2021 NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS – BRISTOL, TENN.
TOP FUEL WINNER SALINAS LIKES BRISTOL SO MUCH HE’S BUYING A HOME THERE - Mike Salinas wasn’t kidding.
After he defeated Steve Torrence in Sunday’s Top Fuel final round of the Thunder Valley Nationals to score back-to-back victories at Bristol Dragway, the San Jose, Calif., businessman told the crowd he was going to buy a home in East Tennessee.
“We’re going to get a lake house. Come on over!” he said.
But when he spoke to the media later, the Scrappers Racing owner-driver said he was serious about that.
“I’m literally going to buy a lake house here,” Salinas said. “We’re going to go look at it Monday morning. We’re going to move here. This will be our landing spot. We’ll still stay in California, but when we race, we’re going to live here. I’ve met so many nice people over the years here.”
So while Salinas, who also reached the semifinals of Pro Modified eliminations Sunday, goes house shopping, points leader Torrence will be looking for reasons his almost-untouchable Capco Contractors Dragster immediately went into tire smoke and gave Salinas an easy career third victory.
Salinas won on the 1,000-foot course with his slowest-of-the-weekend 3.854-second, 245.05-mph performance.
He races with daughters Jasmine (Top Alcohol Dragster) and Jianna (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and will bring in youngest Janae next season. So he was proud to share the winners podium Sunday with Alexis De Joria (Funny Car) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in the first event this year at which two women have won at the same race.
De Joria is the sixth different woman to win, and her accomplishment Sunday represented the 10th victory by a woman in 2021. Women have won at nine (half) of the season’s 18 completed races. Sampey also won at Charlotte. Others winning this year are Pro Stock’s Erica Enders (at Las Vegas; Norwalk, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Madison, Ill.), Top Fuel’s Leah Pruett (Pomona) and Brittany Force (Topeka), and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Karen Stoffer (Sonoma).
Torrence was able to extend his advantage over No. 2-ranked Brittany Force from 52 to 73 points. And as the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads west to Las Vegas in two weeks for the Dodge//SRT Nationals, his semifinal victim Justin Ashley and Salinas trail in third and fourth places, respectively, by 147 and 150 points.
“Mike has really stepped up his game this year,” Torrence said after Salinas denied him his milestone 50th victory. “It’s tough out there. These Capco boys are the best in the business, but it’s not easy to win these races. You got Mike, Clay Millican, Brittany, Justin Ashley, Josh Hart, Antron (Brown), Leah (Pruett), Shawn Langdon, and Doug Kalitta all out there every week trying to hurt your feelings. And sometimes they do.
“Fortunately,” he said, “we went rounds again today.”
But the day belonged to Salinas, who advanced past a stout lineup of Antron Brown, Clay Millican, and Force for the chance to meet Torrence in a replay of the St. Louis final round two races ago.
Racing in two attention-demanding categories this weekend, Salinas said his “head is in the right place,” largely because of the experience he has gained from competing in the Pro Mod category and the advice he has received from Jose Gonzalez, who clinched the E3 Spark Plugs / J&A Service series championship with his runner-up finish to J.R. Gray.
“It’s a little hectic, but it’s fun to run both classes. I’m 60 years old, and I’m one of those guys who can’t sit still,” Salinas said. “The nice part about what we’re doing now is it’s just another run. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the final. It has taken me a while to get here, but it’s actually getting easier.”
For Salinas, running Pro Mod, he said, helps by giving him extra experience with the Christmas Tree (working to perfect his launches).
“Jose’s working with me. It has helped me in the Top Fuel car enormously,” he said. “He showed me a procedure that I’ve integrated into the Top Fuel car. It’s actually scary because it’s getting easier. I’m going to be able to cut some pretty decent lights. That’s all the drivers look at. I found something that works perfectly for me, and I think we’re good now.”
He has benefited also from visits with chassis builder Brad Hadman and a swing back through Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School at Gainesville, Fla., just three weeks ago.
“I threw three to four races away toward the beginning of the year, trying to get my routine down. I couldn’t cut a light for nothin’,” he said. “It’s really hard when you’re running against these young guys.”
Salinas was runner-up earlier this campaign at Epping, N.H., and St. Louis, losing first to Billy Torrence and then to Steve Torrence.
Although many pro racers complained this weekend about Bristol Dragway’s quirky bumps (blamed largely on the tunnels that connect the grandstands to the pits), Salinas had no real complaints about it.
He said he hit a bump during his No. 2-qualifier run Saturday that “almost pulled that steering wheel out of my hands. Just had to really grip it from half-track on, that’s all. It’s a great facility. They’re doing everything they can. I’m glad they welcome us here.”
Sunday he had no problem with the lanes, reaching both the Pro Mod semifinals and the Top Fuel final and winning the latter. He set the Top Fuel track speed record at 334.32 mph in the opening round – before Justin Ashley came along three pairs later and rewrote it at 334.48 mph.
He loves Bristol Dragway, and he said, “This track loves me.” Susan Wade
ALEXIS DEJORIA RACES TO FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON WITH STRONG PERFORMANCE AT BRISTOL - Mission accomplished.
Alexia DeJoria wanted to get a win in the last three races, and she did just that at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., Sunday.
DeJoria clocked a 3.921-second elapsed time at 327.66 mph to edge J.R. Todd’s 3.939-second run at 326.32 mph in the finals.
After a very long tree, DeJoria had an .002 reaction time compared to Todd’s .073 reaction time.
“It is hard when the tree is long like that,” DeJoria said. “To us it seems like an eternity. It takes everything in your being not to start counting and to stay focused. Luckily, I was hungry. I know that feeling. I know that head space. I’m just happy to be here. I’m going to have fun, whatever happens, happens. I’m going to do a damn good job and I believe I’m going to win.
“I saw that tree; it wasn’t a guess. The night before we were doing reaction times, someone had a tree in one of their rooms and we were practicing and practicing, and I did really good, and I was just ready. I wasn’t nervous.”
It was DeJoria’s first win since 2017 and sixth of her career. DeJoria beat Paul Lee in round one, had a bye in found two and then ousted Robert Hight and Todd.
“Round one is always the worst round for me,” DeJoria said. “It is not nerves I just want to get past first round. After that, it gets better. We got the win in first round, had the bye in second round, which was a gift. To make it to the semis and finals was a huge deal and I was happy to make it to the final and have it be a Toyota final. Even though I’m not a teammate to J.R. anymore, they are always going to feel like teammates to me. We are Toyota cars, and we are friends, and I was there for a long time. I just love racing him.”
