I thought I knew what to expect during my first Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals: loud engines, fast speeds, smoking tires - the typical racing trifecta guaranteed to make an appearance at any motorsports event, on any given night, at any venue across the country.

And while I would still consider those to be accurate descriptors, I would also consider them to be mundane in comparison with the actual event. My cursory evaluation left me ill-prepared for the weekend's unexpected - the unforeseen moment, while standing on the starting line and feeling the engines launch, that I quite nearly jumped out of my skin and simultaneously became a bona fide fan of drag racing.

It's entirely true what they say - TV doesn't do it justice. Drag racing requires personal experience. Drag racing demands to be felt.

Its power thrums, reverberating through your body. Just the initial firing of the engines triggers a welling of eager anticipation, something akin to the feeling elicited by the first strains of a guitar wafting through darkness and signaling the start of a concert featuring your favorite band. You know what's coming, and you know it's going to rock.

Records shattered under Thunder Valley's Friday night lights. Racers piloted nitro fueled machines at breakneck speeds, crossing the 1000-ft. mark in little more then three seconds after they launched off the starting line while thousands of spectators, myself included, held their collective breath and gripped the edge of their seat a little tighter with every back-end wiggle.

The event's Father's Day finale captivated as an emotional Rodger Brogdon notched his first national NHRA Pro Stock win, Steve Torrence celebrated his first Top Fuel victory in Bristol, and the legendary John Force eeked out a win over daughter Courtney en route to his first Funny Car Wally in more than a year.

Spectators thrilled, clamoring to the on-track Winner's Circle intent on celebrating their champions.

That was, for me, another unexpected. In marked contrast to the on-track pageantry and drama, off-track the drivers are surprisingly accessible. Every grandstand ticket is a pit pass, providing unprecedented access to the teams as they thrash between rounds; and after parking for the night, the sport's biggest stars mill about the campground grilling with fans and challenging them to games of cornhole. They're engaged, they're personable, and they're appreciative.

The Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals is an entirely unexpected adventure, a unique combination of electrifying racing and down-home hospitality. To understand it requires first-hand experience, and my expectation is that you'll be front row for the 2014 event.

When we invite you to"feel the thunder," it's not just a clever marketing ploy, it's a reality, and it's one that comes highly recommended by one of drag racing's newest devotees - me.

Tickets for the 2014 event are on sale now and, until October 15, you can receive a 10% discount on the purchase of any adult ticket. To take advantage of these savings and reserve your seats, call (423)-BRISTOL or visit ThunderValleyTix.com today!