The National Hot Rod Association, criticized for its perceived aging demographic and the lack of twentysomething drivers to turn that around, got a monumental boost Friday in Top Fuel newcomer Ashley Sanford.For Sanford, the bubbly 23-year-old Fullerton, Calif., resident, her professional drag-racing debut Friday at the Chevrolet U.S. Nationals transcended her expectations and daydreams.
It was like a VIP trip through Disneyland, in whose shadow she works at her 9-to-5 job as a sandwich slinger at Tony’s Deli in Anaheim.“I got to leave the deli and stop serving sandwiches and beer and instead serve some fast passes in the NHRA Top Fuel class. So it’s absolutely surreal,” she said at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. “Growing up having this dream, coming from a little girl in Southern California, works as a waitress, being here and really accomplishing that dream, it’s absolutely surreal.”
What the NHRA is savoring is the popular appeal with Sanford. What she cherished was competing with the quickest and fastest race-car drivers on Earth – and securing a provisional spot in drag-racing biggest event in her first try and only her second or third full pass in the 10,000-horsepower, nitromethane-burning 805 Beer Dragster that brothers Bobby and Dom Lagana own and operate.
Anything less than her 3.796-second elapsed time and 322.04-mph speed – which staked her to the tentative No. 9 position in the lineup - would have disappointed her. Before her run, she declared, “I am so ready to rock and roll. I have been ready my whole life, it feels like, but the moment has finally come. So I’m ready to do it.”
Qualifying will continue Saturday and Sunday, with eliminations set for Monday, beginning at 11 a.m. ET.After her run Friday night, Sanford said, “I am so stoked. It felt amazing. It was smooth. It went A to B, just what we wanted. I couldn’t have done it without the Lagana Brothers. I love them so much! Because of them, I’m really getting to make my dream come true. I’m so grateful for them and my sponsors. This is a day I’ll never forget.”
The sand drags and NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster graduate might be new to the Top Fuel class. But for fans, Fox TV producers, and the NHRA front office, enthusiasm like Sanford’s never gets old.
By Susan Wade
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