Sunday capped a great weekend for DeJoria. She started from the No. 1 qualifying position for the first time since 2016 with a 3.907-second elapsed time at 326.79 mph – and then won the race.
“I would say this is one of the biggest wins of my career because this is as a part team owner,” DeJoria said. “Coming back after taking two years off and getting to work with my mentor, my old teammate, my friend and I look up to Del (Worsham) and I have learned everything I know from Del and Jeff Arend. To be able to do this with him again, we wanted to finish this out when we where at Kalittas and didn’t get to and he ended up driving the other car and winning a championship, so it was that bad.
“We always wanted to do this again. We made it happen. It was the right time to do this with Del and Nicky Boninfante, and all those guys. Some of them have been with me since Day 1 when I first started nitro Funny Car, so this is huge. This has been a roller-coaster. We will do really good and then I will have a bad light. Or I will have a killer light and the car will smoke the tires for some odd reason. We caught our break today and thank God because I have been really depressed the last couple of races. Racing is very humbling.”
DeJoria became the first woman to win a nitro Funny Car title in Bristol since Melanie Troxel in 2008.
“This is a huge weight off our shoulders,” DeJoria said. “The No. 1 qualifier was the first step. We got the No. 1 and to get the Wally and that same race is just insane. Whatever happens after this, I hope for the best, but I’m good man. We got a Wally. This is a huge confidence builder for me and the whole team. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks, if not my favorite, and this win means the world to me. We will be back for at least five more years and after that Del and I and Nicky are going to see if we can any more than that.” Tracy Renck
ANGELLE SAMPEY TAKES PSM VICTORY AT THUNDER VALLEY - Angelle Sampey is the winningest women racer in NHRA history, and she keeps on winning.
Sampey’s latest victory came Sunday at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.
Sampey clocked 6.773-second elapsed time at 196.85 mph to on her Vance & Hines Suzuki to defeat Karen Stoffer’s quicker 6.760-second run at 197.83 mph in the finals
The difference was at the Christmas tree. Sampey had an .010 reaction time, slighter better than Stoffer’s .029 reaction time.
On Sunday, she defeated teammate Andrew Hines, Chris Bostick, another teammate in Eddie Krawiec and then Stoffer. Sampey, with two races left in the season at Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif., is second in the points just 25 behind leader and reigning world champion Matt Smith.
Sampey is a three-time PSM world champion, capturing titles in 2000-02.
“It was tough,” Sampey said. “It was a very tricky racetrack to get down with a Pro Stock Motorcycle. There are lots of bumps that unsettle the motorcycle and the biggest task for me was to get it straight down the track because when it starts to go to the right or go to the left and you have to hang off and you start hitting those bumps, then it starts reeling and it is very scary. When I raced Chris (Bostick), I saw his red-light and the bike started wiggling and going toward the wall and I intentionally shut it off because I wanted to save the run.
“Then when I raced Eddie (Krawiec) the same thing happened. It started getting wiggly down there and I rolled off the throttle a little bit and got back on it and managed to get the win. With Karen, I knew that wasn’t going to be an option. I knew I had to stay on the throttle and my team let me know that I threw away some ET. We did it. We won it. It was a rough day, but we made it happen.”
This was Sampey’s 45th career PSM victory and second this season as she also was victorious at Charlotte’s fall race.
“I was screaming down there like I won my first race ever because going into first round I was so nervous about the track and so nervous to get down there, I asked Andrew (Hines) if he wanted a bye run. I told him I could stay in the trailer, and he told me to get my butt down there and race. It seems like when I’m nervous I usually do well. When I have a lot going on around me, I usually do my best on the racetrack. I’m so proud of Vance & Hines because Karen showed today what they can do with the Suzuki 4-valves and that was a heck of a race in the final. I was really proud of that.”
Sampey acknowledged this season has been a learning curve for her on the Suzuki.
“It just took a while for me to trust the motorcycle,” she said. “It wasn’t the motorcycle or the team, it was all me. I’m finally coming around learning it and getting braver and trusting in my team and the bike. That was the mission to come back here and catch up with what we lost at the last race (in Dallas). I don’t know what is going to happen at the end of the year, but it sure would be great to get the No. 1 back on the motorcycle. When I first started racing, it was always like trying to get my first win and now I’m just worried about when is it going to be my last. This may be my last, I don’t know, that’s why they mean so much to me.
“If I can get the No. 1, it might be my last, so I’m trying really hard. My team deserves it and I’m trying to give them what they deserve. I have been out here so long, that I appreciate everything I get. In the beginning it was almost too easy and I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what struggles meant and sponsors came easy and today it is so hard. When I win a race, the emotions are 100 percent genuine because it is a task to get it done. I love this sport so much and I really dread the last day I’m going to be out here. I don’t want that to happen anytime soon and I’m hoping Vance & Hines keeps going. I’m not ready to go anywhere.” Tracy Renck
CAPPS DISCUSSES HIS FUTURE WITH RUMORS SWIRLING AROUND HIM, ANGIE SMITH SUFFERS SERIOUS FINGER INJURY, RECORDS FALL IN NITRO RANKS
WHAT’S CAPPS’ FUTURE? – The revolving door at Don Schumacher Racing surely has to make Funny Car title contender Ron Capps consider his future. He has been low-key during all the upheaval at DSR, focused on battling for his second championship
Capps said, “I know the rumor’s out there” about his future but that at this point rumors remain rumors, although he said he always has the mindset that “I want to help the sport grow.
“I grew up around this sport of drag racing. Thankfully, my parents brought me up in the sport of drag racing, albeit bracket racing at local tracks, like at Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo. I’ve been around it all my life. I’m lucky to be where I am at now, making a living. It’s an exciting time for me. There’s a lot going on right now.”
If he ever were to establish his own team, Capps said, “the time and the place has to be right, first of all. And I’ve been pretty lucky to be around two pretty great owners in our sport Don Prudhomme and Don Schumacher. They’re completely different at what they do and their approaches. I’m smart enough to know to take mental notes on a lot of little things every day and watch the process and how they’re so successful . . . watching how Snake carried himself and how he supported his sponsors and watch how Don has brought the business-world approach to team ownership.
