Friday leaders Antron Brown and Ashley Force Hood remained atop their respective Top Fuel and Funny Car fields through Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions at the 10th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway in Tennessee, but homestate hero Allen Johnson took over the top spot in Pro Stock.
Saturday’s qualifying action in Pro Stock set the seven locked-in positions for the K&N Horsepower Challenge race that will take place next weekend in Norwalk; an eighth driver will be added to the field based on a fan vote. That driver will be announced Sunday. As was the case Friday, tough atmospheric and track conditions kept performances in check as air temperatures reached for the 90-degree mark, track temps inched near 140 degrees, and the adjusted altitude topped 4,300 feet.
There were only three three-second runs were recorded on the day in Top Fuel, all in the first session, and Friday leader Antron Brown, whose 4.00 in the second session was the frame’s best pass, held onto his top spot with a 3.85 in the Matco Tools dragster for his fourth No. 1 of the year and the 25th of his career.
“The track today is as hot as it has been all weekend long, and it’s just tricky,” said Brown. “That last run, it was actually spinning out there before the finish line, so it popped a little early, and we still went a 4-flat. I think if tomorrow we can run anywhere between a 3.97 to a 4-flat or 4.01, that’s what it’s going to take to win rounds tomorrow. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in my team, and when the weather gets like this, we can definitely get our car A to B. I feel confident for tomorrow, but we’ve just got to take it one round at a time.
“We’ve got Doug Kalitta first round tomorrow. He qualified 16th, but he’s no 16th qualifier. Tomorrow they could be on their P’s and Q’s, and it will be like a final-round match-up first round. Nobody in a million years would think you’d qualify No. 1 and have to race Doug Kalitta first round. It’s going to be a tough one for sure tomorrow, but we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
Cory McClenathan’s Fram dragster remained No. 2 based on his Friday 3.879 and points leader Larry Dixon third in Al-Anabi Racing dragster at 3.882. Brandon Bernstein, whose 3.97 in the day’s first session was low e.t. for Saturday, sits fourth in the Copart/Lucas Oil entry at 3.901.
Bob Vandergriff Jr. (3.912), defending event champ Tony Schumacher (3.939), Dave Grubnic (3.941), and Terry McMillen (3.964) round out the top eight.
Three-time event winner Doug Kalitta, last year’s runner-up, ended up in the field’s final spot after logging a 4.379 and will provide Brown’s first opposition Sunday morning.
Ashley Force Hood
In Funny Car, no one got within striking distance of Force Hood’s Friday-leading 4.151, so the second-generation Castrol star will start her Mustang from the No. 1 spot for the second time this year; she also led the field in Atlanta this season and now has 11 career No. 1 awards.
“Today definitely is setting everyone up for tomorrow just because the conditions will be similar, so we’ll take what we learned from our two runs,” said Force Hood. “It was kind of both ends of the spectrum. One run we didn’t get down, and the other we basically got down almost the whole way until it started to spin. That will help us for tomorrow, kind of give us boundaries for how much the track will take without pushing it too much.
“We didn’t run that spectacular and yet we ended up No. 1, so it just shows that it is challenging out there. We were able to figure it out and get down the track, but there’s a lot of other teams out there that are struggling this weekend that will probably get it figured out by tomorrow and make stronger runs. I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans tomorrow because it’s going to be very unpredictable what’s going to happen. This is not a race that goes along on paper what you think is going to happen. I think people that either can recover from tire smoke and get their car down or even people that just get A to B are going to have the best shot at winning the race tomorrow, so obviously we’ll try to get A to B but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll do my best to pedal it and get it down there, but this is a very tricky track.”
Because of the unfriendly conditions, the top eight had little change other than Englishtown winner Bob Tasca III, who had the best run of both of the day’s qualifying sessions, moved into the top half in the seventh spot with a 4.22. The rest of the top eight remained intact with Cruz Pedregon second in his Snap-On Solara at 4.159 291.38, Matt Hagan and the DieHard Charger third at 4.185, and defending event winner Del Worsham fourth in the Al-Anabi Racing Solara at 4.186. The top eight is rounded out by Jack Beckman (4.199), John Force (4.216), Tasca, and Tim Wilkerson (4.238).
