NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals offers fun for the entire family during festive Father's Day weekend
The thunderous roar of Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars will make it a Father's Day to remember when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to Bristol Dragway for the 19th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
At an event where every ticket is a pit pass, guests will enjoy unprecedented access to these extreme, 11,000-horsepower machines, and get to meet the crews who service them with fine-tuned precision and the skilled drivers who guide them down the dragstrip. 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.
As the circuit heads to Bristol there are some great on-track storylines to keep track of. Don't blink, because they are moving at more than 300 miles per hour.
* The Streak: Defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence comes to Bristol riding a five-race winning streak. This is nothing new for the Texan, who swept the six-race NHRA Countdown Playoffs last year to claim his first world championship crown. Torrence won his fifth in a row Sunday by defeating his father, Billy, in the final round at Heartland Park Topeka.
Torrence said his father wasn't at all concerned about his ongoing streak, and was gunning for the win.
"We're both competitive," he said. "He wanted to win; I wanted to win. He was there, but my guys saved me. I just had a better race car. I went a little quicker. He left on me. That guy was trying to end the streak."
Torrence's lone victory at Bristol came in 2013 when he outran Spencer Massey in the final round.
* Chasing 150: NHRA Funny Car icon John Force is chasing history when the NHRA circuit arrives at Thunder Valley. The 149-time tour winner, with four of those victories coming at Bristol Dragway, is seeking milestone win No. 150 in his career. He's been close this season, posting six semifinal finishes, including this past weekend in Topeka, Kansas, but needs just a little more to get the job done. He may find that magic at Bristol on Father's Day weekend.
"The PEAK Chevrolet that I have is really fast," Force said. "I have to give credit to my team, [crew chiefs] Brian Corradi and Danny Hood; all of those guys have been working hard. There's been a lot of changes for me and I'm getting used to them still. I just have to up my game but we're ready for Bristol and hoping to get this hot rod in the winner's circle."
* Mountain Motor Pro Stocks return to Bristol: It's been more than two decades since the loud rumble of mountain motors have shook the grounds at Thunder Valley. Born here back in the 1980s, Mountain Motor Pro Stock last raced at Bristol Dragway in 1997 during an IHRA national event. These days the fan-favorite class which features large engines in the 800-cubic-inch range in a stock showroom looking muscle car is competing as an exhibition category in NHRA for the first time ever. Bristol is the third stop of the four-race NHRA exhibition series. John DeFlorian won the opener at Houston and was followed by Christopher Powers, who claimed the four-wide victory at Charlotte in April. A solid group of drivers are expected to be on the list of favorites at Bristol in addition to DeFlorian and Powers, including veteran category ace John Montecalvo, Dwayne Rice, Elijah Morton and former NHRA Pro Stock drivers Vincent Nobile and JR Carr.
The cars generate quarter-mile performances in the 6.2-second range at more than 220 mph. DeFlorian, who won the first NHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock exhibition race last September at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, says getting the opportunity to race with NHRA has been a dream come true for all the participants in his class. He says for fans who haven't seen these cars on track before, watching them make a full quarter-mile run is exciting.
"These cars will spin the tire in any gear," DeFlorian says. "The difference is mostly in high gear. These cars keep pulling all the way to the finish line. They are definitely not as predictable as the NHRA Pro Stock cars."
* Another Milestone: Three-time NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals winner Doug Kalitta heads to Bristol Dragway this weekend looking to set an important milestone of his own. When Kalitta pulls his Mac Tools dragster to the starting line for Friday's first qualifying session he will officially be competing in his 500th NHRA event. Kalitta, a six-time finalist at Thunder Valley over the years with his most recent coming in 2014, he has 45 career victories in 97 career finals.
He made the transition from a successful sprint car racing career on ovals to drag racing with his legendary uncle Connie back in 1998. He says it has been an incredible ride ever since.
"When you think about it 500 races, that is a lot of races," Kalitta said. "I have been lucky to have a career this long and I have to thank Connie and everyone at Team Kalitta for all their support. I love strapping into this Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster and racing against some of the toughest competitors in drag racing. I tell people all the time that there is nothing more exciting than seeing a Top Fuel dragster make a perfect run at over 330 mph. The only thing better is sitting behind the steering wheel."
He hasn't won at Bristol since 2006, so he would love to make a return to winner's circle at a track where he's had some memorable moments over the years.
