The NHRA’s first appearance at Bristol Dragway since 2019 ended in impressive fashion, as Brittany Force set the track record under the lights in Top Fuel on Friday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined her as provisional No. 1 qualifiers as Bristol hosted a Countdown to the Championship race for the first time in track history.
Force did what she normally does under the lights and that’s make an incredible run, as she shattered the track record with a head-turning pass of 3.682-seconds at 328.94 mph in her 11,000-horsepower Flav-R-Pac dragster. It would give the former world champ her 12th No. 1 qualifier this year and an incredible 10th in the past 11 races if it holds. Force and her team, led by standout crew chief David Grubnic, is after wins and another championship, but the string of No. 1 qualifiers continues to be a remarkable feat.
“Twelve No. 1 qualifiers is an accomplishment for our entire team,” said Force, who is after her 32nd career No. 1 qualifier. “That’s huge and it’s hard work from every one of our guys. It’s not easy to pull that off and we’ve done a good job at it, and now our focus is hopefully on two rounds on Saturday and then raceday. Our mindset is we’re excited. We’re in the hunt for this championship and we’re going to fight for it. This team is an incredible group and I’m lucky to have them.”
Justin Ashley, who won last weekend in Dallas, is currently second thanks to his strong run of 3.726 at 329.50, with points leader and three-time defending world champ Steve Torrence a spot behind with a run of 3.727 at 323.12. Clay Millican and Leah Pruett round out the top five, with Billy Torrence, Josh Hart and Shawn Langdon all making runs in the 3.70s under the lights.
It’s been a while since Tim Wilkerson drove to a No. 1 spot in Funny Car and while he didn’t make a full run on Friday at Bristol, he’s still in a prime position to collect his first top spot since 2019 after going 3.965 at 295.27 in his 11,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. The car performed well early and though it didn’t cross the finish line at full power, it was enough to give Wilkerson the provisional No. 1 qualifier. It was a great way to open the weekend for Wilkerson, who is looking for his 21st No. 1 qualifier and is eager to finish his season on a strong note.
Robert Hight is currently second with a 3.968 at 323.50 and his teammate, John Force, who needs to have a big weekend to stay in championship contention, also ran a 3.968 at a slower 322.73. Points leader Matt Hagan didn't register a time during his run, while Ron Capps, who won last weekend in Dallas, is currently 10th as Wilkerson, Hight and Force were the only drivers to make three-second runs on Friday.
The first time down Bristol Dragway on a motorcycle proved to be no problem for defending world champ and points leader Smith, who is getting hot again at the perfect time. With Pro Stock Motorcycle racing in Thunder Valley with championship points on the line, Smith was part of the final pair down the track and he laid down a strong 6.900 at 197.51 on his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/Matt Smith Racing EBR.
The class appeared in Bristol in 1999 and 2000 as part of a pair of exhibition races, but Smith wasn’t a part of those. But he made a strong first impression on Friday and is chasing his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 47th in his career. Of course, that run comes just after Smith won in Dallas to go past Steve Johnson in the points standings. It was just eight points heading into the weekend, but Smith continues to impress as he tries to win a fifth world championship.
Chris Bostick, who performed well in Dallas and raced to a round win, took another big step in Bristol with a run of 6.927 at 193.27. Johnson followed in third with a solid 6.942 at 193.60. Andrew Hines and Scotty Pollacheck rounded out the top five, while Eddie Krawiec is sixth after a 6.966. He’s still in championship contention, while Angelle Sampey, who entered the weekend 53 points back of Smith, struggled to a 7.262 at 169.66.
Smith also shared the provisional No. 1 spot with his father, Rickie, who went to the top in Pro Mod after going 5.834 at 248.71 in his nitrous-powered Camaro. Rickie’s name is atop the grandstands as a Legend of Thunder Valley.
Qualifying continues on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Bristol Dragway.