“When that time comes and I decide I want to pursue that, then I’ve got fantastic notes, if that’s something that I wanted to do,” he said.
He still marvels at what Don Schumacher has been willing and able to build: “I see what DSR has done with our chassis-building, the in-house shop . . . and I think it was a leapfrog performance, as far as chassis were considered. . . . You look around at DSR and you’ve got Bob Tasca and Cruz Pedregon [as partners in a technical alliance]. You’ve got [the Funny Car of] Paul Lee parked there in the shop. Antron, of course, and you go down the list. And there’s lots of different manufacturers’ cars working out of that shop.
“I think what you’re seeing is a transition of what Don has done and worked hard at. If you look around at DSR, it’s incredible: blower dynos, clutch dynos, the chassis shop . . . If you need something changed or something built or a new car, you walk 30 feet and you’re talking to Joe [Fitzpatrick] in the chassis shop.”
For right now, Capps, the 2016 Funny Car champion and the active nitro-class driver with the most Bristol victories (five), is first and foremost focusing on closing that 33-point advantage Hagan has enjoyed over him for the past week.
“There have been a lot of changes to the NHRA schedule over the last year and a half, and the really nice thing about getting back to somewhat of a normal schedule this year was having certain races fall in different times of the year than we’re used to,” Capps said.
“We had the Winternationals in July, and we won it with friends and family there, which was unbelievable. So having Bristol in October and during the Countdown is a very welcome sight. I’ve been very lucky to win here several times in the past and have had great success here, and now for it to be a Countdown event in a time when I really feel like our NAPA team has hit its stride is great,” he said.
ANGIE SMITH INJURES FINGER – Angie Smith is looking ahead to the Dodge/SRT Nationals at Las Vegas, hoping her left index finger will heal from a painful accident in the pits Friday night while she was doing motor maintenance on her DENSO Auto Parts Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I was changing valve springs on the motor, which I’ve done 200 times, and when I swung a hammer to break it loose, I hit the first quarter of my finger and split it completely in two,” she said.
Consequently, she will miss the rest of this weekend’s event. She had hoped to use two Saturday qualifying sessions to improve from her tentative No. 14 position after Friday’s first pass.
“Our hands as Pro Stock Motorcycle racers are really important, and having my index finger split in two will make it real difficult to release the clutch,” she added. “I think it’s the wisest decision to be on the sidelines for the rest of the weekend and heal up for Vegas.”
The two-time event winner and No. 7-ranked Countdown racer said, “We went to the emergency room, and they put stitches in it and a nerve blocker. But I crushed all the bones on the end of my left index finger.”
“I want to thank everybody at Bristol Regional Medical Center,” Smith said. “They were wonderful with my care last night. Dr. Farmer was wonderful in sewing my finger up.
“It’s definitely a setback, and I hate it for DENSO and everybody that supports me,” she said.
FRESH CONDITIONS – After a lengthy rain delay and a diligent effort from the Safety Safari, the final day of qualifying got under way Saturday. Mike Green, crew chief for Top Fuel racer Justin Ashley, said, “The conditions are really good, but the track got beat up by the rain.”
That made tuners scratch their heads a little bit more than usual, but Funny Car driver John Force said, “That’s why crew chiefs get the big bucks.”
Earning those extra bucks Saturday evening were Top Fuel tuners Richard Hogan, Brian Husen, Dave Grubnic, Jason McCulloch, and Mike Green, as both ends of the long-standing track record fell several times.
Tony Schumacher (3.745 seconds) and Larry Dixon (331.04 mph) began the weekend as record-holders, their June 2015 accomplishments intact. But the late date and the cooler conditions signaled a change.
By the end of the day, Steve Torrence was thanking Brittany Force for letting him finally have at least one top-qualifier honor (she has 11). Torrence blasted his Capco Contractors Dragster to a track-record 3.667-second elapsed time to ace out Mike Salinas, who earlier in the day in Q2 clocked a 3.668. Force ran a 3.672-second E.T. – same as Billy Torrence – but she earned the No. 3 starting spot and relegated him to No. 4 with her 333.58-mph track-record speed. Also in the 3.6-second range Saturday were Leah Pruett and Josh Hart (who had a whopping 330.88-mph speed).
In the Funny Car class, Ron Capps’ track record elapsed time of 3.884 seconds from June 2016 still stands, but Matt Hagan rewrote the Bristol Dragway speed mark at 330.31 mph. As the only Funny Car racer to hit the 330-mph plateau, Hagan wiped out Del Worsham’s June 2016 standard of 329.42 mph. But Worsham had his satisfaction Saturday evening. Alexis De Joria earned her first No. 1 qualifying position, driving the ROKiT Bandero Toyota Camry for Worsham’s DC Motorsports.
BOOMER AND BUMMER FOR BLAKE ALEXANDER – Blake Alexander’s Pronto Auto Parts Mustang entry for Jim Head Racing experienced a huge fire in the final qualifying session Saturday. He physically was unhurt, but the incident was extremely disappointing.
Afterward, he said, “Obviously we’ve been struggling. Lots of people have been struggling to get down this track. It’s got a couple of bumps in it [byproducts of the twin tunnels that take fans from the grandstands to the pits on the opposite side of the racing surface].
“As soon as I hit the gas again, it just lit back up and frickin’ blew up. The dash was in my face, and I realized it was actually on fire as my legs were getting kind of hot and everything else was getting hot. So I just pulled the [fire] bottles, even though I don’t really like to do that. It costs money. All that costs money. I just feel really bad. This hasn’t been the best weekend. We want to do really well tomorrow. We just need to do better. I don’t know . . . it’s a bummer.”
Alexander took the 14th starting slot on the grid, and in Round 1 of eliminations Sunday he’ll meet No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps, who is locked in a fierce Countdown battle with points leader Matt Hagan.
JOHN FORCE HAPPY TO BE BACK HERE – Bristol Dragway lost its 2020 Thunder Valley Nationals to COVID-related issues, but John Force – whose entire team missed all but two events last year for the same reason – said he’s thrilled to be back at one of the Camping World Drag Racing Series’ nicest facilities.
“Bruton Smith built the Bellagios all over the country. We love coming here,” the 16-time Funny Car champion.
“Me and Bernstein tore the tower down with big ol’ D8 Cats [Caterpillar D8 model bulldozers],” he said, referring to the massive renovations Smith made after he purchased the property in 1996. “It’s really grand, and we really love it.”
