Track records went by the wayside on Saturday at Bristol Dragway, as Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Scotty Pollacheck (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all finished No. 1 to close out qualifying on Saturday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
In all, five of the six possible track records were set during a thrilling Saturday at Thunder Valley, with cooler conditions providing a stellar opportunity to put on a show. The stars in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series responded in a major way, setting the stage for Sunday’s eliminations at the fifth race in the 2021 Countdown to the Championships playoffs.
Normally one not to make the massive run, Torrence delivered a huge performance to close out qualifying in Top Fuel, rocketing to a run of 3.667-seconds at 331.28 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. The track record had been set twice earlier this weekend, with Brittany Force going to the top on Friday and Mike Salinas going past her with a 3.668 at 329.83 to open Saturday.
But Torrence had the last laugh and set the track record for the third time this weekend with his impressive blast. Going for his 50th career Top Fuel win, Torrence will open eliminations against Cameron Ferre.
“That was really big for us,” Torrence said. “We’ve been picking at that over the last few races. It’s something you just don’t get overnight and you really have to work at going mid-3.60s. The track here is great and it’s exceptional. On that run, the car was super quick early and it really pulled hard out the back. That was a confidence builder for tomorrow, so you've got to go out and be able to throw down. We’re in the thick of this championship and we’re going to have to give it our best shot every time.”
Saturday did turn into a home run derby in Top Fuel, with the cooler conditions leading to a number of incredible runs. In all, seven different drivers reached the 3.60s in qualifying, with Salinas following right behind Torrence. Billy Torrence and Force had identical runs of 3.672, with Force taking the third spot with her track speed record of 333.58. Justin Ashley improved to a 3.688, while Leah Pruett continued to have a strong weekend with a run of 3.691. Josh Hart added a career-best pass in seventh by going 3.696.
DeJoria didn’t set the track record in Funny Car, but she did qualify No. 1 for the first time in five years, going 3.907 at 326.79 in her 11,000-horsepower Bandero Premium Tequila ROKiT Toyota Camry. After coming close on several occasions this year, DeJoria was able to hold off all the big guns in Funny Car, with many struggling to get down the track. It led to an emotional top end celebration as DeJoria earned the yellow NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series hat to signify her No. 1 qualifier, the fifth in her career. Seeking her first win of the season, DeJoria will open eliminations against Paul Lee.
“This track has a lot of good memories for me,” DeJoria said. “It’s the first final round I went to with Del (Worsham) back in 2012, and to come back here with our team and get a No. 1 qualifier at this track is huge. This alone is so gratifying and means so much, and it kind of feels like a win. It’s just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders. We’ve got three races left and we haven’t won a race yet, so it’s crunch time and we’ve got to do it now.”
On the same run, Ron Capps qualified in the second spot with a 3.945 at 325.61. It was his first strong run of the weekend and it couldn’t have come at a better time heading into eliminations. The man he’s chasing, Matt Hagan, qualified third with a 3.958, setting the track speed record with a pass of 330.31. Tim Wilkerson, the provisional No. 1 qualifier, didn’t improve on Saturday and finished fourth in qualifying, while Robert Hight rounded out the top five.
John Fore and Cruz Pedregon were sixth and seventh, respectively, while Dave Richards made a career-best run of 3.983, going into the three-second zone for the first time.
There was plenty of shuffling to close out qualifying in Pro Stock Motorcycle, with Matt Smith Racing leading the way. Matt Smith had the dominant early hand, but it was his teammate, Scotty Pollacheck who had the final say, going 6.859 at 197.80 on his Denso/Strutmaster/MSR Buell. Smith couldn’t top it, handing Pollacheck his third No. 1 of the season and fourth in his career. It finished off an excellent official qualifying debut for the class at Thunder Valley.
Pro Stock Motorcycle appeared in Bristol in 1999 and 2000 as part of a pair of exhibition races, but this was the first race with points on the line for the class at Bristol. Pollacheck struck the final blow in qualifying, giving Bristol rave reviews in the process.
“It’s so awesome to be here at Bristol and to be No. 1,” Pollacheck said. “To come here, someplace I’ve always seen on TV and I’ve always to come to because it looks so awesome, and end up with the No. 1 spot on the final qualifying run was pretty special. It was a good team effort and it was a good pass. It was a little surprising, but Matt told me afterward that if I rode it (well), it would go an .85.”
Smith finished in the second spot, improving on his run from Friday with a pass of 6.865 in the first qualifying session on Saturday. Karen Stoffer is third with a 6.867, also making a strong pass to open the day, while Andrew Hines and Chris Bostick round out the top five. Steve Johnson couldn’t improve on his 6.942 from Friday, putting him in the sixth spot.
In the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, Rickie Smith drove to the No. 1 position in his nitrous-powered Camaro, going 5.708 at 250.64 under the lights on Saturday to close out qualifying. Points leader Jose Gonzalez is second after his run of 5.733 at 250.32.