NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Saturday Notebook

17 Jun 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Bristol

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QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

Bo ButnerPRO STOCK Q3 (1:55 p.m.): The KB Racing triumvirate rule the event’s third qualifying session, led by red-hot Bo Butner, who clocked the round’s only 6.6-second pass, a 6.697. Greg Anderson was right behind with a 6.718, followed by Jason Line’s 6.721. Friday qualifying leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. had troubles early in his run that slowed him to a 6.757. Rookie Tanner Gray, a two-time winner already this season, improved from Friday's shaky start with a 6.778, but he's still ranked just No. 11 in what will be a 13-car field following John Gaydosh's disappointing withdrawal. [Detailed results]

Antron BrownTOP FUEL Q3 (2:50 p.m.): Antron Brown escaped the No. 15 spot, moving up to No. 5 with a 3.834 pass and picking up three bonus points with the best time in the session. He was one of just three drivers who hit an elapsed time in the 3-second range, as Kebin Kinsley (3.896) and Brittany Force (3.934) rounded out the top three of the session. Doug Kalitta (3.781), Steve Torrence (3.802) and Leah Pritchett (3.817) remain at the top of the field after three qualifying sessions, while Terry McMillen is on the outside of the 17-car field looking in. Chris Karamesines holds the bump spot with a 4.769-second pass in the third session. [Detailed results]

Chris Karamesines
Veteran Chris Karamesines, who competed at the first NHRA national event in Bristol back in 1965, made his first pass of the weekend one to remember with a fiery run.

Robert HightFUNNY CAR Q3 (3:15 p.m.): 2011 Bristol champ Robert Hight was far and away the star of the third qualifying session as his Auto Club Camaro dashed to a 4.02 that was a full tenth quicker than the 4.12 registered by Tim Wilkerson, whose 3.89 from Friday night remains in the No. 1 spot. After a tough Friday, reigning world champ Ron Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler switched to their backup car and were rewarded with a 4.187, the third best run of the session, but they remain low in the field, in the No. 13 spot. [Detailed results]

RAIN DELAY (4 p.m.): Racing at Bristol Dragway is on hold as rain begins to fall during the first round of Pro Mod racing.

RACING RESUMES (6 p.m.): After almost exactly a two-hour delay, racing has resumed at Bristol Dragway.

Jeg CoughlinPRO STOCK Q4 (6:25 p.m.): Bo Butner had the quickest car for the second straight session, but his 6.707 couldn’t get around Friday qualifying leader Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s 6.697. Coughlin had the session’s second-best time, a 6.708, and will enter Sunday on the strength of his third No. 1 berth of the season. The struggles of hot rookie Tanner Gray continued as he was not able to fire his Camaro for Q4 and will finish qualifying in the No. 11 spot, the worst start of his young career. [Detailed results]

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs bye; Allen Johnson vs. Alex Laughlin; Greg Anderson vs. Tanner Gray; Jason Line vs. Shane Gray; Bo Butner vs. Wally Stroupe; Erica Enders vs. Alan Prusiensky; Vincent Nobile vs. Drew Skillman.

Steve TorrenceTOP FUEL Q4 (7:05 p.m.): Steve Torrence snatched the No. 1 qualifying spot from Doug Kalitta in the final run of the last session of Top Fuel with a 3.772 pass. With that run came three bonus points and a matchup with No. 16 qualifier Chris Karamesines. Leah Pritchett’s 3.795 was the second-best of the session and moved her into the No. 3 spot; she’ll race Troy Coughlin Jr. in the first round. Kalitta got bumped into the No. 2 slot and will race teammate Shawn Langdon. Independent pilot Mike Salinas raced to a career best 3.856 pass at 316.75 mph. That qualified him in the ninth spot and he’ll race Kebin Kinsley in the first round. [Detailed results]

First-round matchups (lane choice listed first): Steve Torrence vs. Chris Karamesines; Doug Kalitta vs. Shawn Langdon; Leah Pritchett vs. Troy Coughlin Jr.; Clay Millican vs. Kyle Wurtzel; Brittany Force vs. Terry McMillen; Tony Schumacher vs. Scott Palmer; Antron Brown vs. Pat Dakin; Kebin Kinsley vs. Mike Salinas. 

Shawn Langdon
Even with a cylinder out, Shawn Langdon had to keep his foot in the throttle to escape being bumped from the field. His explosive 4.023 kept him the field, albeit only in the No. 15 spot.