The fans have always been great. It’s great to be back in Bristol. Thank you for having us.”
Force came here 115 points off leader Matt Hagan’s pace. But both he and Hagan also are aware that they never can count out Cruz Pedregon and John Force.
At Bristol, Force has won four times, most recently in 2013, and his two most recent victories (2010, 2013) helped propel him to his 15th and 16th championships.
“Bristol is special. It truly is Thunder Valley,” Force said. “Having an extra race in the Countdown, well, it depends where you’re at, could help some, could hurt others, I’m hoping we’re on the helping side. We’re going to stay focused, go some rounds, and hopefully get this PEAK Chevy in the winners circle.”
300TH DSR WIN JUST ONE MEMORY IN BROWN’S STAY THERE – Antron Brown defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the final round of Top Fuel eliminations April 2, 2017, to give DSR its 300th victory. With three more races to go (including this one) before Brown strikes out on his own as a team owner, he has a chance to help the organization reach the 370 plateau.
That 300th victory for DSR was one of Brown’s key accomplishments there, and he said, “That was a big win. We have a lot of wins with DSR, but when you can win 300, that’s something really special. To be part of that legacy and history is an honor.”
DSR has 366 victories.
The Matco Tools / Toyota / Sirius XM Dragster driver has 51 of his 69 victories with DSR, and he has at least that many memories. However, one thing he hasn’t done is win a race at this dragstrip.
“Winning Bristol would be huge. Bristol’s the last piece that we need to complete the puzzle in winning at every event on the schedule,” Brown said. “It’s always been a special place for us, and we’ve been close numerous times. It [would] be huge to be able to bring that win home and put that whole picture together for all the years I’ve been at Don Schumacher Racing,” Brown said.
After the race at Bristol, just two more events will bring his successful tenure at DSR to a close. And what he said he treasures in his heart is “just all the fellowship with the people that are there. You rub elbows with the best of the best in this industry at DSR. It’s been like being part of a dream team for so many years that you’re able to pick up so many different mindsets, not just from drivers like a Tony Schumacher, but just watching the way people do things – and how people do things so differently to open your mind and absorb it.”
The three-time Top Fuel champion – who earned all of his titles with DSR – said that when he rejoined DSR in 2009, he didn’t imagine what personal and professional achievements would come his way. (He previously had raced for the organization, along with Angelle Sampey, when their Pro Stock Motorcycles carried the U.S. Army banner.)
“You can never foresee things of that nature. For me, it was just to contribute to the mindset of all the people that were around me. When you surround yourself with people that have passion and desire, success is right there,” Brown said. “That’s what I never realized. When I got to DSR, I knew what we were capable of, because all my team came together. But then we had the backbone and the structure, the R&D, the engineering, and the parts and pieces with the fab shop to make those championships happen.”
Brown might not have a Top Fuel victory at Bristol Dragway yet, but he does have one distinction. Back in July 2000 at the Winston No Bull Showdown all-star exhibition, Brown participated in a Pro Stock Motorcycle demonstration and ran a 187.36-mph speed, the fastest a bike had been down this track, at least since it was overhauled. Three-time bike-class champion Matt Hines ran a 7.275-second elapsed time that weekend. Brown claimed 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle victories before switching his attention to the Top Fuel class.
MILLICAN RECEIVES HEARTWARMING SURPRISE, TORRENCE RACING TEAMS WITH TOYOTA, HAGAN KNOWS HE NEEDS TO STAY GROUNDED, PRUETT BUILDING ADDITION TO HER ‘HOUSE,’ STEWART WON’T BE ‘TROPHY WIFE,’ BIKES RACING AT BRISTOL FOR FIRST TIME
When Tennesseean Clay Millican pulled through the gates at Bristol Dragway for this weekend’s Thunder Valley Nationals, he knows he’s home, even though he lives about 500 miles away, on the other end of the Volunteer State.
“I’m such a Tennessee boy. My family all lives here. We’ve never moved,” the Parts Plus-Walmart Dragster driver said. “I’m proud of the fact everybody calls this my home race. I always say I’m a hillbilly, but I don’t come from the hills of Tennessee. I grew up near the Mississippi River, so I always say I’m a river rat. It’s my home state. I’m proud of this place. This is my home. We’re all about Tennessee.”
And his Mike Kloeber-led team was all about surprising him Friday morning.
They presented him a new wrap on his dragster that honors his and wife Donna’s son, Dalton, whom they lost in a street motorcycle accident in August 2015. He was 22 years old. The special livery – sporting the message “25 – Stomp On The Loud Pedal” – officially was unveiled during Friday night's pro session.
“I was a mess when they showed me the car this morning,” Millican said of the wrap. “I have no idea how they pulled this off without me knowing about it.”
Dalton Millican was a rising star in the Monster Truck world who drove the Blue Thunder entry and whose motocross number – 25 – was taken from dad Clay Millican’s former number of 255.
"Everything was 25 for him," Clay Millican said. “The number came from me. My first Super Comp number was 2556. Then my first Top Fuel number cut off the 6 – 255. Then when Dalton started racing, he shortened it again to 25. The year after we lost Dalton, NHRA gave me the number 25 permanently, which was cool of them.”
And the timing for the wrap was a reminder of Millican’s first NHRA victory, right here on Rocky Top, on Fathers Day 2017. After six consecutive IHRA Top Fuel championships and more Ironman statues than anyone in that sanctioning-body’s history, Millican struggled for several years. He appeared in eight final rounds before he converted one into a triumph.
That day started out painfully for Clay Millican and ended in the NHRA winners circle Sunday in a swirl of emotions that transcended the obvious joy of a racer who had slogged through 254 starts without a victory (there’s that “25” prefix again).
Millican was convinced the victory was no coincidence. John Medlen, who currently tunes Ron Capps’ Funny Car at Don Schumacher Racing and lost his son Eric to injuries from a drag-racing accident in 2007, told him, “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.” Millican knew Dalton (who also left behind a brother, Cale) had orchestrated that day: “He was riding [with us], and he got us four win lights. I couldn’t do anything wrong. My lights sucked, but it didn’t matter. When it’s your day, it’s going to happen. It’s no coincidence. This was supposed to happen. Mama [Martha Millican] always told me when the time was right, it would happen.”
