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Justin Ashley Adds His Own History to Topeka with Win

Menards NHRA Nationals

Presented by PetArmor

Event 13 of 21

Heartland Motorsports Park

Topeka, Kan.

Aug. 11-13, 2023

Top Fuel:

Justin Ashley Adds His Own History to Topeka with Win

TOPEKA, Kan. (August 13, 2023) – On the 30th anniversary of Jim “Mr. 300” Epler’s historic Funny Car accomplishment, the now Executive Vice-President of Phillips Connect, Justin Ashley’s primary sponsor, was able to celebrate in the winner’s circle after Ashley won for the sixth time this season at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor. It was October of 1993 when Epler flew down the historic Heartland Motorsports Park track to break the last significant Funny Car speed record. Unfortunately, Epler was not able to capitalize on his run with a win, but today he was front and center with Ashley for four win lights and some closure to a significant NHRA career.

“It is its closure, you know, for me,” said Epler, in the pressroom standing beside his young championship contending driver. “Our car was running really good that day. We went 300 mph and then a parts failure caused the car to burn up and we couldn't even make it to the semis. That was a historic race, but you'd love to get the big record and then win the race. I was surprised when Justin’s team put my likeness from that day, on his car’s front wing. You always think he’s got a legitimate chance to win, and we talked about it but that doesn’t make it happen. I'm just still like, really blessed that we were able to pull that off and there is a little bit of closure there.”

For Ashley, who picked up victory No. 7 for the JCM Racing team, today was a marathon for the seven-time finalist in 2023. A six-hour rain delay pushed back the start of the event until nearly 4 p.m. local time. Ashley, as the No. 7 qualifier, had to face one of his toughest recent opponents, Josh Hart. The pair recently met in the semifinals two weeks ago at the Sonoma Nationals with Ashley advancing to a final and another win in one of the closest races of the day. Yesterday the duo met in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge rematch race with Ashley once again getting the upper hand.

Today, in one of the closest races of the first round, the Phillips Connect Toyota dragster which also receives backing from KATO Fastening Systems, Lucas Oil, Mac Tools and Toyota, made a strong 3.753 second run to get the win over Hart’s tire smoking 5.259 second pass. Ashley made his quickest and fastest pass of the weekend to get the win. Throughout the day, Ashley credited his team led by crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago with leading the crew and Maynard Ashley Racing team to another win.

“We had four incredible turnarounds today and the team did a great job,” said Ashley, who now has 11 Top Fuel titles. “Their ability to maintain their composure and consistency on and off the racetrack is so unique. This weekend we had different conditions and tight turnarounds to beat the weather. We really didn't know what today was going to bring. Every driver, every team was under the same circumstances. It really speaks volumes to how strong this team is and that gives me lot of confidence as a driver.”

In the quarterfinals, Ashley drew Leah Pruett and her Tony Stewart Racing backed Top Fuel dragster. Ashley had an excellent reaction time and never trailed in the race. He once again ran low elapsed time of the round and took lane choice into the semifinals over Toyota teammate Antron Brown. Ashley’s reaction time of .035 seconds combined with his 3.755 second elapsed time showed that he had the car and driver combination to beat in Topeka.

Racing Brown for the fourth time this season, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year was looking for his fifth consecutive win light against the three-time Top Fuel world champion. The pair have met previously in two semifinals and two final rounds with all the races going in Ashley’s favor. Today continued the trend with Ashley using a starting line advantage to grab the win on a slight holeshot with his 3.726-second time getting his 11,000-horsepower Phillips Connect dragster to the finish line in front of Brown’s quicker 3.711 second run. The third win light of the day and seventh win light in a row going back to his win at the Sonoma Nationals set Ashley up for a final round against Brittany Force, the reigning Top Fuel world champion.

Ashley was looking to add one more piece of history to the final NHRA national event at Heartland Motorsports Park. In 2007, his father, Mike Ashley, defeated Jim Head in the final round to win the Funny car title. A win today would make the current Menards NHRA Nationals the first event the father and son each had victories. In a final under the lights, Ashley was nearly perfect getting the jump off the starting line .034 to .049 and pairing his advantage with a quicker 3.702 second run against Force’s 3.707 second pass. Both dragsters crossed the finish line side by side at over 320 mph to close the book on Top Fuel in Topeka.

“You're always concerned, because we know how good (Force’s crew chief) David Grubnic and Brittany are together,” said Ashley. “They did a fantastic job all day. We know what they did last year. They are the champions for a reason. But at the end of the day, I think our approach is unique. It's a little different than some of the other teams out here. We just don't focus on what's going on in the other lane. We raced our race and stay within ourselves and do the very best that we can. It's almost the same situation as it would be during qualifying because, you know, we just go up there with the same approach every time.”

The win extended Ashley’s Top Fuel points lead over second place Steve Torrence to 83 points, or over four rounds, with only two races before the Countdown starts. Ashley also picked up an additional two championship points as the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge runner-up to add to his winnings along with an additional $3,000. He will once again compete in the Mission Foods sponsored event at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals next weekend at Brainerd Internationals Raceway.

“I watched guys like Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, and Steve Torrence dominate for years and you just kind of watch and think man, how incredible would it be to be in that position? You know, now we're in that position a little bit,” said Ashley. “We are racing against some of what I consider to be legends like Steve, Tony, and Antron and it's almost like I have to pinch myself. I really can't believe it. I just feel grateful to be out here racing, let alone winning.”

