While the Father’s Day weekend NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals will be special for many people, several families will celebrate the return of some of America’s greatest heroes during the June 18-20 event.

In cooperation with the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City, Bristol Dragway will host veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom during Final Eliminations on Sunday, June 20.

Each year, a celebration is planned to welcome the veterans home from their respective tours of duty. According to Judy Fowler-Argo, Public Affairs Officer for the VA Medical Center, the decision to host the celebration at Bristol Dragway was an easy one.

“It started out as a brainstorming idea about what the veterans would like to do,” Fowler-Argo said. “We host a ‘Welcome Home’ every year, and the past two years it has been at the VA. We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the biggest thing in the area this time of year that would really show the veterans we appreciate them?’

“When we first met with the staff at Bristol Dragway to see if it was even possible, they already had huge parts of the event planned and offered to add a few extra touches to make this a memorable day for returning veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It has been a great experience to see how enthusiastic Bristol Dragway is about the Welcome Home. They really took ownership of the whole program and are so committed to making it special for the veterans and their families.”

Julie Bennett, Vice-President of Bristol Dragway, said the gesture is only a small way to repay the courage of the veterans.

“We are honored just to be able to help welcome these brave men and women back home,” Bennett said. “We owe so much to them, and while it is small compared to what they have done for us, we hope that a trip to Thunder Valley will help them know how much we truly appreciate everything they’ve done for us and all the sacrifices they’ve made.”

The OEF/OIF program at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center was created in 2006 to respond to the specific needs of returning veterans’ healthcare and to help them readjust when they came home.  The goal of the program is to ensure veterans know about, and have access to, VA healthcare and VA benefits after their deployment.  Above all, the goal of the program is to make sure there is a “seamless transition” from military life to civilian life.

One way to help ease the transition is the Welcome Home program. For the veterans, time at the Thunder Valley Nationals is the perfect way to do just that.

“At the VA, we want to join with the community to welcome the veterans back home and show our appreciation for their service,” Fowler-Argo continued. “We want them to come out for the day, enjoy themselves with their families and not have to give any speeches or sit through another meeting or feel like they are being put on the spot.

“The veterans have been very enthusiastic about attending the race. The VA staff has been overwhelmed by how much appreciation and support Bristol Dragway has for our returning veterans and for their Welcome Home.”

The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begin when gates open at 9 a.m. on Friday, June 18 with the first round of Pro Qualifying slated for 5 p.m. The pro cars will return at 7:30 p.m. for the exciting night qualifying round.

Gates open at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 19 with Pro Qualifying set for 12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Bristol Dragway’s Fan Fest takes place in the nitro pits after the second qualifying round of the day.

Sunday’s action kicks off when gates open at 8:30 a.m. and Final Eliminations crank up at 12:00 noon. Special Father’s Day ticket pricing starts at only $20. In addition, Doughnuts with Dad allows fans to hear stories from some of the NHRA’s greatest families. Doughnuts with Dad takes place at the ESPN Race Day stage at 9:30 a.m.

Ticket prices are as follows: Friday -- Sections A - D $30 Adult / $10 Junior; Sections E - U $35 Adult / $10 Junior; Thunder Terrace $35 Adult / $10 Junior, Saturday -- Sections A - D $45 Adult / $15 Junior; Sections E - U $55 Adult / $25 Junior; Thunder Terrace $55 Adult / $25 Junior, Sunday -- Sections A- B $20 Adult / $10 Junior, Sections C - D $45 Adult / $15 Junior, Section E – P $55 Adult/ $25 Junior, Section Q – U $20 Adult/$10 Junior, Thunder Terrace $55 Adult / $25 Junior. Weekend combos are: Sections A - B $79 Adult / $30 Junior, Section C – D $95 Adult/$30 Junior, Sections E - P $120 Adult / $50 Junior, Sections Q – U $95 Adult/$30 Junior and Thunder Terrace $120 Adult / $50 Junior. Thunder Valley Club admission for three days is $300 for adults and $100 for juniors. Three-day Bruton’s Suite admission is $450 for both adults and juniors.

To purchase tickets, please call the Bristol ticket office at 423-989-6900 or visit www.bristoltix.com.