And Millican’s team thought the time was right Friday morning to present him with some treasured memories.
Millican took the provisional No. 4 spot in the order Friday, behind Brittany Force, Justin Ashley, and Steve Torrence.
TORRENCE TEAM JUST GOT MORE DANGEROUS – Winners like to be associated with winners.
And for that reason, Toyota scored a Camping World Drag Racing Series coup Friday at Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway, announcing a technical alliance with the passionately independent Capco Contractors Inc. / Torrence Racing team of Steve Torrence and father Billy Torrence.
In an announcement prior to the opening session of qualifying for the Thunder Valley Nationals, Paul Doleshal, Group Manager of Motorsports and Assets for Toyota Motor North America, said, “We have incredible drivers and team partners in the NHRA landscape. The addition of Steve and Billy Torrence will only enhance that outstanding lineup. It’s going to be the start of a great relationship.”
That represents a major change in strategy for the previously self-contained Kilgore, Texas-based team that is aiming for its fourth straight Top Fuel championship and has 49 victories from Steve and another eight from Billy.
The partnership will begin with the 2022 Camping World Drag Racing Series season as the Torrence organization will dip its toe into uncharted waters.
“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of success in my NHRA career,” Steve Torence said, “but I feel like this new partnership with Toyota and TRD will only improve what Torrence Racing can do on the track. I’ve seen first-hand that the drivers and teams associated with Toyota aren’t just part of their roster but part of a family. They are a special manufacturer that puts people first, and that’s the type of partnership our team is excited to be a part of starting next season.”
“For us, it was not expected. It kind of came around organically from our relationships here that we’ve built with NHRA," Doleshal said.. We’re excited to get them into the family. They’re a great family-run team, and they really take that to heart. And that’s kind of how we try to come to track, especially at NHRA events. So it should all work together nicely,” he said. “They’ll be a great addition and will help us continue to engage with the fans here.”
Doleshal said Steve Torrence initiated the partnership.
“He was appreciative of how we participate as part of the racing community and was excited to see if there was a way we could join together and do more in the sport and just be part of the family,” Doleshal said. “We were able to make that work.
“It’s humbling, too,” he said. “We just come here every weekend to try to help participate, help the sport grow, help our teams, not jut win trophies. Trophies are fantastic. We all like winning races and championships, don’t get me wrong. But we really try to come in here into NHRA’s space, and the access is amazing. So we try to partner with teams that really understand that and get it that the fan is top priority. That’s how we want to build our family here, the Toyota family, when it comes to racing in NHRA. The fit is superb. They’re a great family-run organization, run a great business. And to have them want to be part of our program is humbling and means maybe we’re doing a little something right.”
“We approach it pretty gingerly, I think, who we expand out to,” he said. “We respect the relationships we current have with the teams we have. We want to make sure that we don’t damage those in any way b increasing the size of our footprint. But this one just worked really well when it came together very naturally. And that makes it very comfortable.
“Now,” Doleshal said, “it’s just continuing to learn more about each other, them learning about our brand and how we operate – not only from a racing program point of view but also from our manufacturing and our dealer body – how we work as partners. All of that is done to benefit the consumer. When it comes to racing, how do we benefit the NHRA fan and how do we make their experience better? How do we bring them closer to the action and closer to the things that they want to learn about, whether it be technical or access to the drivers? How can we do that in a way that also talks about Toyota and our family? Generally, that’s how we try to approach NHRA.”
Toyota provides its NHRA teams with tow vehicles, along with engineering, technology and trackside support through TRD (Toyota Racing Development).
“We’ve been in NHRA for 20 years with a lot of great teams,” Doleshal said. They include the current lineup of Antron Brown Racing, Del Worsham’s DC Motorsports, and Kalitta Motorsports.
“I think NHRA’s in a growth position,” the Toyota executive said. “The sponsors that can come in here and do a lot of great things, we would want to be supportive of that. I think there’s a lot of openness to doing things at this point within the sanctioning body. And we’re excited about that and what the future holds here. Hopefully we can look toward building another 20 years with activity at NHRA.”
Having the Torrence team on board will heighten Toyota’s presence in the sport. But until the partnership activates following the final three races of this campaign, TRD technical consultant Slugger Labbe joked that the Torrences and Toyota are “frenemies.” Labbe said, “Having the Torrence family join the Toyota family is a big, big deal to us. And we are really excited to see how they use our trackside engineering tools next year. But next year is when it starts, so we’re still pulling for the Kalittas [Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon, of Kalitta Motorsports] and Antron Brown to beat Steve. But we’re really excited to see how they use our tools in 2022.”
Doleshal said he plans to get the Torrences acclimated to the Toyota way as soon as this season ends.
“We’ll probably work with them on some light transition, get them all comfortable with TRD and data, and the tools that we have available for them. Then we’ll start in January, we’ll put some programs together, probably try to get them to one of our plants, if possible, most likely the San Antonio plant, where we build the Tundra, and give them a tour of that to see a little bit about who we are as a brand. We’ll just start learning a little bit about each other more in depth,” he said.
“I’ve always had pause when we bring on a new driver. It needs to be authentic, right? It needs to be real and not just feed a guy money and he says ‘Toyota’ all the time,” Doleshal said. “What I would rather have is ‘Don’t talk about us a lot until you’re confident you like what you see. Talk about us when it’s genuine. Talk about us when it’s real.’
“We’ll do that,” he said, “and get Steve and Billy a little more comfortable with who we are as a brand and how we have respect for people, whether it be our consumers or our employees or team members. I’ve been with Toyota for 26 years, and I’ve seen first-hand, through hard times and good times, how our company supports our team members and our dealer body. And I will always be appreciative of that. I think once they see a little bit more behind that – we don’t talk about it a lot – but when they see a little it about that they actually do, I think they’ll understand more about who we are as a brand.”
Having the Torrence team on board will be a major boost for Toyota’s presence in the sport.
“I’m five-foot-seven,” Torrence said. “I’m not a big guy. But when I put that helmet on and the adrenaline starts to flow, I turn green, my clothes rip off, and I think I’m ‘The Hulk.’ That’s what you have to do, because whoever’s in the other lane is trying to take away what you’ve worked so hard for. You’ve got to convince yourself, because if you don’t believe we’re the baddest ones out there, ain’t nobody else gonna believe it.”
Toyota believes, and that’s why they’re thrilled to add the Torrence team to their already impressive portfolio.
