Pro Stock racer ready to give Thunder Valley a go
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 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 season.
Brogdon recalled with great delight his razor-close victory over Enders-Stevens at 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 the 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, as 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, 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.”
In Top Fuel, Torrence recorded his first win at Bristol a year ago, but is still chasing his first win in 2014. Everyone is in hot pursuit of current points leader Doug Kalitta, who is a three-time winner in Bristol. Other marquee challengers at Bristol include five-time event winner Tony Schumacher, 2012 world champion Antron Brown, reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd, two-time season winner Spencer Massey, Englishtown winner Richie Crampton and 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner Brittany Force.
Funny Car points leader Robert Hight, who won at Bristol in 2011, is arguably the most consistent driver in NHRA, appearing in five finals out of eight races this season and winning three of them. The 16-time Funny Car world champion Force has four career wins at Bristol, including his victory over Cruz Pedregon last season, while other Bristol standouts include Ron Capps (three wins) and Del Worsham (two wins). Two-time season winner Alexis DeJoria, Matt Hagan, Topeka winner Courtney Force, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. are also expected to challenge for the Funny Car win at Bristol.
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 Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Series and feature side-by-side exhibition runs by eight Top Fuel Nitro Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
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 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 15.