Since the formative days of his record-setting career, NHRA Funny Car king John Force has embraced high-stakes challenges at historic venues.
In 1999 at Bristol Dragway, Force won the Winston Showdown exhibition which pitted Top Fuel dragsters against Funny Cars.
To the delight of the 72-year-old Force and community leaders throughout the region, this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway will finally serve as one of the six events in the Countdown for the Championship playoff format.
“I really like having Bristol in the Countdown later in the season,” said Force, who has won a total of 154 races. “We’ll have some great racing and great crowds. And we could see some record runs, but that all depends on the weather.”
This weekend will also mark the first time that the Thunder Valley Nationals have been held in the fall. With predicted high temperatures of 64 on Saturday and 63 on Sunday at a facility with an altitude of 1,450 feet, look for some aggressive crew chiefs and record runs over the next three days.
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And judging by the activity at regional businesses the past two days, drag racing fans are enthused about the first NHRA national event in Bristol since 2019.
For Top Fuel veteran Antron Brown, the new Bristol variables equate to fun.
“We’re going to have that nice crisp breeze as opposed to what we usually have in the summertime when it can be hot and humid,” Brown said. “To see the [elapsed times] we are going yield, that makes me really excited.”
While the spotlight this weekend will be on the points battles in Funny Car, Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle, Brown is chasing another goal. The popular three-time Top Fuel champion has only advanced to the finals once at Bristol, falling in 2011 to Larry Dixon.
“We’ve had a lot of qualifying success at Bristol, but it’s one of the only tracks where I have never won,” Brown said. “We have something that we want to prove by finally getting a win.”
Brown is currently seventh in points, but his Don Schumacher owned team recently chased away a gremlin that had haunted them for six straight races.
“This race is going to be the breaking point for a lot of teams,” Brown said.
For three-time and defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, the challenge is to hold off Brittany Force and Texas winner Justin Ashley. Torrence, who has one victory in two final rounds at Bristol, currently leads by 52 points over Brittany Force and 121 over Ashley.
“Everybody’s been calling this a two-car race, but I guess they forgot to tell Justin. We’ve still got three races to run and there are a lot of points out there,” Torrence said.
Torrence has earned nine wins this season in his Capco dragster. Through the first four Countdown events, he has posted one victory along with one runner-up finish and two semifinals appearances.
“That shows the talent of this team,” Torrence said. “We just have to follow our plan and not lose focus.”
Following many months of anxiety among longtime NHRA fans in Bristol and beyond, it seems fitting that Thunder Valley is back in the headlines.
“I love going to Bristol, I think it’s one of the best tracks on the circuit,” Force said.
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