"There is something about Bristol Dragway that is special," Kalitta said. "Every track has something unique but when you roll into Thunder Valley you know you are in a special place. We have won a lot of rounds of racing here and we would love to park this Mac Tools dragster in the winner's circle at our 500th race."
* Father's Day Fun: The Father's Day weekend event is sure to provide all guests with a heart-pounding, blood-pumping rush of excitement with the action on the track, but Bristol Dragway officials also guarantee to provide an enjoyable experience with many off-track activities to entertain the entire family at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event. Below is a breakdown of the can't-miss items for each day of the event.
Friday, June 14
Track performance records tend to fall in all pro classes under the crisp, cool summer evening as the Thunder Valley lights will shine bright during the fan-favorite night qualifying session. The spectacle of the bright header flames flickering as the 330-mph nitro machines march side-by-side downtrack under the lights is certainly an experience you won't soon forget.
Following the day's racing, the fans' attention will shift to the skies as Bristol Dragway will complete the evening by lighting up the night with an impressive fireworks display.
Saturday, June 15
A full day of intense racing in the final two Pro qualifying sessions will be needed to set the starting lineups for Sunday's eliminations, which begin at noon.
Once Saturday's Pro racing is finished, the track will once again host one of the most popular autograph sessions on the NHRA circuit as more than two dozen drivers are expected to participate in Thunder Valley's FanFest. Located pit-side near the Tunnel 2 entrance at the Mello Yello display, the event provides fans an opportunity to shake hands with the stars of the sport, get autographs and take photos with their favorite drivers. The autograph session will begin approximately 30 minutes after the final pro session is completed.
Sunday, June 16
Arrive early on Elimination Sunday and enjoy Doughnuts for Dad before the annual NHRA SealMaster Track Walk. The free breakfast is available in the staging lanes beginning at 10:30 a.m. with the Track Walk immediately following. Some of the sport's most popular drivers will lead fans down the track.
During pre-race ceremonies you will get to surround the NHRA stage and greet your favorite drivers as they are introduced and Bristol Dragway officials will honor the 2019 Legends of Thunder Valley inductee.
The thrill of Final Eliminations culminates in an on-track Winner's Circle celebration with the stars whose quick reaction times and blazing fast speeds earned Wally trophies at Thunder Valley.
A Fan Experience Like No Other
With special events that include everything from education to entertainment, Bristol Dragway ensures newcomers to the sport will have an unforgettable experience at this weekend's NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, no matter what their age.
Designed to enrich the experience of rookie race fans, Thunder Valley 101 (TV101) provides insight into the intricacies of NHRA championship drag racing and guides beginners through their first weekend at Thunder Valley. Bristol Dragway historian and noted track announcer David McGee, along with counterpart Mike Lester, will broadcast on 100.1 FM throughout the weekend, sharing their knowledge of the sport and educating newcomers about all the action taking place on the track. Guests also can receive answers from McGee and Lester by texting BRISTOL followed by their question to 69050. The NHRA broadcast is available to veteran race fans on 100.9 FM. Thunder Valley 101 headsets are available for $10 at any Bristol Dragway souvenir stand.
Drag racing's youngest fans also can enjoy the Kids Zone, located in the Guest Welcome Village near Nitro Alley at Tunnel 2. Parents can pull up a rocking chair and watch televised race coverage as kids bounce across inflatables, challenge one another in cornhole, or create a masterpiece with sidewalk chalk. The Thunder Valley Kids Zone is open Friday through Sunday, and entry is FREE for all ticketholders.
In addition to Torrence, Force, fans will have the opportunity to meet many of their NHRA drag racing heroes, including 2017 Top Fuel champ Brittany Force, Ron Capps, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan, defending Funny Car champ J.R. Todd and 2017 Bristol Top Fuel winner and native Tennessean Clay Millican. The race also will feature side-by-side racing in the fan-favorite Pro Mod and Top Fuel Harley classes.
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.
The race will be televised on FS1, with a one-hour live qualifying show on Friday at 7:30 p.m. (ET), a 90-minute Saturday show at 10:30 p.m. (ET) and a three-hour Sunday show that includes live semis and finals, starting at 2 p.m. (ET).
Enough with the multi-colored neck ties and fancy pocket protectors, there's still time to purchase tickets and give your Dad an unforgettable Father's Day weekend experience. Weekend packages begin at just $84 while single-day Friday and Sunday tickets start as low as $35 for adults. Saturday adult tickets start at $50. Tickets for kids (12 and under) are free with a paid adult.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900 or purchase tickets online at www.bristoldragway.com.