Antron Brown, Ashley Force Hood, and Mike Edwards are the first-day qualifying leaders at the 10th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway.
The event is the third of four straight on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule in June, a quartet that, after a week off will plunge headlong into the historic three-race Western Swing in July. Air temperatures in the high 80s, track temps in the mid-130s, and a corrected altitude in excess of 4,000 feet limited performance at the picturesque valley-like facility, cut into a mountain that echoes with the sound of high-performance engines, hence its nickname, Thunder Valley.
Brown, the qualifying leader earlier this year in Gainesville, Las Vegas, and Topeka, has his eyes set on his fourth pole with the Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-tuned Matco Tools dragster after blasting to a 3.856 in the day’s evening session.
“We got down a hot racetrack earlier today — it was a nice, easy run,” said Brown. “The track made a big change, and everybody had to make a big change to get down this track because it was considerably better tonight. We thought there was maybe a mid-3.8 out there. We nailed it right now. My hat’s off to Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald], our crew chiefs on that Matco car, because it was tough. You go from a slippery, slimy racetrack today to a track that’s tight like nails, and you’ve got to make all these adjustments. I’m glad I drive the car, not tune it, trust me.
“That .85 was pretty sporty out there right now because the track temp was still over 100 degrees, like 107 degrees, so it wasn’t prime time, but that’s what you get in the summer time. We’ve just got to deal with it, and tomorrow’s going to be even hotter. We race in more of the hotter parts of the day, so I don’t think anybody’s going to be running in the 3.8s tomorrow. It will probably be a high-3.9 track. If you bust off a mid-3.9, you’re doing something special out there.”
Brown’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Cory McClenathan, who was the No. 1 qualifier last weekend at the NHRA SuperNationals with an all-time class best of 3.75, is No. 2 in Bristol with a 3.879 pass from his Fram dragster. Points leader Larry Dixon, who’s riding a two-race win streak with the Jason McCulloch-wrenched Al-Anabi dragster, is third with a 3.882 and Brandon Bernstein fourth with the Copart/Lucas Oil dragster at 3.901.
The top eight is rounded out by Bob Vandergriff Jr. (3.912), reigning series and event champ Tony Schumacher (3.939), David Grubnic (3.941), and fast-rising Terry McMillen (3.964).
Troy Buff owns the 12th and final elapsed time that will transfer to Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions, a 4.071 in the Bill Miller Racing dragster.
Ashley Force Hood
Force Hood, low qualifier here last year and earlier this year in Atlanta, again has her Dean Antonelli-tuned Castrol GTX Mustang atop the Funny Car pack after charting a 4.151 in the final pairing of the day’s second qualifying session. She was the No. 2 qualifier after the first session with a 4.28 but found major improvement in the evening session.
“A track like this is very tricky, but it’s really good conditions, so if you can get it down, it will be a really good run,” said Force Hood. “We were trying not to base ourselves too much on what other people were doing. We just looked at data from other races that had similar conditions and tried to tune it to that, and it worked for us. I don’t know how close we were on the edge or anything. It felt like a nice, smooth run. It didn’t feel like it had any problems at any point in the run, so we were very happy about it.
“It’s always fun to run good on the Friday night session, but we all know that it won’t do us any good on Sunday other than position. The conditions are not going to be anything like tonight. It’s fun to run in the night session and do well, but we’d be just as happy if we can get some good runs tomorrow in the heat because that’s what’s going to help us on Sunday.”
Former world champ Cruz Pedregon’s Snap-on Tools Toyota is in the second position with a 4.158 while sophomore sensation Matt Hagan, a two-time winner already this season with the DieHard Dodge, is third with a 4.185.
Defending event champ Del Worsham, runner-up last weekend in Englishtown, is the No 4 qualifier in the Al-Anabi Toyota after recording a 4.186. Jack Beckman’s Valvoline/MTS Charger is fifth at 4.199 and John Force, a two-time Bristol event winner, is sixth with a 4.216 in his Castrol Ford. Tim Wilkerson (4.238) and 2008 event winner Melanie Troxel (4.239) round out the top eight.
Points leader Robert Hight occupies the No. 12 spot with his Auto Club Mustang after posting a 4.326.
A new week, a new state, a new race but it’s the same old story in Pro Stock where Edwards sits stop the qualifying pack, halfway to what would be his 10th No. 1 qualifying position in the season’s first 12 races and his fourth in a row. The reigning Full Throttle and event champ and current points leader powered his Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac to a 6.725 in the day’s second session, moving up one sport from his morning position. Homestate hero Allen Johnson had led the first qualifying session, taking his Mopar Avenger on 6.742-second tour of the Bristol quarter-mile, but he was unable to improve on that that in the evening session and slipped to fourth.
“The improvement we had between the first and second sessions [6.757 to 6.725] was more from the cooler air in the evening than making a better run,” said Edwards. “Neither Allen [Johnson] nor we made the best of runs. The track tightened up more than we thought that it had. I think that we both should have gone 6.70-flat.”
“I think that battles between our team and A.J. for the No. 1 spot are what you’re going to see more often in the races to come. If Allen and Roy Johnson haven’t caught us, they certainly have closed the gap. A couple of other teams are gaining on us too, and I think that by the Countdown that there will be about four or five other cars that we’re going to have to contend with.”
Another Johnson, unrelated Kurt, a winner here in 2003, is a season-high second at 6.735 with his Mark Christopher Cobalt while Edwards’ engine stablemate, Ron Krisher, a surprising DNQ a week ago in Englishtown, is now qualified third with Valvoline Cobalt at 6.736 and A.J. sits fourth.
The father-son combo of Johnny and Shane Gray sits Nos. 5 and 6, respectively after mirror-image 6.757s. Johnny’s NTB Pontiac was slightly faster than Shane’s Tire Kingdom GXP, 204.08 to 203.80, to earn the higher position. Vinnie Deceglie, last weekend’s surprise No. 2 qualifier, continues to look good with the Mountain View Tire Avenger is seventh with a 6.760 while Greg Anderson rounds out the top eight at 6.761 in the Summit Racing Equipment GXP.
2007 event champ Jeg Coughlin holds down the No. 12 spot with the JEGS.com Cobalt at 6.775. With 21 cars in the pits, there will be a battle for Sunday’s final 16 spots.
Mike Castellana raced to the qualifying lead in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. Castellana powered his Al-Anabi Racing ’69 Camaro to a leading performance of 5.993 seconds at 239.10 mph to pace the 16-car field.
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.
One round of Pro Mod qualifying remains for Saturday at 2:15 p.m. The first round of Pro Mod eliminations will start Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. The final three rounds of Pro Mod eliminations will be completed on Sunday.