Meanwhile, foremost on points leader Torrence’s mind Friday night is assessing why his engine blew on his late-Friday run as he ran side by side with closest contender Brittany Force. She got the precious three bonus points for her 3.682-second, 328.94-mph that put her atop the leaderboard.
HAGAN NEEDS TO CONCENTRATE – Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan knows he has to be careful.
He has a 33-point lead over closest challenger Ron Capps to try to protect or extend this weekend here at Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway at the Thunder Valley Nationals.
He knows at least seven others in the class are hoping to go on a tear and charge from lower spots in the order into legitimate championship contention, particularly considering the Finals at Pomona, Calif., will pay points and a half. And among those seven are five drivers who represent a combined 23 championships. So Hagan recognizes that he has no margin for error.
However, it’s understandably hard for Hagan not to think about all the exciting possibilities he’ll encounter with Tony Stewart Racing next season and beyond. Hagan participated in Thursday’s press conference with Stewart and his current Don Schumacher Racing Mopar/Dodge teammate Leah Pruett. At that gathering at zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C., the three-time champion acknowledged that he needs to concentrate on this weekend’s business if he wants to be the first since John Force (1993-2002) to score back-to-back Funny Car titles.
“Don Schumacher has been great to me,” he said, “and my goal this year is to deliver him another Funny Car championship. We’re in a dogfight, and a lot can happen in three races. I want to go out on top.
“We have a championship team right now, [and] we’re focused on winning the championship. We have a 30-point lead coming into these next three races, and I don’t know, it’s never been easy in drag racing, so why should it be easy now?
“We’ve got a lot of work still ahead of us to do, but I just can’t say how excited I am to be a part of this, making history. [Stewart’s drag-racing team, which will debut at the Winternationals next February, marks Stewart’s first venture into straight-line racing.] So it’s really going to be great to be a part of this new era of history for Tony and ourselves,” Hagan said. He said he’s “looking forward to doing great big things out here in the future.”
PRUETT BUILDING ADDITION TO HER HOUSE – Top Fuel’s Leah Pruett used a unique metaphor to describe her NHRA career and her next step along the way as she and fiancé Tony Stewart establish their new NHRA team that incudes Funny Car’s Matt Hagan.
“I do consider NHRA my home,” she said. “I love it, the entire sport altogether. This opportunity right here is, really, I’ve been modifying my home and giving it upgrades, and wonderful people, organizations that I’ve been able to work with. But then you also at some point in your life also have an opportunity to build, and that’s exactly what this is, an opportunity for us here together to build TSR [Tony Stewart Racing] and multiple NHRA championship-caliber teams, so the excitement behind it is just astonishing.
“To be able to move forward with my future husband, championship-caliber teammate continuing with my teammate Matt Hagan, and to get back to the absolute fundamentals and basics from what I have known, mixing in talent bases and highs and lows, then with what Tony is able to bring from all his expertise and his entire portfolio of entities, really undeniably is going to make for exactly what the NHRA needs: Another very strong-suited team on the track, personalities in a space, abilities to bring in new partners. I’m excited to get to race with my husband, future husband, and really get back on the track in a way that I will truly enjoy racing and very much looking forward to it,” she said.
“I think the word that stands out for me 100 percent is ‘stability’ on multiple levels, from the competition standpoint, knowing that TSR is going to provide both teams with what they need to be able to compete going to every race with adequate people in place, and on the other side of that is the emotional stability,” Pruett said. “The logic is what has really been paramount in what Tony has brought.
“In the last two years of us being together, watching him coordinate people, entities, portfolios, through COVID and then after, and the No. 1 thing was his appreciation for his people and looking out for their best interests. And so, for me personally,” she said, “you take that in within our relationship. But that’s what gives me the confidence in being a driver for him and a part of this organization, how he’s going to continue just as he has with everything else in top-tier, first-class operations.
“For me, it definitely comes down to he is a man of his word. Not everybody likes all the words that he has to say, but he says them with conviction, and it has reasoning behind it. And that is definitely something that I’ve learned from and grown as an individual, as a racer, as a competitor,” she said. “All of the things, really . . . it’s exciting to bring, though, all of this hard work that we’ve been putting in for the last couple of months and the discussions for years, really, here today to be able to share with you guys.
“Tony is the man, my man and our team’s man, and really has everything that we need from the inside out to be able to lead our teams to where they need to be,” she said.
DON’T EXPECT STEWART TO DRAG RACE IN 2022 – Tony Stewart won’t be competing in drag racing next year – but he promises he won’t be “a trophy wife,” either.
Reigning Funny Car champion Matt Hagan said he has been trying, without luck, to interest soon-to-be team boss Tony Stewart in driving a Funny Car.
“He’s already driven a dragster, but I said, ‘Man, if you can drive one of those – them things fly up like a kite – you can definitely drive a Funny Car,” Hagan said.
Stewart, who has driven almost every kind of racing machine on the planet, wasn’t taking the bait. Moreover, he indicated he thinks he’s light years away from competing in a Top Fuel dragster, as well.
He didn’t hesitate to say he would not be driving a Top Fuel car this next season: “No – not right now. I’ve made 10 runs in Leah’s car and, trust me, that’s not even near enough to get close to being ready to compete at this level that these two are at. It’s been an honor, and it’s been a lot of fun to do that. But I’m sure now that I get to pay the bills on the car next year, I can probably have the ability to go test a little more if I want.
“So that part will be fun,” he said. “I do anticipate practicing more, but it’s a little early to try to make that big step. I mean, anybody that thinks these cars are easy to drive is extremely way off center if they think these cars are easy. There are a lot of very small details that you have to do correct, and you have to do it the same every time. And it’s a very different discipline than what I’m used to.”
Referring to fiancée Leah Pruett, who’ll compete for Tony Stewart Racing next year, and Hagan, who’ll race TSR’s branded Funny Car entry, Stewart said, “I’m more excited about having two drivers that I know can go out each week and have the ability to win races.”
Besides, he said, “I’m not a very good spectator in any format of motorsports, so to have the opportunity to be engrossed in NHRA drag racing over the last year and a half has created a lot of interest for me to do more than just stand and be a trophy wife, to stand beside Leah.”