Matt HaganFUNNY CAR Q4 (7:30 p.m.): Matt Hagan gave it his best shot, but his best-of-session 3.925 couldn’t surpass Tim Wilkerson’s Friday-leading 3.895 for the top spot. It’s Wilkerson’s first No. 1 spot since the 2016 Houston event. Jack Beckman (3.958) and Alexis DeJoria (3.998) also reached the threes in the final qualifying session. World champ and points leader Ron Capps finished a disappointing 10th, his worst of the season and the first time this year he will not have first-round lane choice. [Detailed results]

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Tim Wilkerson vs. Bob Bode; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Courtney Force vs. J.R. Todd; Jack Beckman vs. Cruz Pedregon; Robert Hight vs. Jeff Diehl; Alexis DeJoria vs. Ron Capps; Matt Hagan vs. Jim Campbell; John Force vs. Del Worsham

Saturday recap: Torrrence, Wilkerson, Coughlin earn top qualifying spots at Thunder Valley

FEATURES

Doug Kalitta
There aren’t many records John Force doesn’t hold, but if Doug Kalitta can stay in the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel, he’ll become the only active driver to have qualified No. 1 at every event on the current schedule.

Kalitta, who has 45 career poles, has never been atop the sheets in Bristol, but after a Friday-night 3.781, there’s a better than even chance that will change.

“It’ll be great to check that off the list,” said Kalitta, who has 42 career national event wins, including three in Bristol (2001, 2005, and 2006). “It’s going to be warm, and even in the hot conditions I wouldn’t call that number safe.”

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Leah PritchettIn addition to his ontrack success, Steve Torrence has been on a roll in other ways, doing some often-entertaining “trash talking” (his words) about some of his Top Fuel rivals, especially early-season points leader Leah Pritchett, who has been on the receiving end of barbs about her and her sponsors. When asked about it this week, she responded good-naturedly while also dropping a few zingers of her own, either consciously or unconsciously.

“He’s definitely better at it than I am, but he’s had more time at it – he’s older than me [zing],” she said. It started earlier this season and it was cute, but people have to tell me about it because I don’t get a chance to watch the [FS1 TV] show and I don’t follow him on the internet [zing]; I’m really not that interested.”

The dynamic is even more interesting as Pritchett’s husband, Gary, does the clutch on Torrence’s car.

“It’s caused some issues; our teams used to be really tight, but the beef is really just between Steve and I, not between the two crews,” she clarified Bobby Lagana [of Torrence’s] crew and I agree, that let’s leave the crews out of this. They have to live with each other on the road and live in the same town. So, I’m OK with It being about me and Steve, but I’m just going to let my car do the talking. I cherish my time in the car and the competition, and smack talking is all part of that, but I don’t have time to think about what I’m going to say about Steve Torrence. Maybe he has time to do that on his private jet [zing].”

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Kebin Kinsley
Kebin Kinsley and Roger Hennen’s Road Rage Top Fuel team are back in action after sitting out a few races following their season debut on Topeka. Although their first crack at the Bristol Dragway strip yielded just a 4.27 elapsed time, there early numbers – 2.171 to the 330 and 3.175 to 660 -- were impressive numbers for the part-time team.

Hopes for a full lap in Q2 were scotched in the pits, when some foreign material – perhaps a set screw or a piece of a bearing – turned into metal confetti in the rotors during the pre-run warmup, seizing the blower and scattering microscopic shrapnel throughout the engine. 

“We were really excited for that run because the numbers were good for us; unfortunately, we hadn’t burped the fuel tank and got some air in the system so I couldn’t run it all the way through,” he explained. “So, to lose that second run was a real tough break.”

Kinsley, who still keeps an active hand in the drag boat scene where he was a multi-time champion, used to race against Hennen’s team back in his boat days before the duo joined forces to take their skills to terra firma.

Hennen, a successful businessman in a number of ventures, including Diamond H Trenching, which builds roads and pads and digs trenches for oil and gas wells, has given the team the budget to run in Indy, St. Louis, Dallas, and maybe even Las Vegas if the parts hold out.

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Scott PalmerFor drivers hovering around the No. 10 spot, it’s never too early to look at the standings. Scott Palmer sits in 10th place with eight races to go before the Countdown and with Shawn Langdon in the rearview mirror, last week’s win over Langdon at the NHRA Summernationals couldn’t have been much bigger.

“That was huge for morale,” said Palmer. “It was really good for morale on our side.”

Palmer holds a 103-point lead over Langdon and is 12 points behind Terry McMillen in ninth place. He’s 32 points behind Troy Coughlin Jr., who’s hanging on to eighth place. Things open up after that as Clay Millican sits in seventh place with 520 points. 

The independent driver got off to a good start on Friday, running a 3.883 to move into the No. 7 spot. He was one of eight drivers to find a time in the 3-second range. 

