Home They don’t call it Thunder Valley for nothing

They don’t call it Thunder Valley for nothing

Rod Mullins

Tucked into the hills of northeast Tennessee and situated beside another sports icon, Bristol Motor Speedway, dubbed The Last Great Colosseum, is Thunder Valley, Bristol Dragway.

And after a winter slumber and spring renewal, the valley roared back to life on Friday morning greeting teams and fans for the running of the NHRA Spring Nationals.

For a first timer taking in the drag racing experience for the first time, it is truly a “hot rod lover’s dream” to experience the power of the engine, the speeds down the straightaway of the narrow valley drag strip. And when the team at Bristol puts on a show, they put on a show.

With it being Father’s Day weekend, the gurus at Bristol Dragway have pulled out all the stops for Spring Nationals Weekend.

“There’s nothing like the sights, sounds and smells of 10,000 horsepower, 325 mph, nitromethane-powered race cars,” according to Bristol Dragway general manager Jerry Caldwell. “Put that in the heart of the picturesque Appalachian Mountains and you have the recipe for one of the most unique sporting events on the planet. It’s truly what makes Thunder Valley a special place.”

Drivers to watch this weekend during the Spring Nationals include Ron Capps, 2016 Funny Car World Champion and current favorite to repeat in 2017 after his fast start out of the gate but Capps is in a drought at Thunder Valley. Despite three Bristol wins in the past, he has not won at Thunder Valley since 2012.

Another driver that has emerged on the scene and on the leaderboard is Tanner Gray.  A rookie and son of former Pro Stock driver Shane Gray and grandson of former Funny Car competitor Johnny Gray, he is the youngest winner ever in an NHRA professional class. Gray already has two wins to his credit and would like nothing more than to claim a win at Bristol and on Father’s Day for dad Shane and grandfather Johnny.

Friday’s schedule starts with Sportsman Qualifying beginning at 10:00AM with Pro Mod Qualifying starting at 4:15PM.  Pro Stock Qualifying begins at 5:00 PM with Nitro Qualifying for Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragsters beginning at 5:30 PM.  Nitro Harley Qualifying begins at 6:30 PM with the Pro Mod Qualifying session resuming at 6:45 PM and Pro Stock Qualifying at 7:30 PM.  The Nitro Qualifying session will finish off the night starting at 8:00 PM with fireworks to follow.

In addition, IHRA great Doug Herbert will be formally inducted into the Legends of Thunder Valley Wall of Fame during ceremonies Friday evening at Bristol Dragway.  Herbert will join other names such as NHRA current driver John Force, and greats “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Don Schumacher.

The NHRA Spring Nationals at Thunder Valley resume on Saturday with Sportsman eliminations and further qualifying sessions with Sunday’s activities including a Track Walk, Doughnuts for Dad and Final Eliminations beginning at noon.

By Rod Mullins/Augusta Free Press

Rod Mullins

Rod Mullins

Rod Mullins covers NASCAR for AFP, and co-hosts the mid-week “Street Knowledge” focusing on NASCAR with AFP editor Chris Graham. A graduate of UVA-Wise, Rod began his career in journalism as a reporter for The Cumberland Times, later became the program director/news director/on-air morning show host for WNVA in Norton, Va., and in the early 1990s served as the sports information director at UVA-Wise and was the radio “Voice of the Highland Cavaliers” for football and basketball for seven seasons. In 1995, Rod transitioned to public education, where he has worked as a high school English, literature, and creative writing teacher and now serves as a school program coordinator in addition to serving as a mentor for the robotics team.