Late-round runs told the tale in all three NHRA Full Throttle Series divisions on the opening day of the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, as each of the three pro classes were led by drivers that ran in the last two pairings of the round.
Antron Brown outraced Tony Schumacher on the last Top Fuel pass of the night to lead the Friday ledger, getting to the strip in 3.814 seconds with a top speed of 323.12mph. Brown nosed out his Don Schumacher Racing teammate by just .008 seconds to take the day’s top spot.
“It was definitely a great way to get the weekend started,” Brown said. “When we came in here, we saw everybody in front of us starting to throw down. Terry McMillen threw that run out there. Man, he really opened some people’s eyes up, and then we saw some big hitters not make it down. That was a real good pass for us, and hopefully that will bring us some luck going into Sunday because Lord knows it’s been rough on us the last three races. It’s definitely an ego booster, a mind booster, and a team booster.”
Bob Tasca III showed the way in Funny Car, getting down the strip in 4.063 seconds with a speed of 310.48mph in his Ford Mustang, besting Mike Neff by .009 seconds to lead the first day of qualifying.
The Pro Stockers followed the same script, with the top-four times of the day coming from the last four pilots to make a pass on a beautiful night in Bristol.
Allen Johnson snapped off a run of 6.623/207.75mph on the last pass of the day to claim Friday honors, besting the 6.641-second effort hung up by Mike Edwards on the run directly before his. Johnson’s Dodge Avenger established a new Pro Stock standard for the Bristol strip, and rubbed a little salt in Edwards’ wound by knocking his 2009 time out of the track’s record book.
“We had some bad luck. We broke five motors, two at Englishtown (the previous NHRA race) and three up here (at Bristol testing last week)," Johnson said. "The engine crew, Matt, Dean, Rick, Tracy and Dad, hats off to them, because they put some hours in these past few days.”
The DSR duo were the only Top Fuelers in the field to post better times than Terry McMillen, who hung a career-best time of 3.823 seconds/315.27mph to take the third position on the speed sheets. Doug Kalitta and Hillary Will rounded out the top five after the first day while nine other teams will spend Friday night looking for a way to get into the Sunday show.
Khalid alBalooshi lost an engine on his second run and is currently on the outside looking in, as are Morgan Lucas, Brandon Bernstein and Cory McClenathan. Points leader Spencer Massey is seventh after his first two runs, while Bruce Litton is on the bump after posting his career-high ET today.
Tasca went out in the night’s penultimate Funny Car pair and vaulted Neff’s Mustang to take over the top spot, leaving only opening-round leader Robert Hight left to run with Alexis DeJoria. Hight launched to the best 60-foot time of the round but his Mustang grenaded an engine before the halfway point of the run, leaving the series’ points leader to settle for ninth on the first day.
“I don’t know what it is with Bristol, but I love racing here,” Tasca said. “We’ve been looking for that run for the pole here for the last couple of races. Dickie [Venables], Chris [Cunningham], and Marc [Denner] are really working together, getting this car smooth. This thing’s been shaking for the last four or five races, and I couldn’t even see for about 200 feet. When I got back, I said, ‘Fellas, you finally gave me a race car that I can see now, see the groove and keep the car dead in the center.’ I think it will hold. With the sun out the way it’s going to be, I think that .06 is going to be safe for the pole.”
Vincent Nobile ran alongside Johnson in the final Pro Stock pair and ended his day in third place while V. Gaines partnered with Edwards and came home in the fourth spot. Jason Line debuted his new Chevrolet Camaro this weekend and rounded out the top five after two qualifying runs. Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson was seventh after Friday’s outing, posting the best time of the Bowtie brigade.
The final field for Sunday’s eliminations will be set with two final rounds of qualifying, to take place Saturday afternoon at Bristol.