“We kind of got conservative up there,” said Palmer. “We think everybody’s just gonna haul ass and we just decided to just go down. We just wanted to make sure we weren’t at the front of the pack on Saturday, but then we ended up qualifying No. 7.”

If the first round started right now, Palmer would race one of the drivers he’s chasing: Coughlin Jr. That could provide another big opportunity for the Cat Spot  pilot. 

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Tim Wilkerson
Tim Wilkerson ended up atop the Funny Car qualifying sheets Friday night after a 3.89 pass in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby, not a bad accomplishment for the veteran racer who switched to his back-up car after a series of frustrating outings.

"I think our car was bent or maimed, somehow – it was doing things I don't think it should do so -- I've already talked to [car builder] Murf McKinney,” said Wilkerson. “He has a brand-new car for me, it's just not quite done. 

Wilkerson has also finally gotten his new batch of clutch discs heat-cycled to the point of usefulness. He began running them in Topeka but it generally takes a few runs to get them race-worthy. “It got me off to chasing something that wasn’t real, but not they’re starting to act like a clutch again,” he noted wryly, “but one run does not a hero make.”

Wilkerson, a two-time runner-up in Bristol (2010 and 2014), is hoping for an extra-memorable Father’s Day on Sunday. He recently became a grandfather with the arrival of son Daniel’s first child, and he’d also like to give a special gift to his own father, Roy, 91.

"Maybe we can win one for my dad, and I can call him and tell him Happy Father's Day from the winner's circle," said Wilkerson. “I think it would be really neat to do that for him. It's going to be a special day no matter what – I'm a grandfather now, and more importantly it's my son, Daniel's, first Father's Day. It's a great time for our family, and it would be nice to get that trophy."

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J.R. ToddThe Funny Car field can best be described as volatile with eight races to go. J.R. Todd holds on to the No. 8 spot with 79 points between him and Cruz Pedregon in 11th place. That’s not much cushion, but Todd is looking to do more than stay in the Countdown: he wants to climb the ranks. 

To do that, he needs to pick up 143 points to catch up with the likes up John Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. With that in mind, the DHL Funny Car team busted out a new tune up in Englishtown. That aggressive tune up didn’t lead to immediate results (Todd qualified 16th and lost in the first round), but the driver feels it’s necessary to make noise this season.

“The mindset was that right now, all out we’re running 3.90s,” said Todd. “Well, that was good two years ago. Now it’s getting you a good qualifying spot and maybe a first-round win. So, we thought maybe it’s time to start changing the way we approach things.”

With all that said, Todd has a new tune up and a new car. He broke out the new car in Epping after racing in a spare car in Topeka. That spare care was the one Del Worsham drove to a title in 2015; all things considered, that’s not a terrible backup to keep in the trailer. 

That new car, and new tune up, is part of an aggressive mindset that Todd hopes takes them to new heights in his rookie season as a Funny Car driver. He’s been solid so far, but the squad is looking to get to its first final round of the year. Todd reached the semifinals in the Four-Wide. 

“It’s the time of year to be doing it and now that tracks are getting hot and slick it’s kind of the equalizer for everyone,” said Todd. “At the same time, we’ve gotta get down the track, too.” 

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Bob Bode
Bob Bode
makes his return to the NHRA circuit after taking some time off since the Four-Wide race in Charlotte at a track he’s familiar with. While most drivers bemoan the hot air and humidity, the independent pilot welcomes the sticky conditions of Bristol, Tenn. 

“Those big dogs need that cool air,” said Bode. “Our car, good or bad air, it is what it is. Those cars tweak it up for the good air, but we pretty much have one spin. We’ll slow down a little, but we’re not like those guys. We like the heat.” 

Bode didn’t make a run in the first day of qualifying. With a 16-car field, the Illinois native knows he only needs one successful run to get into the field. He’ll get his chance on Saturday with temperatures expected to get even higher than on Friday. 

“People will ask me, ‘don’t you hate putting the suit on when it’s that hot?’ And I tell ‘em, ‘no it’s great. The more I sweat, the slower they’re gonna go. Gimme the heat.’ It’s the great equalizer.”

Only five cars found 3-second runs on Friday, and No. 1 qualifier Tim Wilkerson is the only pilot to get into the 3.8-second range. Bode’s career best is a 4.02, set in Charlotte, which would put him No. 6 in the current field. That might be attainable this weekend at a track Bode spends plenty of time at with his son, Bobby, who races in Junior Dragster. 

“At 18, I’m gonna put him in (the Funny Car),” said Bode. “I don’t know if he’ll be any good, but we’re gonna see. At 16 I’m gonna rent some Top Dragster rides for him and see if he’s up for it.” 

