Bubbly, bouncy, high energy – all of these terms have been used to describe Californian Top Fuel drag racing sensation Ashley Sanford.
The 23 year old might be a rookie to the 500kmh nitro-fuelled dragsters, but her fan friendly nature and enthusiastic approach to the sport has already drawn much attention and Queensland drag racing fans will have the chance to meet her for the first time at Willowbank Raceway for New Years Thunder on January 6, 2018.
Sanford will be driving for Australian Top Fuel powerhouse Rapisarda Autosport International, who set Willowbank Raceway alight at June's Gulf Western Oil Winternationals last time they visited with Australian record performances.
“I have heard nothing but great things about Willowbank Raceway and I am absolutely excited to add another track to my belt, especially another Australian race track,” Sanford said.
Sanford, who followed in her father and grandfather's motorsport footsteps, made her Australian debut at November's East Coast Thunder event in Sydney, where she proved a hit with fans.
“Unbelievable. That is the best word to describe it,” she said. “Getting to travel literally across the world for three days of racing on an international platform was incredible. The fans, the Rapisarda family, everyone was so welcoming and it really made me feel a part of the family.
“That is how I grew up in drag racing, as a family. We immediately connected with the team and had an absolute blast - saying goodbyes to all the family, friends and fans I made in three days was hard but now that I am getting to come back for a full three weeks, I am beyond stoked.”
Despite a first round exit to team mate Damien Harris, Sanford said every run for her is a learning experience, especially with the expertise provided by her crew chief, fellow American Lee Beard.
“Unfortunately we were encountering bugs every run, but at the same time I was so grateful for the seat time,” she said. “I am still a rookie Top Fuel driver, so every pass is a valuable pass for me, whether the car us running stellar numbers or we are encountering issues. Throughout my career I won't have a perfect car every time. I learned so much and we will take that all to Willowbank.
“Lee Beard was incredible to work with. In the NHRA he is nothing short of a legend, so getting to be 'open ears' to him was a very special experience. He gave me some great advice.”
While her last trip was a five day whirlwind, this time Sanford will have three weeks to shake the jet lag and enjoy Australia, competing not just at Willowbank Raceway's New Years Thunder but also Sydney Dragway's Santo's Summer Thunder on January 20.
“We are going on the Rapisarda tour and following the (Rapisarda) boys wherever they go,” she said. “I know we will have nothing short of a great time. They already made us feel at home in Sydney and from what I understand we will get to enjoy it all.”
Sanford will be taking on a classy Top Fuel field as part of the second round of the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series. She will take on Rapisarda Autosport International team mates Wayne Newby and Damien Harris, as well as Premiair Racing's Peter Xiberras and Lamattina Top Fuel Racing's Kelly Bettes.
New Years Thunder at Willowbank Raceway on January 6, 2018, will feature a smorgasbord of drag racing action including the earth-shaking Top Fuel dragsters, Pro Slammer, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Bike in the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series as well as Supercharged Outlaws, Pro Radial, Extreme Bike, Top Sportsman, Super Sedan, Super Street and Super Gas in the 400 Thunder Sportsman Drag Racing Series.