NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Friday Preview

Radically different from stepping foot in Thunder Valley over Father’s Day weekend, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will head to Bristol Dragway in October and in the thick of the Countdown to the Championship.
15 Oct 2021
Josh Hachat
Race coverage
Bristol Friday

Bristol in October? Now, that’s something new.

Radically different from stepping foot in Thunder Valley over Father’s Day weekend, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will head to Bristol Dragway in the thick of the Countdown to the Championship.

This weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals comes as an extra playoff race for the nitro classes and the first official race for Pro Stock Motorcycle at the fan-favorite facility. Thanks to COVID-19, it’s also the first time in more than two years anyone has seen NHRA racing at Bristol Dragway. With the great unknown — but an enticing possibility of racing in cool and quick conditions — of racing in Thunder Valley in October for the first time, something big could be in store in the mountains.

Nobody has been on the track since June of 2019, which puts a premium on starting on a good foot right off the bat. It poses a big challenge, but rising to the occasion is the name of the game this time of year. That has been commonplace for Steve Torrence during the playoffs over the last several years and a big performance in Bristol would put a fourth straight world championship in his sights at the fourth of seven races in the postseason.

He advanced to the final round in Dallas — following a victory in St. Louis — as any early Countdown kinks in the armor appear long gone. Torrence is back up to a 52-point lead on Brittany Force and the Texan has one previous win in Bristol, that coming in 2013, before his reign of dominance started. Justin Ashley threw his name into the hat as a longshot championship hopeful with his win in Dallas, pulling to within 121 points of Torrence.

It would take a massive effort to make up that gap, but Ashley’s team has been outstanding in his first Countdown to the Championship appearance and having the extra playoff race this year may help his team. Mike Salinas is the most recent winner at the track in 2019 and he’s on track for the best finish of his year. Billy Torrence rounds out the current top five, with the likes of Leah Pruett, Antron Brown and 2017 winner Clay Millican trying to put together a big finish.

The Funny Car race is shaping up to be a teammate-versus-teammate duel between Matt Hagan and Ron Capps, which means John Force and Cruz Pedregon have work to do this weekend in Bristol. Pedregon is up to third in points and trails Hagan by 113 points, while Force is two points behind him in fourth.

To remain in title contention, both need a big weekend and do what nobody could do in Dallas — and that’s take out Hagan and Capps. They both advanced to the final, as other championship hopefuls tripped up and couldn’t take advantage of a big opportunity. J.R. Todd sits in fifth, 134 points back of Hagan, but Capps has plenty of momentum following his Dallas victory. He’s won five times in Thunder Valley, which may make him the favorite going into the weekend.

Hagan is racing close to home and has been on point during the Countdown to the Championship as well. He became the first driver to lead the points for more than one race in three months and Hagan will look to make it three in a row with a strong outing in Bristol. The gap between him and Capps was shortened to 33 points, which means things could be filled with action in Thunder Valley.

The competitors with the biggest question marks heading into the weekend comes in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. All but two riders have never raced at Bristol Dragway and nobody has done it with points — let alone championship points — on the line.

The class made appearances in 1999 and 2000 in Thunder Valley as part of two exhibition races and the category is in a far different place in the two decades since. After a slow start — at least by his standards — Matt Smith got back on track in Dallas, winning the race and moving into the points lead. It’s just eight points over Steve Johnson and 53 over Angelle Sampey, with Eddie Krawiec lurking 101 points behind heading into the fourth of six playoff races in the class, but Smith now has momentum.

Whether he’ll follow up his first Dallas win with his first Bristol victory in his first appearance at the track remains to be seen, but it will surely be a thrill watching it all take place.

The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service will also be in action this weekend, racing in their penultimate event of the 2021 season.

You can catch the action all weekend on FOX Sports 1 and NHRA.tv.

You can follow NHRA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to get a closer look at the action.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, Oct. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations start Sunday, Oct. 17 at 11:30 a.m.

Qualifying: Friday, Oct. 15, 7-8 p.m. Eastern, FS1

Qualifying: Sunday, Oct. 17, 1-2 p.m. Eastern, FS1
Eliminations: Sunday, Oct. 17, 2-5 p.m., Eastern, FS1