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Dial in, drag racing fans: Time to hit Thunder Valley

By Jeff Birchfield • Jun 12, 2019 at 1:23 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals return to Bristol Dragway for their annual Father’s Day weekend visit, and there’s plenty of action from Friday through Sunday.

Gates open at 10 a.m. on Friday, the same time Sportsman qualifying starts. The midway opens at 12:30 p.m., offering a great chance for fans; after all, as they say, every ticket is a pit pass.

Qualifying for Mountain Motor Pro Stock is at 3:15 p.m., followed by qualifying for Nitro Harley and Pro Mod. The first Nitro session for Funny Car and Top Fuel starts at 4:30 p.m. and the second session at 7:30 p.m. The second session is the most spectacular because it offers the sight of flames shooting out the header pipes against the night sky. It’s also typically when the quickest times and fastest speeds are posted.

Gates open at 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sportsman eliminations begin immediately. The third Nitro qualifying session is set for 1 p.m. with the final qualifying session at 4 p.m. Fan fest follows in Nitro Alley 30 minutes after the final qualifying round.

On Sunday, gates open at 10 a.m., and the track walk for the fans starts at 10:45 a.m. Pre-race ceremonies begin at 11 a.m. and eliminations start at noon.


Defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is on a tear. The Texan has five straight wins after beating his father, Billy, in last Sunday’s final at Topeka. He has a whopping 321-point lead over second-place Doug Kalitta in the NHRA Mello Yello points standings.

Kalitta is always a favorite at Bristol, where he’s a three-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner and six-time finalist.

One notable absence is eight-time world champion and six-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher after the U.S. Army went in a different direction with its sponsorship dollars.

Three-time world champion Antron Brown looks to carry the mantle for the Don Schumacher Racing team and has the extra motivation of Bristol being one of only two NHRA tracks where he hasn’t won.

Clay Millican won his first-ever NHRA national event at Bristol in 2017, and 2018 series champion Brittany Force and Australian Richie Crampton are other favorites. The division features a group of talented veterans and a number of up-and-coming drivers.


The battle between John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing takes center stage after Robert Hight scored his fourth win of the season at Topeka. Hight beat Schumacher driver Jack Beckman in the final round.

Another DSR driver, Tommy Johnson Jr., ranks second to Hight in the Funny Car standings.

While that was career win No. 49 for Hight, the namesake of the team, John Force, has the all-time record of 149 wins. The 16- time world champion has been pursuing milestone No. 150 since Denver last July but is a favorite at Bristol, where he’s a four-time winner.

Somewhat under the radar is the Kalitta Motorsports team of defending series champion J.R. Todd and teammate Shawn Langdon, who looks to become the first driver to win in both Top Fuel and Funny Car at Bristol.

There are plenty of other contenders in both Nitro divisions.