There are a lot of ways to lose a round of racing in this sport, and second-generation nitro pilot Justin Ashley found one of the more rare means of doing so Sunday afternoon at the mid-summer edition of the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, California.
Top Fuel sophomore Ashley, appearing in his second career final round after disposing of Buddy Hull, top qualifier Brittany Force, and Antron Brown in subsequent rounds, was in the burnout box in front of the Pomona timing tower prepared to take on Leah Pruett when he succumbed to heat exhaustion and climbed from his Smart Sanitizer-backed dragster. Ashley was helped by his crew and father, Mike Ashley, to his team’s tow vehicle and was then evaluated by NHRA medical personnel.
The air temperature per Weather Underground held steady in the 90s for nearly the duration of Sunday’s eliminations, soaring to 96-degrees as Ashley and Pruett suited up for the final round match.
“These race cars are too powerful to drive if you aren’t 100-percent,” said Ashley from his hauler after the event. “I was drinking water throughout the day but before the final round I just didn’t feel right. I talked with my crew chief Mike Green and my father and they encouraged me to do what was in my personal best interest.
“I want to thank the entire racing community and especially my sponsors for the outpouring of support I received today,” added Ashley.
While Ashley was being tended to, Pruett was solo’ing to her long-awaited first victory in the class in nearly two years.
“There will be more races and I take this as a learning experience. I congratulate Leah and look forward to racing her in a final very soon,” said Ashley.
“First and foremost, I hope Justin is doing well,” said Pruett after her 4.02-second winning lap. “He is an incredible competitor and I wanted nothing but to race against him.”
“I especially want to thank Tony Stewart and Leah Pruett for their concern and interest in my health,” Ashley said. “I have known NHRA as my racing family for a long time but today it really showed how special our sport is and I thank everyone that stopped by, texted or posted well wishes on social media. I will be ready to go for Topeka.”