2019 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway
by Julie and Steven Moxley

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Back in the mid-eighties when Pro Mod raced in the IHRA, one of the tracks that always looked very picturesque in the magazines and videos was Bristol Dragway. I said one day I would like to go there...

We arrived in Atlanta on the Wednesday 12th June, and the following day drove up through the Smokey Mountains National Park. It was in readiness for Friday, our first day at Bristol Dragway for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. This was round eleven of the twenty-four race series of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, coinciding with Fathers' Day weekend. On arrival we checked in at the media room with the NHRA.

What a stunning place Bristol is, with its track cut in between the mountains. The weather was hot over the three days we attended; temperatures started at the mid-seventies and on Sunday reached 96 degrees, with track temperatures of 129 degrees. I was at the top end taking parachute shots, and the NHRA track crew gave me a bottle of water and said 'Its 20 degrees cooler than last year'.

Top Fuel.

Former champion Brittany Force was the number one qualifier after the opening session, but Doug Kalitta came out on top at the end of qualifying with a low ET of the meet of 3.755. Clay Millican had a fireball at the finish line in the second session; a new motor was fitted for Saturday. Dutchman Lex Joon qualified in fifteen spot with his spare motor, after damaging his number one motor (after ten runs) the previous weekend in Topeka. He brought another motor and built it up at the track. With a limited budget he was planning three runs over the weekend.

There were a couple of shock results in round one of the elimimations, which saw Joon win his first race of the year when Leah Pritchett went up in smoke at mid-track. Force also lost traction against Dom Lagana. In round two Joon lost a blower belt against Lagana and Kalitta just beat Terry McMillen to the finish line after a pedalfest.

p>Reigning NHRA Top Fuel Champion Steve Torrence ended Lagana's weekend in the semi-finals. Mike Salinas beat Kalitta in the other semi-final. Coming into this event Torrence had won the previous five rounds of the Mello Yello Series and was looking for number six. Best race of the day saw Salinas (who had changed his motor for the final and Alan Johnson worked his magic) powered around Torrence to take an emotional win of NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Funny Car.

John Force was hoping to win his 150th NHRA National event and was the number one qualifier 3.911at 326.95mph (low et and top speed of the meet). Blake Alexander was driving Jim Heads Funny Car (Jonnie Lindberg still sorting out paperwork), qualifying in tenth spot.

Jack Beckman reached the semi-finals after beating Tim Wilkerson and J.R. Todd. But went up in smoke against Force. The other side of the ladder saw Bob Tasca beat Jim Campbell and Robert Hight to face Ron Capps in the other semi-final. Capps trailered Alexander and Shaun Langdon. In the semi-final Capps drifted to the wall at the 800ft mark and Tasca took the win light. So the big questions were: could John Force finally get his 150th win - or could Tasca win (his last win was in 2012)? Tasca got out the gate first and turned the win light on to finally break that seven-year drought.

Pro Modified.

This was round seven of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Racing Series. Series points leader Steve Jackson had handling issues during qualifying and qualified in seventh spot. Todd Tutterow was the number one qualifier at 5.774 (also low et of the meet). In the final qualifying session, Marc Caruso's parachute failed and he ended up going through the safety net in the shutdown area and into the barrels. The fuel tank broke off and landed on a rock; Caruso got out of the car unhurt. Two former NHRA champions Erica Enders and Rickie Smith didnt qualify for the event. But with Caruso out of the show Enders came in as first alternate.

Tutterow red lit in round one against no 16 qualifier Jose Gonzales. Reigning Champion Mike Janis 5.879 lost a close race to No 14 qualifier Bob Rahaim 5.872. Sidnei Frigo ended Jackson weekend in round two. In the semi-final Frigo motor blew at track against Rahaim. In the other semi Enders lost to Gonzales 5.850/256.02mph to 5.906/256.21mph. Gonzales won the event when Rahaim's motor started to smoke and lose power at the finish line.

Top Fuel Harley.

There was a good entry for round six of the Mickey Thompson Tyre Top Fuel Harley race series. Twelve bikes competed for the eight-bike eliminator. Jay Turner on his pro-charger V-Twin was the number one qualifier with a 6.319 at only 212.76mph (low et of the meet). Mike Scott just edged Series points leader Beau Layne for number two spot with 6.340/228.04mph (top speed of the meet). Tak Shigematsu returned to the track with his normally aspirated bike, which he last rode five years ago, when it ran 6.13. But failed to get in the show.

In eliminations, Turner lost to Tracy Kile when he smoked the rear tyre just off the start line. Reigning champion Tii Tharpe beat Doug Vancil who was fighting to keep the bike in the lane. Layne won on a holeshot at 6.635 against Rickey House's 6.447 and Bob Malloy, who got in the show in the final qualifying session, beat Scott. In the semi-finals Tharpe ran his quickest of the weekend, 6.356, to beat Kile. In the other semi Malloy ran his best of the weekend, 6.417, to reach the final, edging out Layne who ran 6.462. The final turned out to be the best race of the day. Malloy led from the start and slowed in the last 300ft, Tharpe powered past to take the win light.

Mountain Motor Pro Stock.

This is the third of four NHRA appearances for the Mountain Motor Pro Stock series this season. Thirteen cars tried to qualify for an eight car eliminator. John De Florian Jr ran low et and top speed of the meet at 6.345/221.82mph in qualifying, just ahead of Todd Hoerner's 6.346/220.94mph and Johnny Pluchino's 6.364/220.01mph.

De Florian beat John Konigshofer in round one, but lost on a holeshot to Frank Gugliotta in the next round. Hoerner eased past Steven Boone and Elijah Morton who both had troubled runs. Hoerner beat Gugliotta in the final, 6.425 to 6.998.

A special wedding took place at the top of the main tower during the eliminations. Lars Andersson, (he competed in the World Finals, I think that was the title of the event, at Santa Pod Raceway in 1991 in his 59 Plymouth Fury Estate) got married.

The event, Thunder Valley Raceway and the surrounding area exceeded our expectations. We have to put it up there as one of the most stunning race tracks that we have ever been to in the world, and everyone made us very welcome. Julie managed to book an authentic Tennessee Log Cabin just 15 minutes drive from the track, which gave us more of an insight into the Tennessee lifestyle.

We recommend this event. Do take the extra day to drive up through Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee through the Smokey Mountains National park; theres a view around every corner - its simply stunning.

Report by Julie and Steven Moxley, photos by Julie and Steven Moxley

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