Bobby’s runs in Jr. Dragster gives Bode the opportunity to play a new role: crew chief. He’s taken an immediate liking to that part of drag racing. 

“My favorite part of it is when he runs his junior and I get to stand there and I’m like one of those crew chiefs,” said Bode. “So, when he runs his Nitro car and I get to stand up there… it’ll be the real deal. I’ll like that part of it. I’ll drive another 10 years if he doesn’t do it, but if likes it… I’ll just stand and watch.”

This weekend, Bode will try to pull off an upset in the first round of Funny Car; after he qualifies, of course.  

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Ron Capps
Ron Capps has a new ride today. The defending Funny Car World Champion sits in 14th in qualifying after a pair of runs gave him a top time of 5.3 seconds. That’s not going to cut it for the NAPA team. Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler planned to front-half the flopper soon, but uninspiring times on Friday led the duo to load the car in the trailer.

“When we say it’s got 100-pick a number-runs, those are full runs,” said Capps. “It’s gonna be strange.”

Enter the Funny Car you’ll see rumble through Thunder Valley today. This car only has a handful of testing runs on it; all of which came in Phoenix. The change wasn’t prompted by a couple of bad runs in Bristol. Capps and Tobler were pondering a swap dating back to Topeka and Epping. 

“It just wasn’t consistent,” said Capps. “We look back at Epping and we ran alright. We lost a close race to Courtney, but we didn’t qualify good and it just wasn’t the same when we left Topeka. In Topeka, we ran a 3.86 with four clutch stops on it, which are like, they soften everything up and help it get down the track. In Epping, we ran a 3.86 with just one clutch stop on it which is crazy. … He usually doesn’t have to make that big a change to have it run that same number.”

Consistency has been the defining word of Capps’ race to the top of the leaderboard in Funny Car this season. He sits 129 points ahead of second place driver Matt Hagan and 279 points ahead of third place pilot Jack Beckman. That’s a big cushion with eight races to go until the Countdown, so now’s the time to make a change if there ever was one.

Capps posted a 4.187 pass in his first run in the new car. That moved him up to No. 13 in the Funny Car field through three qualifying sessions. 

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Tanner Gray
There was a lot of buzz last weekend following Pro Stock rookie sensation b’s first-round loss to unheralded John Gayodsh, and Gray’s subsequent fuming and solitary walk back to his pit area.

After surrendering a small starting-line lead to Gaydosh, Gray had passed him buy the 330-foot mark and seemed well on his to another round win when the transmission popped out of high gear, slowing him to a 6.799 that went into the books as a painful holeshot lost to Gaydosh’s 6.801.

“It was more my fault than anything,” Gray conceded. “I guess I just didn’t get it into high gear good enough, and when I took my hand off [the shifter] to go to the parachutes it popped back out. 

“This racing is just so tough and it’s frustrating [when you lose] because you know how hard all your guys worked. So when you make a mistake like that and cost you a win, it’s pretty frustrating. I should have handled myself better.”

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John Gaydosh
John Gaydosh didn’t get much sleep just to get to Thunder Valley. Unfortunately, there was no storybook ending in store for the Pro Stock driver. Gaydosh, who worked long hours just to be here after wounding his engine in a first-round victory in Englishtown, broke his motor on the burnout of his first qualifying run in Bristol and headed back to his pit despondent. 

“I hurt the motor on the first burnout, kicked the rods out of it, don’t know why,” said Gaydosh. “We’re done. Johnny Gray came by last night and asked what we need to do and I told him, ‘Johnny we’re done. I don’t have the parts and I know you don’t have anything here.’” 

John GaydoshGray offered up an experimental motor to Gaydosh. The driver hauled to the Gray shop in Denver, N.C., to pick up the motor and after seven hours of driving made it back to Bristol after 1 a.m. Unfortunately, Gaydosh’s tough weekend didn’t get much better when he made it back to his rig. The motor didn’t fit in his car, which has a 2010 chassis. 

“We put it in the car this morning and the oil pump hits the steering shaft,” said Gaydosh. “There’s no way of changing the pump, no way of moving anything because the 'four' block is different.”

Neither the Grays nor Gaydosh realized at the time that the engine wasn’t compatible with his  Todd Bevis-built car. The newer, redesigned cars fit the new engine. 

“We don’t have anything else to use,” said Gaydosh. “I’m disappointed. I killed myself to get there. I was really giving up. I was done. I told Johnny I’m not doing this anymore. I was packing up my stuff and putting everything away. I took the motor back and Shane came over and asked, ‘What do you mean you’re done?’ I told him, ‘I can’t afford this. I don’t have the right parts to do this and compete like I want to. I can drive my ass off but I don’t have the finances. I need a sponsorship to come up to do something to help me or I’m done.”

