Ashley introspective after emotional Englishtown weekend ENGLISHTOWN, New Jersey (June 22, 2008) - Mike Ashley, driver of the Lend America Dodge Charger R/T nitro Funny Car, had planned on making this weekend a swan song at his hometown track, a...
Ashley introspective after emotional Englishtown weekend
ENGLISHTOWN, New Jersey (June 22, 2008) - Mike Ashley, driver of the Lend America Dodge Charger R/T nitro Funny Car, had planned on making this weekend a swan song at his hometown track, a final dramatic appearance for the season as he turned his attention to running his company, Lend America. Circumstances, however, changed his plans and forced the Long Island resident to once again re-examine and re-commit himself to those relationships he holds near and dear to his heart.
Ashley was slated to run in the second pair of cars during the final round of qualifying on Saturday. He was positioned on the bump spot at No. 16 coming into the final round of qualifying, with only four cars that could take away his ticket to race on Sunday. As he sat in his car, strapped in and mentally clearing his thoughts to prepare for his run, he listened as the cars in front of him ran their burnouts and prepared for their runs. Watching the events unfold in front of him, he saw Scott Kalitta's car make what looked like a good pass going down the track, and then he shuddered as the car burst into flames, lost the body, careen through the sand pit and explode as it hit the wall at the far-end of the track.
"I honestly didn't know what had happened, because I've seen so many cars go on fire in front of me before. I was still trying to stay focused and calm, but the longer it took to get word about Scott's condition, the more my heart sank, because I just could tell that it wasn't good this time," Ashley said.
"At the point I got out of the car, I wasn't concerned at all with qualifying. I just wanted to hear the news that Scotty was ok - but that announcement never came," he said.
Kalitta died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the crash, and the track was shut down for repair the remainder of the evening, costing Ashley the opportunity to make the field that, ironically, Kalitta had just bumped him from.
"This is an absolute tragedy," Ashley said. I don't care about qualifying -- it's just a race. I care about my friends, my family - this whole community out here. It's hard for me to even find words to describe how I feel.
"For me, it's a physical feeling of sadness inside - pain for Scotty's wife and two sons, his family and team. We all know this is dangerous, and we take as many precautions as possible, but nothing, nothing at all can prepare you for this. I just pray for them that God will somehow give them peace - eventually.
"When something like this happens, I have to take time to really examine my life and what I'm doing. For me, this just solidifies my decision to step out of the car for this season - not out of fear, because I never let fear drive me. It's more out of the importance of focusing on where I can do the most good for my family and all of those people who rely on me to do my job well.
"I'm disappointed we didn't qualify here - but, hey, it's not the first time I DNQ'd here at Englishtown," he said with a laugh.
In fact, in the past three seasons, Ashley has yet to qualify in Funny Car for this event.
"Like I said, it doesn't matter. We've got Melanie Troxel in a great car, and she's making strides to be in the Countdown to one, and as a team, we're in a really good place. My partner, Roger Burgess, and I are working hard to bring new sponsors into the sport, and we both felt that I could be more effective in the office than at the track, so that's the plan for right now. I don't think there's an encore performance this season, but, you never know," Ashley said.
Melanie Troxel and Team Gotham will be in action again next weekend at the Second Annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, June 27-29.