Friday leaders Antron Brown and Ashley Force Hood remained atop their respective Top Fuel and Funny Car fields through Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions at the 10th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway in Tennessee, but homestate hero Allen Johnson took over the top spot in Pro Stock.

Saturday’s qualifying action in Pro Stock set the seven locked-in positions for the K&N Horsepower Challenge race that will take place next weekend in Norwalk; an eighth driver will be added to the field based on a fan vote. That driver will be announced Sunday.

As was the case Friday, tough atmospheric and track conditions kept performances in check as air temperatures reached for the 90-degree mark, track temps inched near 140 degrees, and the adjusted altitude topped 4,300 feet.

Antron Brown There were only three three-second runs were recorded on the day in Top Fuel, all in the first session, and Friday leader Antron Brown, whose 4.00 in the second session was the frame’s best pass, held onto his top spot with a 3.85 for his fourth No. 1 of the year and the 25th of his career.

“The track today is as hot as it has been all weekend long, and it’s just tricky,” said Brown. “That last run, it was actually spinning out there before the finish line, so it popped a little early, and we still went a 4-flat. I think if tomorrow we can run anywhere between a 3.97 to a 4-flat or 4.01, that’s what it’s going to take to win rounds tomorrow. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in my team, and when the weather gets like this, we can definitely get our car A to B. I feel confident for tomorrow, but we’ve just got to take it one round at a time.

In Funny Car, no one got within striking distance of Force Hood’s Friday-leading 4.151, so the second-generation Castrol star will start her Mustang from the No. 1 spot for the second time this year; she also led the field in Atlanta this season and now has 11 career No. 1 awards.

“Today definitely is setting everyone up for tomorrow just because the conditions will be similar, so we’ll take what we learned from our two runs,” said Force Hood. “It was kind of both ends of the spectrum. One run we didn’t get down, and the other we basically got down almost the whole way until it started to spin. That will help us for tomorrow, kind of give us boundaries for how much the track will take without pushing it too much.

“We didn’t run that spectacular and yet we ended up No. 1, so it just shows that it is challenging out there. We were able to figure it out and get down the track, but there’s a lot of other teams out there that are struggling this weekend that will probably get it figured out by tomorrow and make stronger runs. I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans tomorrow because it’s going to be very unpredictable what’s going to happen. 

 Local Pro Stock hero Johnson climbed past Mike Edwards and back into the lead that he held after Friday’s first session with a dazzling 6.722 in Saturday’s first session to hold the No. 1 spot going into eliminations for his state’s biggest drag race. Johnson, who was the No. 1 qualifier with his Mopar Avenger earlier this year in Atlanta, now has nine career Pro Stock poles.

To make things better for the Johnson family, A.J.’s father and crew chief, Roy, who is competing in Stock at this event with a new Drag Pak Challenger, has a bye in the quarterfinals, the first round that will be run in that class tomorrow.

 “Last night we missed the setup and we were really sad because we were really wanting to qualify No. 1 here," said Johnson. "We knew we could but we missed it last night and the conditions were a little bit worse here today and we thought, you know what, we can still do it. We barely nipped him. You know what, my mom said it best, before I came down here, she just walked over and hugged me and started crying and she just said, ‘What a dream.’ And I agree with her. To come here and do this with me and Dad both, him to go some rounds and us go grab the No. 1, especially on that run, a perfect run. It is emotional.

 “It’s been awhile since we’ve had our whole family here, but this weekend, family, friends, employees, everybody is here and Dad worked so hard and has for 20-something years at this. First time back at the driver’s seat in 27 years, I think. To come out here and do this, it’s just so emotional for me to be able to do it. That’s the reason I do racing, anyway, is for him, keeping him young. I always knew if he had the chance, he’d be awesome at it and he’s proved it now. This is just to give a little bit back to him. Let my brother and my whole family enjoy watching him, it’s just awesome.”