Qualified: No. 7 (3.818 E.T. at 322.88 MPH)

Elimination Round Results:

E1: 3.753 E.T. at 329.26 MPH defeated Josh Hart 5.259 E.T. at 134.35 MPH

E2: 3.755 E.T. at 327.35 MPH defeated Leah Pruett 3.794 E.T. at 325.92 MPH

E3: 3.726 E.T. at 326.87 MPH defeated Antron Brown 3.711 E.T. 325.92 MPH

E4: 3.702 E.T. at 323.58 MPH defeated Brittany Force 3.707 E.T. at 322.88 MPH

No. 4 Qualifier Tony Schumacher and SCAG Power Equipment Team Continue to Make Progress During Heartland Nats

Aboard the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster, Tony Schumacher secured his best qualifying position of the season at the final running of the Menards NHRA Nationals in Topeka, Kansas, clinching the No. 4 seed to start race day. Schumacher, the winningest driver in NHRA Top Fuel history, began the weekend by unloading with a solid baseline pass in the opening qualifying session. Crew chiefs Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer followed that up with another impressive pass in the third round, tuning the SCAG dragster to a 3.801 E.T. at 322.04 MPH to lock in a spot in the quick half of the field.

Schumacher drew Scott Palmer as his first-round opponent on race day, and after a lengthy delay due to persistent rain, the two drivers lined up, ready to battle for the win light. Schumacher was first on the throttle, giving him a slight lead out of the gate but his machine started to lose traction shortly after, and Palmer was able to chase him down for the win.

“That was a terrible race to lose, but again, we’re a great team,” said the 2010 Topeka Top Fuel event champion. “Nobody tries harder than these guys. We’ll get this figured out. It’s a process, and you have to trust the process. I’m not an angry person, I’m not throwing helmets. I understand that these things are difficult. We have found many new ways of not doing things as part of the process. We started with all new parts, all new pieces, all new chassis, and we will succeed. We will get this figured out. It’s painful for me, it’s painful for each guy on this team, but they stick together like a band of brothers I’ve never seen.”

With this year’s Topeka event slated to be the last, Schumacher was hoping to close out his Heartland Motorsports Park career from the winner’s circle. While he won’t leave with the hardware, Schumacher will depart with the consolation prize of knowing he’ll go down in the books as the facility’s track record holder, which he achieved when he clocked a 3.660 E.T. during the 2017 event.

The NHRA moves on to Brainerd, Minn. next for the NHRA Brainerd Nationals, the penultimate event of the Camping World Series ‘regular’ season. Qualifying kicks off on Friday, Aug. 18.

Qualified: No. 4 (3.801 E.T. at 322.04 MPH)

Elimination Round Results:

E1: 4.123 E.T. at 246.08 MPH defeated by Scott Palmer 3.922 E.T. at 313.73 MPH

Funny Car:

Tim Wilkerson Leaves Topeka With Consistent SCAG Power Equipment Mustang

Tricky conditions tested Tim Wilkerson and the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang Funny Car at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor, but a string of three-second passes showed serious potential for the Funny Car veteran. Racing at the final NHRA national event at Heartland Motorsports Park, Wilkerson bowed out in a side-by-side race with Matt Hagan in the second round of eliminations.

The Maynard Wilkerson Racing driver was consistent through three qualifying sessions, beginning with a pass that put him in the top 8 on Friday. He made the third-quickest pass of the second session on Saturday, and again in the final session to earn a pair of bonus points. Wilkerson’s 3.991 E.T. at 320.74 MPH in the final session gave him the No. 6 spot going into Sunday eliminations.

Persistent rain showers on Sunday morning delayed the start of eliminations to late afternoon. Patience paid off for Wilkerson, who laid down his quickest pass of the weekend, a 3.987 E.T. at 318.77 MPH, to win the round over Terry Haddock. Wilkerson’s second-round appearance was almost over before it began, as he had trouble getting into reverse after the burnout. His team helped him get back to the starting line, and while he recorded a consistent 3.988-second pass at 322.88 MPH, it wasn’t quick enough to get around Matt Hagan and his 3.987 E.T.

“We made five real nice runs this weekend,” said Wilkerson, who earned his first national event win in Top Alcohol Funny Car at Topeka in 1994. “I’m pretty proud of our guys and how well the car ran. It just didn’t run fast enough to beat Hagan in the second round today. Had a little issue getting the car to go in reverse after the burnout, but you see that from time to time, and my guys were on it. They pushed me back to the starting line, and Hagan’s team waited for us. That was very sportsman-like of them, so thank you, Dickie (Venables, Hagan’s crew chief) and thank you, Matt, for hanging in there with me.”

Wilkerson and the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car team will now head north to Brainerd, Minnesota, for the NHRA Nationals, Aug. 18-20, at Brainerd International Raceway. It’s one of just two races left in the NHRA regular season before beginning the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Qualified: No. 6 (3.991 E.T. at 320.74 MPH)

Elimination Round Results:

E1: 3.987 E.T. at 318.77 MPH defeated Terry Haddock 4.593 E.T. at 203.65 MPH

E2: 3.988 E.T. at 322.88 MPH defeated by Matt Hagan 3.987 E.T. at 317.64 MPH


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