While the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals may be shot for Gaydosh, the Pro Stock family isn’t quite done helping the driver out. Gray told Gaydosh to take the motor over to Jerry Haas’ shop to have the steering shaft adapted for Gaydosh’s chassis and get it ready for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk. 

Gaydosh couldn’t say enough about how much the entire Gray family has helped him out in recent years. They’re not the only ones. Without Alan Prusiensky, Gaydosh wouldn’t have made it to Bristol to begin with. 

“Alan is a life saver,” said Gaydosh. “Until 1 a.m. he stayed there fixing it for me. He didn’t have to do that but he knew we had to be out there. Alan is a great guy and he’s a true racer.” 

As far as true racers are concerned, go ahead and count Gaydosh among them. 

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Jeg Coughlin
It’s been a pretty good Friday for the Coughlin family. Jeg Jr. qualified in the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock, brother Troy led the J&A Service Pro Mod field and Troy Jr. was solidly in the Top Fuel field.

Following a semifinal finish last weekend in Englishtown, Jeg entered Bristol fourth in points but still looking for his first win of the season. So far this year, he has earned runner-ups in Houston and Topeka to go with four semifinal finishes. He’s also been the No. 1 qualifier in Houston and Charlotte.

"We've been working on a new combination we really feel is going to be pretty stellar and performs really well between the mountains,” said Coughlin, who now has his sights set on the frontrunners.

"I feel like we caught up with them (a couple of weeks ago," Coughlin said. "My car is really running on mean. We are qualifying on the pole at times, challenging for race wins, and we've been low ET of the round numerous times. Those things are all indicators you've caught up, but Pro Stock is one of those classes, it's a never-rest situation. You can crawl your way to the top but if you rest for even a week, you'll fall back a few spots.”

Coughlin was doing double duty this weekend, competing as well in Super Gas in his Corvette roadster. Coughlin made it to round three before suffering a breakout loss against David Owens.

PHOTOS

crowd
Thunder Valley Dragway is widely regarded as one of the most scenic on the tour -- small wonder why.
crowd
Bristol Dragway's main grandstand was packed with fans eager to take in the event's final qualifying sessions.
Pits
The pits, too, were crowded with fans checking out the cars and drivers of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series,
Sportsman
Some of the region's best racers in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series are also competing at the fabled facility.
Shirl Greer
A re-creation of the Mustang II Funny Car of former NHRA world champion and Legends of Thunder Valley member Shirl Greer is on display in the pits.
Nitro School
Tennessee's favorite Top Fuel driver, Clay Millican, helped NHRA's Alan Reinhart teach some fuel-racing basics in the popular Nitro School session.
TFH
Top Fuel Harley rider Dennis Fisher exploded an engine right beneath him on his final qualifying pass.

PREVIEW

After a tough opening day with hot weather and an even warmer racetrack, a number of stars, including reigning world champs Antron Brown (No. 15) and Ron Capps (No. 14) and rookie sensation Tanner Gray (No. 13), find themselves on the bottom steps of the qualifying sheets with two qualifying sessions remaining.


Doug Kalitta

Doug Kalitta is halfway to becoming the only active driver to qualify No. 1 at every track on the NHRA Mello Yello circuit after the first day of Top Fuel qualifying. The pilot of the Mac Tools dragster holds a .021-second lead over No. 2 qualifier Steve Torrence entering the second day of qualifying as temperatures are expected to heat up. Brown sits in 15th with a 4.91 and Brittany Force is only a spot ahead of him with a 4.628. 


Tim Wilkerson

Tim Wilkerson is the surprise low qualifier in Funny Car, which, if it holds, will be his first No. 1 in more than a year (Houston 2016). Wilkerson’s 3.895 was more than two-hundredths better than No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight’s 3.918, who, in turn, holds a significant edge over the No. 3 qualifier, his teammate, Courtney Force, who clocked a 3.952. Capps clocked a 5.30 best; his other run Friday was a similarly troublesome 5.73.


Jeg Coughlin Jr.

Bo Butner hit the top speed (206.51) of Friday but Jeg Coughlin Jr. came away with the low elapsed time (6.694) in Pro Stock. The Ohio native holds the top spot after the first day of qualifying and teammate Erica Enders sits at No. 3 with a 6.704. Father’s Day weekend didn’t get off to a hot start for the Gray family as Tanner’s best time is a 19.819 and his dad Shane is rocking a 7.19.