Home Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals comes to Bristol Dragway this weekend

Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals comes to Bristol Dragway this weekend

Rod Mullins
thunder valley nhra
NHRA drivers Alex Laughlin (L) and J.R. Todd talk to the media previewing the Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals, coming to Bristol Dragway this weekend in Bristol, TN. (Rod Mullins photo)

After an historic and popular visit to Virginia Motorsports Park outside of Richmond this past weekend, the NHRA will pack up and head to famed Thunder Valley, Bristol Dragway in Bristol, this Father’s Day weekend.

This time around in Bristol, a new sponsor will make its presence known as Fitzgerald USA picks up the event sponsorship naming rights for the always big NHRA event.

Last season, Clay Millican picked up his first NHRA win at Thunder Valley in a bittersweet Father’s Day finals for Millican, along with Ron Capps, Alex Laughlin and Troy Coughlin.

Recently, Laughlin and fellow NHRA driver J.R. Todd came to Thunder Valley as a part of the Thunder Valley Media Challenge to serve as coaches for members of the media, but sat down long enough to talk about the season thus far and what to look for at Bristol.

Todd, who drives the DHL Toyota Camry for Kalitta Motorsports, is making the transition to Funny Car after moving from a Top Fuel dragster over a year ago.

It was certainly a learning experience for Todd who won two events last year including the U.S. Nationals but struggled for much of the season before finishing ninth overall in the Funny Car standings.

So far on the season, Todd has notched two wins, equal with last season, with back-to-back wins at Las Vegas and Houston.  He currently ranks fifth in the standings. One would think that Todd would be feeling a bit more comfortable at this point in the season. That isn’t the case.

“I wasn’t (comfortable) last season and didn’t really know what I needed inside the car. It took a while to get that ironed out, but the midpoint of the summer, I got more comfortable driving. This year, we brought out a new chassis in Gainesville and since then, we’ve hit the ground running. So far, we can’t ask for anything but to win more races.”

Laughlin has struggled as of late, currently 11th in the points standings.  Although he won at St. Louis last year, one other event stands out to Laughlin and that is winning at Thunder Valley.  Laughlin ended up winning rounds against world champions Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. before defeating rival Tanner Gray and eventual world champion Bo Butner with a perfect start, a time of 6.718 seconds and top speed of 205.04 mph.

“We started out the weekend behind the eight ball,” Laughlin said during the

press conference. “We shook the tires in Q1 (the first qualifying session) and from there, we kept better runs. We kept going rounds, and I’m a firm believer whenever it’s your day, it’s your day. Regardless of who I lined up against, I got around them.”

Despite the experience with Thunder Valley, this weekend will be a challenge for both drivers. Todd has been coming to Bristol since he was 11, first coming to the track as a junior dragster.


“You pick up all these habits driving a dragster. You finesse it, guide it down the track, where the Funny Car you have to be real aggressive with the steering wheel and you have to be tell yourself that,” replied Todd.

As for Laughlin, he has two major things to check off this weekend. He wants an even better showing at Bristol following up with his win last year for the event sponsor, Fitzgerald USA, which also happens to be his sponsor.

“The Fitzgerald guys are huge supporters, so you want to perform well,” Laughlin said. “You obviously do the best you can every weekend, but you want to go above and beyond to win it for them. It’s definitely a little more pressure, but I’m confident in our car and our team. I think we can do it.”

The Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals is the 11th of 24 events on the NHRA circuit and will showcase Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, Pro Stock, Pro Mod and Top Fuel Harleys as well as local and regional drivers competing in the NHRA’s Sportsman categories. Qualifying begins Friday, June 15 with pro sessions at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. The final two rounds of qualifying are set for Saturday, June 16, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 17.

Tickets are still available for this NHRA event. To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, please call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas on Sunday with a paid adult.

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.