Home Millican, Prock, Enders, M. Smith power to provisional No. 1 spots at Thunder Valley

Millican, Prock, Enders, M. Smith power to provisional No. 1 spots at Thunder Valley

Rod Mullins
Tennessee native Clay Millican powered to the qualifying lead in Top Fuel Friday in his Rick Ware Racing-owned dragster at Bristol Dragway to lead the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Photo: Bristol Dragway

Top Fuel veteran Clay Millican recorded the fastest pass on Friday at Bristol Dragway, securing the provisional No. 1 qualifier spot at the 23rd annual Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Joining Millican as provisional No. 1 qualifiers in the eighth of 20 races during the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season are Austin Prock (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Millican clocked in at 3.786 seconds at 325.06 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Parts Plus/Rick Ware Racing dragster, edging out points leader Justin Ashley to claim the top spot. Millican, whose first NHRA win came at Bristol Dragway in 2017, aims for his first No. 1 qualifier of 2024 and the 26th of his career. This achievement adds another memorable moment at his favorite track on the NHRA tour.

“There’s always something special at this place,” Millican remarked. “This team has been incredible. After some struggles post-testing, we started gaining momentum, making it to the finals in Charlotte and the semis last week. Qualifying No. 1 here, especially with Mr. Rick Ware present, is significant. We’re here because of his passion for drag racing, and our next goal is a win on Sunday.”

Ashley also impressed, posting a time of 3.795 seconds at 322.42 mph, placing him second. Antron Brown secured the third spot with a 3.809-second run at 321.27 mph.

In Funny Car, Austin Prock led the field with a 3.958-second run at 317.34 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS. This marks his sixth No. 1 qualifier in the first eight races, an impressive feat for the first-year Funny Car driver. Prock reached the final round last weekend in Epping, finishing as runner-up to his boss, John Force, and taking the points lead.

“This track is challenging, definitely a driver’s track,” Prock said. “You need to be on your game all the way. Hearing that .95 over the radio was thrilling, and it worked out well for us. We have the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge tomorrow, and we’re focused on winning that medal.”

Alexis DeJoria is currently second with a 3.973-second run at 319.90 mph, and Ron Capps, who has won consecutive races in Bristol, is third with a 3.976-second run at 320.74 mph.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders shone brightly, achieving a 6.631-second run at 206.92 mph, putting her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance/Scag Power Equipment car in the top spot. Enders, the defending event winner in Bristol, is on track for her second consecutive top qualifier and fourth of the season, hoping to clinch her 50th national event victory this weekend.

“Returning here brings back great memories,” Enders said. “Our car is performing well, and I’m optimistic about our chances. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and aim to accomplish even more.”

Greg Anderson holds the second spot with a 6.636-second run at 206.45 mph, followed closely by Jeg Coughlin Jr. with a 6.639-second run at 206.45 mph.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, six-time world champion Matt Smith made a strong impression, taking the No. 1 spot with a 6.788-second run at 198.52 mph on his Denso Auto Parts/Matt Smith Racing Buell. Smith aims for his second No. 1 qualifier this season and the 54th of his career. His two strong runs on Friday give him a solid chance to end Gaige Herrera‘s winning streak.

Herrera has won eight consecutive races and 31 consecutive rounds, with a win this weekend tying him with Bob Glidden for the most consecutive wins and round wins in NHRA history. However, Smith is determined to disrupt that streak.

“We’ve been improving our program significantly,” Smith said. “I’m focused and determined to make our bike faster. We’ll continue to work hard and push for the best performance possible.”

Chase Van Sant is currently second with a 6.827-second run at 196.36 mph, while Herrera is third with a 6.830-second run at 197.77 mph.

Qualifying continues at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

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.