NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Friday News and Notes from the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

News, notes, quotes, photos, and video from the opening day of the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
07 Jun 2024
Kelly Wade
Race coverage
Jonnie Lindberg

Welcome to majestic Thunder Valley. The first day of the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals are unfolding beneath bright sunshine that has warmed the racing surface throughout the day heading into the kick-off round of qualifying. The early session is slated to take place in the late-afternoon, while the second session will be run as the sun is dipping behind the tree-lined hills. The shade and cooling temps could set the stage for some spectacular performances, so sit tight and stay tuned. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle Q1

Pro Stock Motorcycle has returned to competition after a one-race respite, and the two-wheeled crowd is raring and ready to get back to it. In the first round of qualifying, it was Matt Smith who caught everyone's attention aboard his Denso-backed Buell. The six-time world champion's 6.835-second pass at 199.64 mph not only broke the track record for speed, it also set him at the top of the pack.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Chase Van Sant was next best with an impressive 6.873, 196.02 aboard his Trick Tools/White Alligator Racing Suzuki for a pair of bonus points, and RevZilla/Mission Vance & Hines Suzuki rider Richard Gadson was also strong to settle into the No. 3 position (and claim a bonus point) with a 6.875, 196.87. John Hall's 6.909, 197.05 was sandwiched between Gadson's pass and Gaige Herrera's 6.937, 197.10.

Chris Bostick was a sweet surprise as his 6.944, 193.57 held strong to the top spot for several pair. He is No. 6 after the first round of qualifying, while Hector Arana Jr. (6.948) and Mark Ingwersen (6.952) round out the top eight.

Herrera hasn't lost a race since the Maple Grove Raceway event that kicked off the 2023 Countdown the Championship last fall, so he stands out as the favorite to win in Bristol by a bunch. His PlayNHRA opening odds were -503 to next-best rated Smith, who was +1,766.

The bonus points for the first round of qualifying went to Smith (+3), Van Sant (+2), and Gadson (+1).

Pro Stock Q1

The powerful hot rod that Erica Enders had in Epping showed up for Bristol as she wheeled her JHG/Melling Chevy to a 6.649, 206.95 that was quicker and faster than all in the opening session. She claimed three bonus points, while Dallas Glenn and his RAD Torque Systems Chevrolet Camaro were out of the gate with a 6.6612, 205.69 that was good for the No. 2 position and two bonus points. Greg Anderson was just a tick behind his KB Titan Racing teammate with a 6.662, 205.60 in the HendrickCars.com Chevrolet the claim the session's last remaining bonus point.

As the PlayNHRA favorite, Glenn came in with +676 odds. Enders was just below at +694, and Anderson was +720.

Two-time Bristol Pro Stock winner Jeg Coughlin is sitting fourth in the qualifying order in his Scag Power Sports Chevy on a 6.664, while nephew Troy Coughlin Jr. and his JEGS.com/White Castle entry are holding at fifth for now on a 6.666, 2056.04. Their Elite Motorsports teammate Aaron Stanfield is No. 6 (6.675), while Matt Hartford and his GETTRX/Total Seal Camaro are continuing to show improvement with a 6.676 for the No. 7 spot. Brandon Foster's 6.683 in the Aqua Prop Chevrolet rounds out the top eight.

Mason McGaha's Harlow Sammons Chevy pulled hard to the right and scrubbed off a bunch of time, which left him locked out and eagerly anticipating the second session. Eric Latino is also on the outside looking in after he was unable to make it off the starting line with a clean effort.

Funny Car Q1

Paul Lee's 4.036, 307.30 was a fun surprise in the opening round of Funny Car qualifying, and his McLeod/FTI/SST Dodge Charger sits atop the pack for the time being. Last week's winner, John Force, powered the Peak Chevrolet Camaro to a swift 4.048, 312.86 mph for the No. 2 position, which was just a tiny bit quicker than his John Force Racing teammate Austin Prock's 4.056, 299-flat in the Cornwell Tools/AAA Camaro. Prock is No. 3 for now. They'll each leave this first round of qualifying with bonus points – three for Lee, two for Force, and one for Prock.

J.R. Todd, who qualified No. 3 in Epping, continued to show the potential of his DHL Toyota GR Supra and threw down a 4.092 for the No. 4 spot in the hot afternoon sun. Fellow Toyota campaigner Alexis DeJoria was right there with a 4.106 and is fifth, while Chad Green (4.113), Daniel Wilkerson (4.115), and Matt Hagan (4.125) are in sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively.

The PlayNHRA Funny Car favorite for Bristol is Prock, who has been making strong waves in his first few races in a flopper. Prock came into the event with +353 odds, while Force was the next-best bet with +493. Hagan is +621.

Top Fuel Q1

Justin Ashley's position at the top of the Top Fuel points got a bit of padding as he commanded the Scag Power Equipment Toyota dragster to a 3.877, 314.24 for the top spot and three more bonus points. Crew chief Mike Green was pleased by the pass that was by far the best run of the session.

"That was close to what we were trying to run," said Green. "This track is a little green out here, and still a handful when the sun is out. We're looking forward to tonight to see if we can go a little quicker."

Jasmine Salinas and her Scrappers Racing Top Fuel dragster got right into the No. 2 spot on a 3.982, 319.60, and she'll nab a pair of bonus marks.

"I'm getting more comfortable with each lap, and E1 at Epping wasn't the result we wanted – but I think we're on track now," said Salinas, whose best qualifying position to date in Top Fuel is the No. 9 spot.

