Bristol: Event preview

BRISTOL, Tenn. - This time, there will be no head starts. For the first time in over three decades, NHRA Winston championship dreams will be on the line as many of drag racing's biggest stars prepare for side-by-side battles at historic 'Thunder...

BRISTOL, Tenn. - This time, there will be no head starts. For the first time in over three decades, NHRA Winston championship dreams will be on the line as many of drag racing's biggest stars prepare for side-by-side battles at historic 'Thunder Valley'. After two seasons as the host site for the all-star Winston Showdown, the first NHRA drag racing event to feature Top Fuel dragsters against Funny Cars using a handicap starting process during eliminations, state-of-the-art Bristol Dragway is set for the excitement and drama generated by an NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series national event, complete with traditional heads-up racing in three professional categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

It is the first official NHRA national event to take place at Bristol Dragway since 1967, the last time the Northeast Tennessee facility hosted the NHRA Spring Nationals, which have been contested at National Trail Raceway in Columbus, Ohio since 1972.

It's a unique twist where past and present collide. And there's no better arena for NHRA's 50th Anniversary season to shine at full luster. Certainly, NHRA teams will be busy chasing valuable Winston points at the inaugural Mac Tools NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, April 27-29 at Bristol Dragway, while at the same time working tirelessly to add the famed track to their list of conquered NHRA venues.

The $1.9 million race, the sixth of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, will usher in a new era of speed to the rolling Tennessee hills.

NHRA points winners during NHRA's last official visit to Thunder Valley in '67 included Don Prudhomme (Top Fuel); Tom Grove (Funny Car) and Ronnie Sox (Super Stock). John Force (1999) and Cory McClenathan (2000) claimed victories in the unique Winston Showdown, earning bragging rights for their respective 6,000 horsepower categories. Now, the stars of NHRA Winston Drag Racing are ready to write a new chapter at Bristol.

Yankees dragster driver Mike Dunn leads the way this season in Top Fuel with one victory and some impressive performances, including posting the fastest speed in NHRA history, a 331 mph blast at Houston Raceway Park. Rookie upstart Darrell Russell, the new driver for retired Joe Amato, has one win and one runner-up effort. Larry Dixon, Gary Scelzi, Kenny Bernstein and Doug Kalitta are also among the top threats. Doug Herbert may have the right tune-up for the territory as he earned six IHRA Top Fuel victories at the old Bristol Dragway during the mid-'90s.

In Funny Car, 10-time NHRA Winston champ Force is the favorite, as he leads the early season standings with two victories and one runner-up finish. Surprising Bruce Sarver is also red-hot, with a win and runner-up effort to his credit. Del Worsham, who claimed an emotional victory over longtime rival Force at the event in Houston, is seeking more success in his Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird. Other top Funny Car contenders include Ron Capps, Whit Bazemore, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jerry Toliver and Dean Skuza. Oakley Funny Car driver Scotty Cannon may be the odds-on local favorite having earned four Pro Mod victories at Bristol during his IHRA days. The father and son tandem of Warren and Kurt Johnson are setting the pace in Pro Stock and will be heavy favorites. Jeg Coughlin, Mark Pawuk, Darrell Alderman, Bruce Allen, and Jim Yates are also among the top challengers in the 200-mph category.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 4:45 and 7:30 p.m. on April 27 and continues at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. on April 28. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. on April 29.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the inaugural Mac Tools NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Call Bristol Dragway at (423) 764-1161, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets are also available at nhra.com or Bristoltix.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 will provide two hours of eliminations coverage on April 29 at 5:30 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 also will televise two hours of qualifying highlights on April 28 at 9:30 p.m. (ET).

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

-NHRA-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Scotty Cannon , Cory McClenathan , Don Prudhomme , Bruce Allen , Jerry Toliver , Tommy Johnson Jr.