MELVILLE, NY.- Sometimes fate has a way of creating the oddest scenarios. Pro Modified pioneer Mike Ashley, the 35-year old, mortgage lender from Melville, NY., was on a flight returning from a DNQ performance at the recently completed IHRA Mopar World Finals in Shreveport. La. Here's where the fate thing comes into play.
Assigned to the seat next to him was none other than the cousin of another one of the original players - Robbie Vandergriff. Bob Vandergriff, Jr., and he had a long talk about the state of Pro Modified. Vandergriff is currently one of the sponsors on the Tim McAmis Corvette, the driver that beat out Ashley for the 1990 crown.
Ashley just gets a kick out of the chance encounter.
"Is that not something?" Ashley said with a chuckle. "We had a long talk and I realized that I was holding onto something that was yesterday's innovation. It was the hot tip back then and I mean, in early 1990, the nitrous cars really stood a chance. Things have changed a lot since then."
Vandergriff pointed out that Ashley was fighting a losing battle of catch up.
He continued, "We knew we had a steep learning curve returning to the show after all this time off. The nitrous combination is going to take much more time to bring up to speed than we can devote to it. I can see the writing on the wall with this deal and I think a supercharger is the way to go. If the rules change to the way we think they are going to for next season, our stuff is going to be obsolete anyway. We might as well head in a new direction anyway."
Ashley made the return with his longtime friend Matt Grillo, who runs the highly successful Lizzard Racing Engines (www.lizzardracing.com) earlier in the season with a 1957 Chevy that features graphics that have netted the team Best Appearing honors once this season. However, Ashley is not satisfied with what has transpired during this season.
Details are still pending as to whether he will make a switch away from his current four-link set-up to a swing-arm chassis. One thing that will remain certain is that Grillo will be his engine builder of choice.
"I'm a very competitive person," explained Ashley, who finished runner-up in the points chase for the inaugural Pro Modified World Championship in 1990. "Going home after qualifying does not suit me. I'm not buying into the paying the dues thing again. I've already paid them once. Next season is going to be a new ballgame for us. Next season for us starts today and I'm coming to the game with both guns blazing."