Steve Torrence and his Capco Contractors Toyota dragster clicked off a 3.898, 316.52 for a solid start and a bonus point as the No. 3 qualifier heading into the second session. Doug Foley,

Antron Brown, Billy Torrence, Shawn Reed, and young Cody Krohn round out the quick eight.

Last week's winner Doug Kalitta, piloting the Mark III Benefits colors this weekend in Bristol, will be hoping for a better run in the second session. A 4.082 has him 11th for now.

Justin Ashley is listed as the favorite for Top Fuel in the PlayNHRA standings; his +451 odds are nearly a couple of hundred ahead of Kalitta's +774, while Torrence is third with +897. Tony Stewart, who couldn't get a hold of the track and is the last man on the totem pole heading into the second qualifying session, is ranked +900.

Pro Stock Motorcycle Q2

Everything was going along swimmingly well for Chase Van Sant as he flew to the No. 1 spot in the second-to-last pair of Pro Stock Motorcycles on Friday evening as his Trick Tank/White Alligator Suzuki made a very quick 6.827, 196.36 pass. Crew chief Tim Kulungian was enthused, particularly by his 1.04-second register at the 60-foot timer. At the top end, Van Sant was also pleased.

"Across the board, we're achieving everything that we wanted to," said Van Sant. "We saw a lot of progress at Chicago, and it's trending in the right direction. I'm really happy."

But then came Matt Smith, and in the last pair next to Richard Gadson, his Denso Buell reached the finish line swiftly to snatch the provisional pole right out of Van Sant's hands. The scoreboard reflected a 6.788, 198.52.

"I'm focused, head down," said Smith. "I'm like a hound dog, I'm a hunting dog right now, on the ground trying to find that 60-foot and make it better and better. We are getting better, and we'll continue to try to work hard and make our bike as fast as possible."

Bonus points for this session were awarded to Smith (+3), Van Sant (+2), and Gaige Herrera (+1). Richard Gadson, John Hall, Mark Ingwersen, Chris Bostick, and defending event champion Steve Johnson are all in the quick eight.

Pro Stock Q2

Three wins on her Bristol Dragway scorecard are not enough, and in both qualifying sessions, Erica Enders ruled the school in anticipation of Sunday eliminations. Her JHG/Melling Performance Chevrolet came up with a 6.631, 206.92 at the final timer on the racetrack to push rival Greg Anderson and his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro down a notch.

"I feel like we're getting a better handle on our race car. We made two nice runs, and that definitely helps the cause going into tomorrow and the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge," said Enders. "After our first-round loss in Chicago, I didn't get to run the [Challenge] last week in Epping, and I was kind of pouting around. But we had a decent finish last week and a very fast race car. That's translating to here so far."

In the pair ahead of Enders' provisional-pole producing pass, Anderson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. raced heatedly door-to-door down the quarter-mile, with Anderson temporarily moving into the top spot on a 6.636 to Coughlin's 6.639.

Anderson and Coughlin are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, behind Enders, with incoming points leader Dallas Glenn sitting fourth, Troy Coughlin Jr. fifth, Aaron Stanfield sixth, David Cuadra seventh, and rookie of the year hopeful Brandon Foster eighth.

Two drivers are left on the outside and hoping for a big break in Saturday qualifying: Fernando Cuadra Jr., who so far has mustered a 6.723 that is just a hundredth off the bump, and Eric Latino, who has yet to make a smooth pass down Bristol Dragway.

Funny Car Q2

Bob Tasca III is the first to make a 3-second run this weekend here at Bristol Dragway, throwing down a 3.988, 315.93 in his Motorcraft Quicklane Ford that eventually nets the No. 4 postion. Terry Haddock moves into the No. 6 spot as he makes an impressive pass, a 4.008 in the T&D Express Priority System entry, and a short while later we got our first side-by-side 3-second runs of the weekend. Ron Capps powered the NAPA AutoCare Toyota to a 3.976 next to Alexis DeJoria's 3.973 in the Bandero Tequila Toyota.

Chad Green (No. 5) and Austin Prock both joined tonight's 3-second club with a 3.997 and 3.958, respectively, but Prock's run sent him right to the top spot. He scoops up a trio of bonus points while DeJoria (now No. 2) earns two and Capps (currently No. 3) claims one.

The head honcho of the first session, Paul Lee, ends the day in the No. 7 position, and Cruz Pedregon takes Snap-On to the No. 8 spot.

Top Fuel Q2

Closing the night with Top Fuel under the lights just feels right, and we knew we were in for a good one when Shawn Langdon started the session on a bye run and threw down a 3.810, 323.74 in his Kalitta Air/Toyota rail. Josh Hart and Tony Stewart were next to impress with side-by-side 3.8-second runs, and a short time later, it was Clay Millican and his Parts Plus/Rick Ware Racing entry that commanded attention. Millican left little on the table and flew like a rocket down the cooling dragstrip with a 3.786, 325.06 that held for the top spot.

In the lane next to him, Antron Brown was nearly as impressive with a 3.809. When it was said and done, all but two cars made it brilliantly down Bristol Dragway with 3-second runs and flames high. Justin Ashley and Steve Torrence closed out the night with an entertainingly impressive show; Ashley's 3.795 narrowly missed the top spot, and Torrence was glued to his side for a 3.824.

Fireworks over neighboring Bristol Motor Speedway greeted fans as they exited the facility with the promise of another thrilling day on Saturday at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.