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First-round qualifying complete for Supergrip Thunder Valley Nationals

Rod Mullins
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(© Derek Yegan – Shutterstock)

The sound of thunder in the form of drag racing will fill the valley this weekend as the NHRA Mission Drag Racing Series visits Bristol Dragway for the 23rd annual Supergrip Thunder Valley Nationals at the famed drag racing venue, nestled in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.

This weekend’s event is sponsored by Supergrip, a regional maker of UTV, ATV and industrial tires.

This is Supergrip’s first foray into drag racing sponsorship.

The NHRA Mission Drag Racing Series usually visits Bristol on Father’s Day weekend, but with changes in the schedule, accommodation for some other tracks moved the event to the first weekend in June.

Erica Enders and the Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage / Melling Performance / SCAG Power Equipment team will be looking to pick up their fourth win at the fan favorite facility. The six-time defending world champion has reached the final round of the Thunder Valley Nationals for two consecutive years, winning the 2023 event against rival Greg Anderson from the No. 1 qualifying position and finishing runner-up to teammate Aaron Stanfield in 2022. Her two other victories have come in 2015, also from No. 1, and 2014 with runner-up accolades in 2013 and 2011.

Enders clearly establishes her affection for Thunder Valley when talking about the facility and the fans.

“I absolutely love racing at Thunder Valley,” Enders said. “We have so many great memories at this facility and we are looking forward to adding to that list this weekend.”

Her victory in 2023 was the first of her season in what had been a “drought” starting the season. The wins served as a catalyst for four more victories, including three in the Countdown to the Championship that would lead her to her sixth Pro Stock world championship.

“Bristol was the turning point in our season last year,” Enders said. “As we near the halfway point of our 2024 season, we are working on our strategy and race day set up to obviously prepare for the countdown.”

Another young driver looking for bigger things is Austin Prock, who drives in the Funny Car category for John Force Racing. Prock returns to Bristol where he reached the semifinals a year ago.

Prock is also the current Mission Foods point leader.

Prock will be viewing the long drag strip with a different point of view as he will be seeking a “Wally” for the Cornwell Tools Chevy Camaro SS.

Prock was a runner-up last week at Epping, N.H., to boss and teammate John Force, the third-generation drag racer is one who appreciates the challenges presented by a track that sits at 1,475 feet above sea level.

“Coming to Bristol, we’re back in black with Cornwell Tools and with some momentum,” Prock said. “I’ve always enjoyed coming to Bristol. It’s a very challenging track from a tuning and driving standpoint so, if you get it done there, you really earned it.

 

“The conditions look favorable and I’m looking forward to getting back in the seat,” said the driver who is racing this year with his dad, Jimmy, crew chief on the Cornwell Camaro, and brother Thomas, the No. 2. “I love these back-to-back races. Let’s see if we can do one spot better this weekend (than last).”

That’s just two of the many storylines taking place at Bristol Dragway. The other big storyline involves the induction of a drag racing legend into The Legends of Thunder Valley Wall of Fame.

Famed drag racing star and gamechanger Shirley Muldowney will be inducted into the prestigious Legends of Thunder Valley, the iconic track’s official hall of fame, during the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Muldowney, 83, is the 21st inductee in the Legends of Thunder Valley and becomes the first female racer to be enshrined in the exclusive club that also includes Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, NHRA founder Wally Parks, John Force, Don Schumacher and Scotty Cannon, to name a few.

Muldowney never raised a trophy at historic Bristol Dragway, but don’t let that stat take away from her over-arching victory she claimed through her tenacity as a pioneering trailblazer in motorsports. Muldowney’s contribution to the sport of drag racing and to women in sports  because of her efforts made it possible for women to be able to compete and win in professional and sportsman drag racing.

She will be presented with the customary Legends of Thunder Valley plaque by Bristol Motor Speedway president and general manager Jerry Caldwell during pre-race ceremonies, which begin at 11 a.m.

Fans will get to see plenty of NHRA stars during the weekend, like back-to-back Bristol Top Fuel winner Justin Ashley, Top Fuel defending series champ Doug Kalitta, a three-time Bristol winner, Top Fuel rookie Tony Stewart, who is making his first Bristol Dragway start, four-time Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence, three-time champ Antron Brown, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan, seven-time and defending Bristol winner and defending Funny Car champ Ron Capps, and four-time Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence.

The high-revving Pro Stock category returns to action at Bristol with some new faces leading the way including Dallas Glenn, Aaron Stanfield, Christian Cuadra and Troy Coughlin Jr. Meanwhile, series veterans and multi-time champs Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders are ready to return to their winning ways. Enders is a three-time and defending Pro Stock winner at Bristol.

The 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle class also returns this season and a new rider, defending winner Steve Johnson will try to hold off the record-setting Gaige Herrera, who is off to a fast start on his two-wheel machine and currently leads the series points standings. He is being chased by veteran riders LE Tonglet, Matt Smith, Angie Smith, John Hall and Hector Arana Jr.

Event Schedule

FRIDAY, June 7: Lucas Oil Series qualifying and time trials at 9:30 a.m.; Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying at 4:45 p.m.; Top Fuel and Funny Car qualifying at 5:45 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 8: Lucas Oil Series eliminations at 8:30 a.m.; Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.; Top Fuel and Funny Car qualifying at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 9: Pre-race ceremony, 11 a.m.; eliminations begin at noon.

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.