TRUTH, JUSTICE, AMERICAN DRAG-RACING WAY – Funny Car racer Matt Hagan recognized the significance of Thursday’s announcement that motorsports titan Tony Stewart will be fielding a two-car team that headlines the 39-time Funny Car winner and nine-time Top Fuel victor Leah Pruett.
“Tony with his relationships and his sponsorships and everything else that he has, I have no doubt that this is going to be a big splash in NHRA,” Hagan said.
NHRA President Glen Cromwell carried out a comic-book theme in describing the new team’s principals at Thursday’s press conference at Concord, N.C.
“We’ve always termed, in the NHRA, multi-car teams and megateams, and I look at this team up here, and to me this is a team of superheroes. You really look at it – it starts with Tony Stewart. To me, he’s the Superman of motorsports. He’s touched every piece of it, excelled at it, and I expect he will do the same in NHRA in the Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“Next to him you’ve got Wonder Woman, who really grew up in the sport of NHRA, in the Jr. Drag Racing League, and touched a little Pro Mod racing, Factory Stock Showdown champion, and many event champions. Really, we don’t talk enough about it, but Leah is a great ambassador to the sport from a marketing standpoint. She really knows how to promote herself, her team, her crew.
“Next to her, you have Hulk Hagan, who’s leading the points right now in Funny Car, three-time champion, and also a great ambassador of the sport.
“This is big news today. On behalf of NHRA, our track partners Greg Walter and Marcus Smith, and all of our millions of fans, Camping World, Marcus Lemonis, FOX, this is a big deal, and we’re extremely excited to have Tony and the team that he’s developed here,” Cromwell said. “Don Schumacher has done a lot for our sport and Tony has talked to him a lot over the last year and a half, and [Pruett and Hagan] have learned a lot through Don Schumacher, and we thank him for that. This is a big day for the sport of NHRA and the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. I know Tony is going to come in. He’s quite the competitor.”
To Stewart he said, “I love that you’re in the sport, and we’re looking forward to working with you and your team for many years.”
Stewart said he’s “truly excited about” his new team in what’s just about the last frontier of motorsports for him. “This has been something that we’ve been working on for a while, and over the course of 2021, it’s been a lot of work to get to this point. But we’ve got great people behind us. We’ve already got some partners that are on board, and we’ll announce other partners down the road.
“The good thing is that I’m really excited about this. It’s not going to take away from anything that I’m doing with our other forms of motorsports, and with having Eldora Speedway [the track he owns at Rossburg, Ohio] and the All-Star Circuit of Champions, the four Cup teams and Xfinity team, we’re used to juggling a lot of balls and having a lot of balls in the air. Adding this to the portfolio is not anything that’s going to take away from what we currently have. If anything, it’s going to enhance it with a lot of our partners,” he said.
“So I think it’s a great opportunity. I’ve had the opportunity to do some testing in Don’s cars and Leah’s car, not only here at zMAX but at the drag strip in Las Vegas, as well,” he said. “It’s something I’m passionate about, and I feel like I’ve got a great opportunity with two great drivers to have a lot of fun, win a lot of races, and hopefully win a lot of championships down the road.”
SCHUMACHER SEES MAJOR CHANGES – Don Schumacher has had a whirlwind week.
Son Tony Schumacher, who’s getting married Saturday to longtime girlfriend Summer Penland, announced Wednesday that he’ll be back in the cockpit of a Top Fuel car for all 22 races this next season, thanks to the philanthropist couple Joe and Cathi Maynard. Daughter Meghan and son-in-law Chad Ossier are about to welcome their first child any day now. And on the bittersweet side, Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan signaled Thursday their exit from Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) at the close of this season.
Coupled with Antron Brown’s long-ago announced breakaway to form his own independent team, that means that DSR will have lost five of its six drivers (including Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman) in the past 24 months. (Although Schumacher has said he would like to bring back both Beckman and Johnson, and they would love to be back in the daily mix, the fact is they aren’t likely to be anytime soon. Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car champion, continues to work in Southern California for elevator company Schindler. And Johnson evidently doesn’t have any deals in the works with DSR. When he won at Reading, substituting for COVID-stricken Hagan, and defeated John Force in the final round, Johnson climbed from his car and said to Force, “If you have an extra car, I’m available.”)
That exodus, whether it was for greener pastures or because of a lack of marketing partners, is shocking for Schumacher, who’s regarded throughout motorsports as the Roger Penske of drag racing, the Camping World Drag Racing Series’ gold standard.
However, that doesn’t necessarily indicate a seismic shift or the demise of DSR at all. What we’re witnessing likely is simply another evolution in the sport, a trend away from megateams and toward smaller independent teams. In the modern era, John Force Racing helped usher in the multi-car team format with its data sharing and a natural attraction for championship-minded crew chiefs and top-drawer drivers – all to the aggravation of single-car teams owners such as the late Al Hofmann. But with escalating costs, COVID-triggered marketplace changes, and just the ebb and flow of time, single-car teams or smaller two- and three-car organizations appear to be the wave of the more-manageable future. And part-time status has a new connotation, especially if the part-time team is prepared to be competitive and not just a field-filler.
But DSR Funny Car veteran Ron Capps, among others, has pointed out that the Capco Contractors / Torrence Racing team has had a profound impact on the nitro scene and the dubious wisdom of multi-car teams.
“You’ve got to look at the success of the Torrences,” he said. “Here’s a team that came along, not a megateam. They have another car, of course.” He was referring to part-time racer Billy Torrence, who has confounded the sanctioning body by competing when he feels like it (or, as he puts it, “by invitation only” from wife Kay Torrence, the legal team owner) and winning, qualifying for the Countdown, and finishing in the top five.
Capps said, “The approach was to have one car [Steve Torrence’s], win a championship, buy parts from manufacturers and go out and run them – as opposed to a John Force or Don Schumacher, where parts are built in-house. And they’re not only winning championships [Steve Torrence is aiming for his fourth straight in Top Fuel] but really dominating the past few years.”
That hasn’t been lost on Brown, either. He said the Torrences “have raised the level of the game. “You know why their car runs so consistent? They run brand-new parts almost every lap. You know why their car doesn’t vary? It doesn’t vary because they killed all the variables.”
Steve Torrence is open about buying parts off the shelf: “We’re not smart enough to make our own parts – or maybe we’re smart enough not to make our own parts.”
