Jewish Holiday adds drama to Countdown for Ashley ENNIS, Texas (September 18, 2007) - As if the NHRA Funny Car Countdown to the Championship needed more excitement, Torco Race Fuels Funny Car driver Mike Ashley has added personal drama by...
Jewish Holiday adds drama to Countdown for Ashley
ENNIS, Texas (September 18, 2007) - As if the NHRA Funny Car Countdown to the Championship needed more excitement, Torco Race Fuels Funny Car driver Mike Ashley has added personal drama by choosing not to race on Saturday, September 22 in order to attend Temple in observance of Yom Kippur.
After failing to qualify last week in Memphis, Ashley dropped from a comfortable second place in the points to sixth - two spots out of the top four who will advance to the who will advance to the Countdown to One POWERade Championship. This decision will force his team to assure his qualifying position in the O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals in just two attempts on Friday, Sept. 21. Drivers are typically allotted four chances to qualify for eliminations at each event, but Mike Ashley will only use two at the upcoming event at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, just outside of Dallas.
Four Funny car drivers - Ashley, Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi - are separated by just twelve points, and are all less than two round-wins out of second place held currently by Memphis runner-up Jack Beckman, with each of the five men competing for three spots of the top four who will advance. Even points leader Robert Hight who is only 89 points ahead of Ashley, is statistically within reach given the right circumstances. Each round win is worth 20 points, and, with only two events remaining before the next round begins, every point is critical for those who hope to compete for the crown. To not qualify for this event or to be eliminated early would mean almost certain elimination from championship contention.
Ashley joins a star-studded list of Jewish athletes who refused to compete on Shabbat Shabbaton - the High Holy Day, including baseball Hall of Famer, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax and Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg, and more recently Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green and possibly even the front-runner for this year's MLB Rookie of the Year, Milwaukee Brewers' slugging third baseman Ryan Braun. Braun has yet to announce his decision as to whether he will play this Saturday. It's a conflict between a profession and a personal faith, but for Ashley, it's a simple decision.
"Racing is not the only thing in life, and definitely not the most important in the big picture. I take what I do on the racetrack very seriously, but I take life even more seriously." Ashley said.
"I have to live what I say I believe, and for me, my faith in God and being an example and leader in my family takes priority. Period. I know Evan [Knoll, owner of Torco Racing Fuels and Ashley's title sponsor] and my other sponsors understand, the team is with me, and I'm confident we'll perform well so it won't be an issue," he said.
Ashley's crew chief, Brian Corradi, said he supports Ashley completely.
"I definitely admire his commitment to what he believes," Corradi said. "Mike has really helped me, personally, with the way I think and approach life, and his not racing on Saturday is just another example that he lives what he preaches.
"It makes our job on Friday that much more important, getting the car qualified and staying in the hunt for the top four, but, I'm with Mike - we can get it done on Friday," he said.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of Jewish faith, also known as the Day of Atonement, is always celebrated on the tenth day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the lunar calendar Jews have been following for more than 5700 years. The date is dictated in the Torah, Leviticus 23:27, which states: "... the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self denial...."
Traditionally, self-denial includes strict fasting and prayer, and many take advantage of Yom Kippur to offer forgiveness or to seek forgiveness for sins against another person. For Ashley, if self-denial means a POWERade Championship, so be it, but the three time-event winner plans to make it a non-issue.
Ashley was runner-up at Dallas last year in his first-ever Funny Car final appearance, going down in a well-fought battle to Robert Hight. Ashley was the Friday night provisional No. 1 qualifier last year with a 4.799/314.53 that he recorded in the Friday night session, ending up qualified No. 3, and is confident his Torco Dodge will make the show with similar results.
Ashley said, "Listen: we've got an incredible hot rod, the statistics and numbers prove it. In testing on Monday, we found the problem with our car, and why we didn't qualify in Memphis. DNQ problem solved, and we're moving on. There's no reason why we can't go out there in Dallas and be number one qualifier Friday night, just like last year.
"Sure, there are Championship implications, but the life implications override that. I believe that if you do the right thing, no matter what the cost, you'll be rewarded. This is the right thing for me, for us, and I know we'll be rewarded," he said.
Funny Car Qualifying for the O'Reilly Fall Nationals is scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, and noon and 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept 22. Eliminations are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 (All times CDT).