRS Funny Car
Tim Wilkerson came into the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals looking for a strong weekend at a track where he was victorious in 2010 and a facility that carries the name of his long-time sponsor, Summit Racing Equipment.
Wilkerson’s SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang unloaded off the truck with a stout pass of 3.941 seconds in the one-and-only round of qualifying on Friday due to weather. The performance allowed the team to lean on their 11,000-horsepower Funny Car, and they blasted to a run of 3.903 seconds in Q2 that placed Wilkerson fifth on the Funny Car ladder. With the run, he picked up two valuable bonus points for posting the second-quickest pass of the session.
In eliminations, Wilkerson faced Blake Alexander, who was qualified 12th. Both cars staged nearly identically, but in an uncharacteristic moment for Wilkerson, he stood on the throttle too early and red-lit by .015 seconds giving Alexander the win.
“I had a good car all weekend and got it rolled in there a little too far first round this morning. I thought I saw all kinds of yellow. I’m still analyzing whether it just tried to pull the tire out of the beam or what it did, but not a good day for red lights that’s for sure,” said Wilkerson following the race. “It wasn’t what I wanted to do, of course. I had a good car all weekend. I’m usually good for one of them a year, so hopefully this can be my ‘one and done’ with red lights for the season.”
The entire JCM organization raced with heavy hearts this weekend following the passing of team co-owner Cathi Maynard on Friday. She was an integral part of the team owned in conjunction with her husband Joe Maynard and partners Eric and Kim Lehman and was the organization’s biggest cheerleader.
“I’ve talked with Joe numerous times this weekend. This team is all about Cathi’s legacy, and we want to make her proud,” Wilkerson continued. “We miss her. It was a blessing to have known her, but we know she’s in a better place now.”
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action with the start of the Western Swing at the Mile High Nationals in Denver, July 14-16. Wilkerson will begin ‘The Swing’ from seventh in the Funny Car standings.
Qualified: No. 5 (3.903 E.T. at 323.35 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 6.231 E.T. at 105.79 MPH defeated by Blake Alexander 3.995 E.T. at 319.22 MPH