As Ashley Sanford made her final appearance in the Top Alcohol Dragster class this weekend, she had more than her usual Southern California family and friends in her cheering section at Auto Club Raceway.

The aspiring fulltime Top Fuel racer from nearby Fullerton hosted Girl Scouts from the San Gorgonio Council.

The Redlands-headquartered council guides more than 12,000 young ladies, preparing them – in their words – “to empower themselves and the world,” practicing “a lifetime of leadership G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Risk taker, Innovator, Leader) experiences and connections . . . and take action to make a difference in the world.”

These Scouts explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics – everything from power tools, the science of ice cream, entrepreneurship, and building a working roller coaster to cybersecurity, computer coding, and space exploration. This Saturday they’ll learn from Sanford how her Top Alcohol Dragster and a Top Fuel dragster work. And Sanford, a former Girl Scout, will inspire them to consider careers in the drag-racing and automotive industry.  

“I am thrilled that the Girl Scouts joined us this weekend at the Auto Club Finals,” Sanford said. “I grew up as a Girl Scout. It was a huge part of my childhood. So to have the opportunity to introduce these young women to drag racing is an amazing platform I'm honored to use.

“I grew up being fearless, never afraid to get my hands dirty, and Girl Scouts shaped me to be that courageous young girl who is now competing head to head with men – unlike any motorsport in the world. They gave me the push to always believe in myself and never give up,” she said. “Without that support I wouldn't be where I am today.”

Sanford earned her license this May at Charlotte, debuted in the Lagana Family’s Top Fuel dragster in September at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, raced for Rapisarda Autosport International at St. Louis, then accepted RAI’s offer to drive one of its cars last weekend at Sydney, Australia, with Lee Beard tuning.

“It is absolutely surreal to say that in my third Top Fuel event, and not even six months of being a licensed Top Fuel driver, I got to expand my driving horizon literally overseas to Sydney, Australia,” Sanford said. “I am humbled, excited, grateful, honored, and I truly hope this is just the beginning of exciting/out of the blue phone calls.

“My experience in Sydney, although so short, was unforgettable,” she said. “[Team owner] Santo Rapisarda, Tino and Junior [Rapisarda brothers and tuners], and the whole Rapisarda crew made me feel like I was at a home away from home. The warmth, hospitality, and overall positive/fun energy that emitted from the pits was unlike anything I've ever seen. I might have been on the other side of the world, but I felt so close to home, thanks to the Rapisarda family.”

According to team insiders, Sanford was a popular choice, one of the most popular to come from the U.S. to race.

“She has a great personality, and the fans loved her effervescent personality,” one said. “She brained ‘em.” (That’s Australian slang for “She wowed them.”)

“She went out of her way to work with the family and made a positive impact, not only with Santo and the boys but the whole extended Rapisarda family,” he said. “She’s a real team player.”

After this weekend’s event at Pomona, Sanford and family will sell their Top Alcohol Dragster equipment. It’s uncertain which team Sanford will drive for in 2018, but she has been working closely with Alan Johnson Racing, the 15-time NHRA championship team, as it explores returning to competition. The plan is to field a two-car operation with Sanford and Swiss newcomer Noah Stutz.   

Sanford's Top Alcohol Dragster career concluded with a first round loss to Shawn Cowie on Saturday afternoon.