NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals brings Playoff excitement to historic Bristol Dragway
For the first time in the history of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, the race is set to be one of the circuit’s six Playoff races. The post-season spot on the NHRA’s 20-race schedule also means that the event will be held in the fall, which is another first for the fan-favorite event that is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2021.
Certainly, the stakes will be high and with national record performances a possibility, the third to last race on the NHRA Camping World Series schedule is sure to feature teams gunning for championship glory in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Oct. 15-17. Veteran drivers like three-time world champ Antron Brown in Top Fuel and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force know there’s no time like the present to improve their championship hopes than with a win at Bristol.
Force, a four-time winner at Bristol Dragway, is currently third in the championship standings at the controls of his 11,000 horsepower Chevy Camaro, trailing rivals and former series champs Matt Hagan and Ron Capps in the points order.
“We are excited, we are in the Countdown and there is some tough competition right now, and we will see where it goes,” Force said. “It’s going to be a tough battle with Hagan, who took the lead at the last race, and Capps is right ahead of me, and then there’s Robert Hight and (Bob) Tasca (III) who are in it and trying to fight their way up the ladder. I love going to Bristol, I think it’s one of the best tracks on the circuit.”
Force is looking forward to racing at Bristol Dragway at this time of year, where he expects the weather to be much cooler than what the teams have been accustomed to on the traditional Bristol date on Father’s Day weekend in June. With cooler temperatures, the nitro teams can produce more horsepower, which could equal a record-setting show at Thunder Valley.
“I really like having Bristol in the Countdown later in the season,” Force said. “We’ll have some great racing and great crowds there and we could see some record runs, but it all depends on the weather.”
Brown, currently seventh in the points standings, says he and his team discovered a gremlin on his Don Schumacher Racing owned Top Fuel dragster at the recent St. Louis race that’s been plaguing them for the last six races. He says with that issue finally resolved, his team is going to be trying to make up some ground in the standings with a solid run at Bristol.
It’s a track he is still trying to check off of his victory bucket list. His only final round appearance at Bristol came in 2011 where he posted a runner-up finish to Larry Dixon. Currently sitting seventh in points with one win on the season, Brown knows it’s now or never if he’s going to make a title push.
“This race is going to be the breaking point for a lot of teams,” Brown said. “After Bristol we are going to know who is going to be running for a championship and who is going to be racing for fourth and below. For us, a team that’s a little lower on the totem pole, we definitely have to show out in Bristol. We’ve had a lot of qualifying success there but we’ve never won at Bristol. It’s one of the only tracks where I have never won. We have something that we want to prove and make a little history there by finally getting a win at Bristol.”
Brown also says with no “boiler room” weather at the track that has an altitude just north of 1,450 feet, the opportunity is there for teams to turn up the wick and let their machines loose in qualifying and on race day.
“I’m excited about coming back to Bristol,” Brown said. “It’s not just the atmosphere where the racetrack is cut inside a mountain, but the part that really intrigues me is that we will be racing there in the fall when the weather is good. We are going to have drag racing weather where you have that nice crisp breeze and to get there in the fall when the weather is going to be right as opposed to what we usually have in the summertime when it can be hot and humid, to see the ETs we are going to yield out there makes me really excited.”
Brown, who is one of the most popular drivers in the NHRA pits, says the fans make racing at Bristol really special.
“The fan appeal from the other races that have already been held at Bristol this year from NASCAR to the dirt track races, the fans came and they really showed out,” Brown said. “I know with the buzz on social media they can’t wait to see our Camping World Drag Racing Series get back to Thunder Valley and I’m really pumped up for it.”
In addition to Force and Brown, fans will have the opportunity to meet many NHRA stars during the weekend including five-time Bristol winner Capps, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, who has posted 10 No. 1 qualifying positions this season, fan-favorite Leah Pruett, two-time champ Cruz Pedregon, Virginia cattle rancher Hagan, three-time Bristol winner Doug Kalitta and 2017 Bristol Top Fuel winner and native Tennessean Clay Millican.
In addition to the nitro teams, the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycles will be featured in the race, making their debut at Bristol Dragway. The two-wheelers have ran two exhibition races at Thunder Valley in 1999 and 2000, both won by Matt Hines, but have never raced for championship points at the Tennessee track.
Veteran rider Steve Johnson is the current points leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and is followed by past champs Angelle Sampey, Matt Smith and Eddie Krawiec in the series standings. The three riders are less than 40 points back of Johnson.
The wildly unpredictable E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also will compete during the weekend and the defending Bristol winner, Jose Gonzalez, is leading the points standings in that series. Other Pro Mod racers to watch during the weekend include Brandon Snider, Steve Jackson, Justin Bond, Doug Winters, Rickie Smith and Mike Castellana.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Series qualifying for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begins Friday, Oct. 15 with Top Fuel and Funny Car sessions at 5:30 p.m. The final two rounds of nitro qualifying are set for Saturday, Oct. 16, at 1 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17.
The race will be televised on FS1, with a one-hour live qualifying show on Friday at 7 p.m. (ET), an hour qualifying highlights show on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET) and a three-hour Sunday show that includes live semis and finals, starting at 2 p.m. (ET).
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online by clicking here.