WCYB's Casey Goetz wins NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Media Challenge
WCYB TV 5 Sports Director Casey Goetz earned drag racing bragging rights for regional journalists Tuesday at Bristol Dragway by racing to victory in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Media Challenge.
Goetz defeated WJHL Sport's Kane O'Neill, Drew Hierwarter of FasTrack Magazine and WJHL News' Doug Counts in the first three rounds to earn a spot in the final round. In the final he outran Bristol Herald-Courier photographer Earl Neikirk in a close race to take the victory. Neikirk advanced to the final with wins over Andrew Mullins of the Augusta (Va.) Free Press, Johnson City Press' Dave Ongie, who claimed the prize for quickest reaction time of the day with a .268, and defending champ Kenny Hawkins, sports director for WJHL TV 11.
The media competed in high-horsepower Chevrolet Camaros in the special event, and were assisted by NHRA Pro Stock drivers Tanner and Shane Gray along with Top Fuel veteran Doug Herbert, who will be enshrined as an NHRA Legend of Thunder Valley on June 16.
The event provided the media with a hands-on preview of the premier NHRA national event that visits Bristol Dragway each Father's Day weekend. The race is the 11th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and will showcase the 330-mph thundering Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, along with 200-mph action in Pro Stock, Pro Mod and Nitro Harleys. Many of the area's local racers will also compete in several of NHRA's Sportsman categories. The race will be held June 16-18 and will be televised to a national audience on FS1, including qualifying shows on Friday and Saturday and a three-hour finals show on Sunday.
In the Media Challenge final, Goetz, who was assisted by rookie phenom Tanner Gray, who has won two races in three finals this season in NHRA Pro Stock competition and is second in points, powered his street-legal Camaro SS to a winning performance of 13.069 seconds at 108.28 mph. Meanwhile, Neikirk and coach Shane Gray trailed in his Camaro, which finished in 13.359 seconds at 109.85 mph.
"I can't believe I won this today, it was really a lot of fun," said Goetz, who received a custom NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals winner's plaque for the victory. "Earl was a tough competitor in the final. I was lucky to have Tanner riding along with me to help me out."
Other journalists who competed in the 16-car field included P.J. Johnson, Heather Williams, Keith Weiss and Samantha Zarek of WCYB TV, Rod Mullins of the Augusta (Va.) Free Press, and Joe Avento of the Johnson City Press. Neikirk and Ongie also received custom plaques for their efforts.
Qualifying for the 17 annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begins Friday, June 16 with pro sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. The final two rounds of qualifying are set for Saturday, June 17, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 18.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com and can be purchased in the Tri-Cities region at any Food City grocery store. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult on Sunday.