And that’s a point in DSR’s favor. With its DSM Precision Manufacturing – that produces more than 400 engine and chassis parts and is complete with fabrication and carbon-fiber shops – it can continue to hum along, helping not only drag racers and racers in other forms of motorsports but also serving clients in other industries, including defense and aviation and OEMs. Its massive footprint at Brownsburg, Ind., with its space that can house more than 20 haulers and does provide space to a number of nitro teams, will not go to waste, by any means.
He said he’s amazed “when you’re in that shop and you see all the people in the room and create things like the enclosed driver compartment, the new state-of the art chassis that you share throughout the industry with other teams and share the artistry and technology of things, like our cylinder heads before where we were just a step above before NHRA put in the restrictions.”
And, best of all, no one has been forgetting Schumacher and all of his efforts to help them grow the sport.
Brown has said before, “I’ve been around the highest team owner this sport’s ever seen. Just being a part of Don Schumacher Racing and being around Don for all these years, it’s a school that you can’t pay to go to. Just being around him and learning from him and how he runs his race organization – and not just winning races but being on the leading edge of technology with DSM [Don Schumacher Motorsports Precision Manufacturing] . . . from the fab[rication] shop to the CNC shop, how he wants to make everybody be the best versions of themselves. And it’s all about hard work: not just being smarter but outworking your competitors. And that’s how you got a guy who came in the sport and he transcended the sport in every direction. And it’s been a blessing to be underneath that wing for him to help. I’m not going too far from that wing.”
Hagan said Thursday, “I want to . . . thank Don Schumacher for what he’s allowed me to do, allowed me to be a part of a great group. We’ve won multiple championships, lots of trophies, set lots of records. A big part of the reason I’m here [with Tony Stewart Racing] today is because we’ve been so successful and we’ve done so well as a team, as a collective group in NHRA under Don Schumacher. He’s been really gracious and great to me, allowing me to have the opportunity.”
And Stewart spoke during his new-team announcement about how helpful Schumacher has been as he makes his first foray into drag racing: “None of this would be possible without Don Schumacher. His support of what we’re doing has been through the roof. He’s done an amazing job of helping me understand the sport, all the nuances of the sport, how to take care of the partners and how to make the whole program work. So he’s spent a lot of time with me to help us understand what it takes to be successful at this level. Acquiring the pieces and parts and equipment from him has been a huge part of us being able to be up here today. Without Don, we wouldn’t be here. So I really appreciate Don and his work and diligence. There’s been a lot of people at DSR that have spent a lot of time with me explaining to me everything that it takes to do this and do it the right way. Don has been the leader in that and been a huge part in helping us get here.”
So why are racers leaving the most successful team in the history of the sport? Maybe the answer lies in one of Stewart’s remarks Thursday: “It is difficult. Motorsports as a whole, it doesn’t matter whether it’s quarter midgets, go-karts, all the way up to NHRA drag racing, IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR – the competition is getting closer and closer and tighter and tighter, and you have to be on your game.
That’s why we do this. If it was easy, none of us would want to do it. It wouldn’t be gratifying to us. That’s why we do what we do in our respective roles, is that challenge of trying to figure out how to do it better than everybody else.”
BRISTOL NEW VENUE FOR PRO STOCK BIKES – It’s hard to imagine that bike racer Matt Smith, whose Pro Stock- and Pro Mod-racing father Rickie Smith was named one of the Legends of Thunder Valley in 2007, never has raced at Bristol Dragway.
Most in the class haven’t. The only active Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors who have raced on the dragstrip are Angelle Sampey and Steve Johnson.
“My dad is a legend in Bristol, so it’s good to go back and race there,” the Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader and four-time series champion said. “I’ve been there a bunch with him, but I’ve never had the opportunity to race there. We wanted to move to some new venues, like Bristol, for the bikes. So we’re looking forward to [a weekend of competing here]. Our team really does [well] at new venues, so we hope to be able to pull a win out this weekend. But I think it’s going to be tricky at the same time. I’ve never raced here, and we’ll see what happens, but hopefully, we can run well and get as many points as we can.”
Smith took the lead in the standings from Steve Johnson with his victory last week at Dallas. And he said, “We’re going to go head-to-head with [Johnson] the rest of the year, and hopefully we can pull this out and get that fifth championship. We’re going to do everything we can to get it.
“You’ve just got to go over these bikes every second you can. And hopefully, we have the best bike these last three races. You have to take advantage of every opportunity you can get. We came into Dallas knowing we needed some bonus points in qualifying, and it all comes down to if we can win the next three races, it doesn’t matter what anyone else does.”
Smith will be aboard his Denso Auto Parts / Stockseth / Matt Smith Racing EBR as the class makes its official points debut at Bristol. The Pro Stock Motorcycles raced at Thunder Valley as part of two exhibition races in 1999 and 2000, but this will mark the first time championship points will be on the line for them here.
MILESTONES AWAIT – All that Brittany Force really wants this weekend at Bristol Dragway is making up those 52 points Steve Torrence has on her in the Top Fuel standings. She’s second in the order in her Flav-R-Pac Dragster for John Force racing.
But she has some milestones within reach. She’s just two No. 1 qualifiers away from tying Tony Schumacher’s 2006 Top Fuel record of 13 in a single season. And she soon could tie the JFR team record of 13 set her dad, John Force, set in 1996. Brittany Force has been the top qualifier in 13 of her past 19 starts, dating back to the 2020 season.
She also is on a streak of eight consecutive races in which she has recorded both quickest time and fastest speed of the meet. And for 11 straight races, her dragster has been the quickest car on the property. Force’s average qualifying time for the last 12 races is 3.690 seconds, and she is coming off a 3.637-second run at Dallas that was the fifth-quickest in Top Fuel history.
She was the quickest Friday evening at 3.682, four-hundredths quicker than No. 2 Justin Ashley (3.726 seconds). Force’s crew chief, Dave Grubnic, said following her run, “Part of our job is to put on a good show. We pushed. We got away with it.”
FAN OF THUNDER VALLEY – No. 3-ranked Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon said he likes Bristol Dragway, no matter what time of year it is. The Snap-on Tools owner-driver called it “a cool track” and said it’s one of the premier venues on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour, with all the features of a modern stadium.
Before he arrived, he said, "It will be interesting to race Thunder Valley at this time of year. We're used to being here in the late spring, but no matter what the weather holds, the Snap-on Dodge doesn’t mind where it is. We've been running well in all temperatures and altitudes, and we plan to do so again this weekend."