Jeff Diehl, who sat out the E-town race recovering from an incident in Chicago, qualified his Rimz One Monte Carlo on the bump spot with a 5.788 and will face Force Hood in round one.
Local Pro Stock hero Johnson climbed past Mike Edwards and back into the lead that he held after Friday’s first session with a dazzling 6.722 in Saturday’s first session to hold the No. 1 spot going into eliminations for his state’s biggest drag race. Johnson, who was the No. 1 qualifier with his Mopar Avenger earlier this year in Atlanta, now has nine career Pro Stock poles. To make things better for the Johnson family, A.J.’s father and crew chief, Roy, who is competing in Stock at this event with a new Drag Pak Challenger, has a bye in the fourth round, the first round that will be run in that class tomorrow.
“Last night we missed the setup and we were really sad because we were really wanting to qualify No. 1 here," said Johnson. "We knew we could but we missed it last night and the conditions were a little bit worse here today and we thought, you know what, we can still do it. We barely nipped him. You know what, my mom said it best, before I came down here, she just walked over and hugged me and started crying and she just said, ‘What a dream.’ And I agree with her. To come here and do this with me and Dad both, him to go some rounds and us go grab the No. 1, especially on that run, a perfect run. It is emotional.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had our whole family here, but this weekend, family, friends, employees, everybody is here and Dad worked so hard and has for 20-something years at this. First time back at the driver’s seat in 27 years, I think. To come out here and do this, it’s just so emotional for me to be able to do it. That’s the reason I do racing, anyway, is for him, keeping him young. I always knew if he had the chance, he’d be awesome at it and he’s proved it now. This is just to give a little bit back to him. Let my brother and my whole family enjoy watching him, it’s just awesome.”
Reigning series and event champ Edwards, who had wrestled the top spot from Johnson Friday evening, remained No. 2 and had the second-quickest pass of the day’s second session with his Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac. Edwards had been the No. 1 qualifier in nine of the season’s first 11 races; the last time Edwards was not No. 1 was in Atlanta, when Johnson had the top spot.
Kurt Johnson remained third with the Mark Christopher Cobalt at 6.735 while Ron Krisher, who had the final session’s best pass with a 6.767, remained fourth with his Valvoline Cobalt with his Friday 6.736.
Sophomore sensation Rickie Jones vaulted his Elite Motorsports Pontiac into the top half of the field with a 6.75 in the day’s first session, pushing the father-son tandem of Johnny and Shane Gray back one spot each to Nos. 6 and 7, respectively. The field’s second Dodge, Vinnie Deceglie’s Mountain View Tire Avenger, rounds out the top eight at 6.760.
Warren Johnson, a two-time winner here (2002, 2005) holds down the final spot in the field with a 6.799 from his K&N Filters GXP and will be low qualifier Allen Johnson’s first-round opponent; Edwards will face Bob Yonke.
Top qualifier Mike Castellana defeated Joe Baker in the first round of eliminations Saturday in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series .
Castellana left on Baker (.033 to .061) in his Al-Anabi Racing ’69 Camaro and he never looked back with a 6.002 at 238.30 mph to Baker’s 6.112 at 235.56.
Castellana will meet Ray Commisso, who defeated Troy Coughlin, in one of the four Sunday quarterfinal matchups. The other matchups are: Rick Stivers vs. Von Smith, Jay Payne vs. Ed Hoover, and Kenny Lang vs. Scott Ray.
Earlier Saturday, the field was set with the third and final round of qualifying and Castellana held on to the top spot when no one bettered his 5.993 seconds at 239.10 mph from Friday night in his Al-Anabi Racing ’69 Camaro.
Jay Payne was second in his ’68 Camaro with a 5.998 at 237.13; Danny Rowe was third with a 5.999 at 241.80 in his ’68 Camaro; and Rickie Smith was fourth with a 6.006 at 237.05 in his ’68 Camaro.
The final three rounds of Pro Mod eliminations will be completed on Sunday.
Friday: Brown, Force Hood, Edwards thunder in Bristol