After winning his first career Pro Stock race in 2013, Rodger Brogdon was ready to turn that momentum into multiple wins in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Instead, Brogdon spent nearly a year mired in a slump that could crush the confidence of even the most talented driver.
Brogdon, though, never wavered through difficult times, and his Kent Services and Trucking Chevy Camaro now appears to be back on the course of competing at a high level. It also doesn’t hurt that Brogdon returns to the site of that first victory this weekend at the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers at Bristol Dragway.
A year ago, Brogdon knocked off current points leader Erica Enders-Stevens in a thrilling final-round duel to claim his first Pro Stock victory. What followed was 20 straight races without a round-win, a streak he snapped earlier this season in Atlanta. Brogdon built on that with a semifinal appearance at the most recent event in Englishtown and is eager to build on that momentum in Bristol.
“Yeah, I believe we have (turned the corner),” Brogdon said. “We were fortunate enough to use engines from Elite Motorsports for three races because we figured we were down on horsepower a little bit, and we were right. Our engine guys could have gone one of two ways: They could have been upset that we went that direction or they could have been revitalized. We think they've been revitalized, and they're ready to show it at Bristol.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and John Force (Funny Car) joined Brogdon in the Thunder Valley winner's circle last year. The race, which will be televised on ESPN2, is the 10th of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello season.
Brogdon recalled, with great delight, his razor-close victory over Enders-Stevens in Bristol in 2013 and the extra time his team put in leading up to the race.
"I just remember how hard we all worked for the two weeks before that race,” Brogdon said. “We went and tested up there for three days, and that gave us a bit of an advantage over the guys who didn't test. But we weren't the only ones to test, and we had to go and do it on race day.
"I've told this story a lot, too, but the radio plug came out of my helmet before the final against Erica, and I didn't know I'd won until I turned the corner at the top end. It was that close.”
Brogdon could never have predicted what followed that momentous victory in Bristol. The Tomball, Texas-based driver qualified for the Countdown to the Championship but didn’t post a round-win following Bristol. That continued into 2014 until he knocked off V. Gaines in Atlanta.
But the real turning point came in Englishtown, where Brogdon beat Larry Morgan and Jason Line, also qualifying fifth. He crept back into the top 10 with that performance, though Brogdon was left wondering what could have been.
“We wish we could've made a better effort in the semifinal in Englishtown, but we couldn't get the dang motor to start,” Brogdon said. “We had a thrash back in the pits before then, and we just left off the coil wire. Human error, and we'll learn from it and move on."
Getting the best of Enders-Stevens this weekend will be difficult; she has two wins and reset both ends of the Pro Stock national record (6.464 seconds, 215.55 mph) in Englishtown. Brogdon also has to deal with a number of other talented drivers, including local favorite Allen Johnson, who has three victories this season but has never won at his home track in Bristol, reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., four-time champ and former Bristol winner Greg Anderson, Dave Connolly, and Vincent Nobile.
“We take some confidence [to Bristol],” Brogdon said. “We're getting our car all set up for [Bristol] based on what we learned at the test last year and during the race, and it'll be similar to what we ran last year. We'll try to go out and be in the top eight in qualifying and go from there.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
The event will also showcase the thrilling action in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and feature side-by-side exhibition runs by eight Top Fuel Nitro Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 13, with sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 14, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday, June 15, at 11 a.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at 866-901-2679 or visit www.thundervalleytix.com.