Three First-Time Bristol Champions Visit Winner's Circle At 2014 Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals
Earning his first Wally in seven years, Tommy Johnson Jr. overcame more than just the driver staged next to him en route to his first Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals' Winners Circle.
"I started the season with no crew chief," said the Don Schumacher Racing driver. "Then, at the third race of the season, John Collins was promoted to crew chief. So at the beginning of the season, my car was kind of the standard - the baseline. Now that John's taken over he's slowly making it his own car, changing a few things, and he's doing a great job.
"You know, it's not only my first win in a long time, it's John Collins first win as a crew chief so I'm very proud to have him get that win. We're from the same hometown. We grew up together.
The first car he ever worked on was my Top Fuel dragster in 1999, and now he turns the screw before I stage in the finals so that's a pretty neat deal."
The winning 4.156 second, 307.14 mph pass was one of the few the Make-A-Wish machine made down Bristol Dragway after weather shortened Friday's qualifying session and an electrical issue kept them from Saturday's second round of qualifying.
"I'm very close to the team," said Johnson Jr. "We talked and said yes it [the electrical issue] was a mistake, we can't have that and we have to pay attention; but now it's done. It wasn't race day so let's forget about it. Everybody focus on doing a good job and don't get comfortable - that's John's [Collins] word for it - don't get comfortable, don't think you've got it down and just take it as routine and the guys did a great job. They turned that thing around every run, and the trouble we've had the last two or three races, all the work we've had to do - I'm thrilled the work paid off."
The Father's Day final-round meeting was the first between Johnson Jr. and Tim Wilkerson, who clocked in 4.422 seconds and 227.34 mph after drifting perilously close to the wall with just a few feet remaining in the run.
Reigning NHRA Top Fuel Champion, Shawn Langdon, rounded out the weekend's nitro winners, defeating 15-year veteran Doug Kalitta with a 3.902 second run at 316.08 mph.
"I was a little worried about pedaling in the final going up against the Kalitta group," Langdon said. "They are definitely the hottest car on the circuit, but that's why it is great to be a part of the Alan Johnson and Al-Anabi Racing. You feel like you have a pretty good race car too."
The pair faced off for the fifth time this season, with Langdon improving his record to 4-1 over the current points leader. Kalitta, who boasts three Thunder Valley wins, recorded a 4.128 second run at 268.97 mph.
But Langdon, who picked up his first win of 2014, is also no stranger to the legendary straight track, racing at Bristol in both the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA Junior Dragster division.
"I'd still love this track whether if I would have won or lost," said the first time Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals winner. "This is my favorite race track on the tour. I've done a lot of bracket racing here, raced a lot of sportsman stuff, and it's one of those tracks that I love coming to, but I couldn't get it done. So, definitely it feels good to get it done today on Father's Day. It's just a special feeling."
Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens also claimed her first Bristol win after settling for the runner-up spot in 2013 and 2011.
"It's huge," said the Louisiana native, whose winning ride sported Father's Day wishes painted on the back windshield. "Bristol has always been good to me. Seriously, it's a top-three favorite track on the tour for me. I really enjoy coming here. I enjoy that it's in the South and the people are kind and it's one of my favorites."
With only eight races remaining before the Countdown to the Championship, the Series rolls into Epping, N.J. next week for the second annual New England Nationals.