Super Grip team member Sean Embree reeled off a consistent string of quick reaction times to claim the victory Wednesday in the annual NHRA Celebrity Drag Race Challenge at historic Bristol Dragway.

The popular event that pits local celebrities in head-to-head meetings on the legendary Bristol Dragway quarter-mile in a variety of late model sedans is the official kick-off of activities for the prestigious Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, which rolls into town in two weeks, June 7-9. The highly-anticipated race is round No. 8 of the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season.

Three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown attended the event to coach and assist the Celebrities with their on-track pursuits and also to provide a sneak preview of the upcoming racing action.

“My advice to you all is to win the first round,” Brown said. “You gotta win that first round before you can start talking about trophies and winning races.”

Brown is riding a wave of momentum as the NHRA tour heads to Northeast Tennessee. He posted a final round appearance in the recent Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte and won his milestone 75th career victory this past weekend at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago.

Brown has won a race at every track on the NHRA circuit in his career that spans across three decades, but never at Bristol Dragway. He wants to change that haunting stat when he returns to town the second weekend in June.

“I’ve been so close here before that it makes me sick to my stomach,” Brown said. “One year I hit a small bump in the track and accidently hit the parachute button and it released early, so I lost a close final to Larry Dixon. We lost last year to Justin Ashley in the final after a good day and we want to finally get it done here at Bristol. This is such a historic track and you look up there (on the Legends of Thunder Valley sign) at all the names of the greats who have won here and you want to be in that group. One of my crew chiefs, Mark Oswald is in that group for running well here. We will come back here in a couple of weeks and give it our best shot, that’s for sure.”

Brown then told the gathered celebrities that today was all about their shot at earning Bristol glory, and certainly Embree took the speech to heart.

Embree was able to take the win in a thrilling final round against WCYB Sports Anchor Lauren Bradford. Embree and Bradford also were special award winners, as Embree claimed the award for Quickest Reaction Time for the event with a reaction of .086 of a second, and Bradford took the prize for Fastest Speed, as she clocked a run of 87.26 mph in one of her winning rounds.

Embree, an employee at the Piney Flats company that is the new multi-year entitlement sponsor for the fan-favorite NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, made his march to the finals by finishing in front of Hollywood Film Actor Jeremy Ray Taylor, who has appeared in movies such as “It”, “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” and “Senior Year”, King University Soccer star Leeroy Matarutse, from Zimbabwe, Africa, and fellow Super Grip team member Philip Forester in the semifinals.

Bradford, who has been with WCYB TV 5 sports department for two years, took out a strong list of competitors to reach her first career final in the celebrity event. She passed ESPN Tri-Cities Steve Wilmoth in the opening round, powered past veteran journalist Rod Mullins from the Augusta (Va.) Free Press in the second round, then beat fellow WCYB staffer Ethan Owens in the quarterfinals before outrunning rival WJHL TV 11 sports anchor Nick Dugan in a classic semifinal pairing.

In the final round battle between white Chevy Malibus, Embree was up on the wheel and ready to cut a light. He nearly fouled at the start but was able to hesitate ever so slightly and then still react to the flash of the trio of amber lights. He pulled ahead of Bradford early and never looked back as his car sped down the quarter-mile.

“This is really special,” Embree said. “I focused on every run and was able to cut the lights that I needed to get the win.”

Defending Celebrity Challenge winner Kristen Quon, an evening news anchor from WCYB TV, got off to a good start with a win over King University Men’s Basketball coach Jason Gillespie, but eventually lost to fellow WCYB staffer Owens in round two.

Last year’s runner-up, Kenny Hawkins, the longtime sports director for WJHL TV 11, saw his day come to an end in a semifinal pairing with his work teammate Dugan.  

Another major celebrity participating in the event for the first time, Chef T, owner of Union 41 restaurant in Bristol, Virginia and a two-time participant on FOX's Hell's Kitchen, is a lover of fast cars and she was able to advance out of the first round with a win over Carter Dorton of King University Sports Information. She ultimately fell in round two when she turned on the red-light at the start to give her opponent Dugan the automatic victory. In his match with Chef T, Dorton claimed one of the event’s most-coveted prizes for the official Slowest Speed of the event, at 75.34 mph.

Ironically, film actor Jeremy Ray Taylor’s round two loss to eventual winner Embree was one of several hole-shots during the race. Embree took the win by crossing the finish line first with a quicker reaction time despite his elapsed time being slower than Taylor’s. On that run Taylor claimed the official award for Quickest Time of the event at 16.29 seconds.

Before the race, participants honed their reaction time skills on a drag racing practice tree by competing in the Reaction Time Challenge. A pair of Super Grip team members claimed both prizes in that contest, as Halley Brooks took the win with an amazing RT of .004 and Matt Wilson had the second-best RT with a .022.

To purchase tickets for the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, please call the Bristol Dragway ticket sales center at (866) 415-4158, or visit the Dragway page of the Bristol Motor Speedway website for more information.

Results for the NHRA Celebrity Drag Challenge at Bristol Dragway:


Round One

Rod Mullins, Augusta Free Press, def. Andrew McClung, WCYB TV 5 news reporter

Laruen Bradford, WCYB Sports Anchor, def. Steve Wilmoth, ESPN Tri-Cities

Ethan Owens, WCYB Intern, def. Kelly Grosfield, WJHL TV 11 morning show anchor

Kristen Quon, WCYB News Anchor, def. Jason Gillespie, King University Men’s Basketball Coach

Nick Dugan, WJHL Sports Reporter, def. Casey Goetz, WCYB TV News Anchor

Chef T, owner of Union 41 restaurant def. Carter Dorton, King University Sports Information

Miles Burdine, Kingsport Chamber President & CEO def. Stephen McDonald, King University Men’s Basketball Asst. Coach  

Kenny Hawkins, WJHL TV 11 sports director def. Heather Williams, WCYB TV 5 executive sports producer

Alicia Phelps, NETTA executive director def. Andrew Vance, Team Super Grip

Matt Wilson, Team Super Grip def. Frank Lett, Visit Kingsport President and Chief Tourism

Jeremy Ray Taylor, Actor def. Drew Bedard, BMS VP of Marketing

Sean Embree, Team Super Grip def. Miguel Padron, Team Super Grip

Philip Forester, Team Super Grip, def. Kaylie Taylor, Team JRT (red-light foul)

Leeroy Matarutse, King University Soccer star, def. Julie Diaz, ETSU CrossFit athlete


Round Two

Bradford def. Mullins

Owens def. Quon

Dugan def. Chef T

Hawkins def. Burdine

Wilson def. Phelps

Embree def. J.R.Taylor

Forester def. Matarutse



Bradford def. Owens

Dugan def. Hawkins

Embree def. Wilson

Forester def. bye



Bradford def. Dugan

Embree def. Forester



Embree def. Bradford


Special Awards

Quickest Time: 16.29 seconds, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Film Actor

Quickest Reaction Time: .086 of a second, Sean Embree, Super Grip

Fastest Speed: 87.26 mph, Lauren Bradford, WCYB Sports Reporter and Anchor

Slowest Speed: 75.34 mph, Carter Dorton, King University Sports Information

Reaction Time Challenge Winner: .004 of a second, Halley Brooks, Super Grip

Reaction Time Challenge Runner-up: .022 of a second, Matt Wilson, Super Grip