Nothing like Friday night qualifying at Thunder Valley
When the lights come on at Bristol Dragway, the combination of speed, sparks, fire and thunder produced from the biggest, baddest 10,000-horsepower NHRA Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars on the planet can surely send fans into a frenzy.
Friday night qualifying at this weekend's Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, where tall header flames and the sparkling colors of beautifully designed race cars shine brightly under the glow of stadium lights and countless flashes from fans' cameras throughout the grandstands, is one of the most anticipated events of the year at Thunder Valley.
Fans literally can't wait for the sun to go down and the excitement to rev up when their NHRA heroes race down the track at incredible speeds under the lights at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.
"When these cars run over 330 miles per hour down the racetrack at night, with the header flames, I mean it's insane," said Courtney Force, driver of the Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro. "You can feel the rumble of these cars as you are sitting in the stands and it's just an incredible sensation. The noise is so loud and the fans just have a ball."
For even the most seasoned motorsports fan, the thrill of witnessing a pair of nitro-fueled machines powering to the finish line under the cover of darkness can be life-changing.
"When we race there at night time it's incredible," said Matco Tools dragster driver and three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Antron Brown. "When the sun goes down over the outer edge of the mountains and it gets dark we light those candles up on the Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars and I tell you what, we come through there hard and fast and send a roar of energy throughout all of Bristol."
Funny Car veteran Ron Capps, a four-time Bristol winner and the race's defending champ, says as a historian of the sport, the experience fans get at Bristol during Friday's night qualifying session, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., is like a throwback race to drag racing's early days.
"The coolest thing for me at Thunder Valley is to look up and have a grandstand right beside you," Capps said. "We don't have that at a lot of tracks anymore, so that's really cool. You do a burnout and the fans are right there cheering you on. When I was a kid that's how dragstrips were, but not now. When you make a run at night and hit the parachutes and hear the echoes from the run you just made down through the valley there, there's nothing like it anywhere else on the circuit."
NHRA icon John Force sums up the unique motorsports experience.
"The nighttime there is beautiful, the way Bruton (Smith, SMI chairman) built that track with mountains and trees on both sides," said the 16-time Funny Car world champ, who has four victories at Bristol. "For the fans, it's the best."
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
In addition to John and Courtney Force, Brown and Capps, fans will get to see plenty of other NHRA stars like eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan and a host of tough Pro Stock contenders including defending race winner Alex Laughlin, defending series champ Bo Butner, and multi-time champs Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders, among others. The race also will feature side-by-side racing in the fan-favorite Pro Mod and Top Fuel Harley classes.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Some of the special attractions scheduled for the weekend include skydives on Saturday and Sunday by the world famous U.S. Army Golden Knights, NHRA Legends appearances throughout the weekend by three-time Top Fuel world champ Shirley Muldowney and 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champ Allen and his father Roy Johnson and Thunder Valley's traditional Saturday evening FanFest, one of the biggest driver autograph sessions on the NHRA circuit that takes place in the pits 30 minutes after the final pro qualifying session. Bristol Dragway officials also will reveal the latest inductee of the prestigious Thunder Valley Legends during the weekend.
Qualifying for the Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begins Friday, June 15 with pro sessions at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. The final two rounds of qualifying are set for Saturday, June 16, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 17.
The race will be televised on FS1, with a one-hour live qualifying show on Friday at 6 p.m. (ET), a one-hour Saturday show at 9 p.m. (ET) and a three-hour Sunday show, which airs at 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Enough with the multi-colored neck ties and fancy pocket protectors, there's still time to purchase tickets and give your Dad an unforgettable Father's Day weekend experience. Weekend packages begin at just $84 while single-day Friday and Sunday tickets start as low as $35 for adults. Saturday adult tickets start at $50. Kids tickets start at $15 on Friday, $20 on Saturday and are free with a paid adult on Sunday.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com.