Every drag strip has its nuances, and indeed, Bristol Dragway, the palatial drag strip carved out of the mountains of eastern Tennessee, had one that was not always welcomed by drag racers. It had bumps around the transition, coinciding with a spectator tunnel being built underneath the track. 

Headed into this weekend's NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, race officials have improved the racing surface by putting down new asphalt from the transition to 700 feet and grinding troubled areas to make it smoother beyond that. 

Justin Ashley, who has never finished lower than the semi-finals at the picturesque facility, knows the facility has its unique temperament. 

"It's definitely different than most places that we go," Ashley explained. "It's one of the more prestigious races. Aside from Indy in and of itself, you look at Pomona, you look at Gainesville, you look at Bristol as those races that you want to win, but it definitely presents a unique challenge because first and foremost, the track surface is different. The Funny Cars feel the bumps a little bit more than dragsters do, but nonetheless, driving, you do feel those bumps, especially at the top end as you go down that racetrack.

"I think where it becomes tricky is that in conjunction with the elevation puts a lot more pressure and adds a lot more difficulty for the tuners. So on the surface, it may look like, 'Okay, the conditions are this, and this is what we're going to plug in, and this is what we're going to try and run," but because of the elevation, because of the bumps in the track, it just changes the timing of everything. It changes the tune-ups, and it adds a certain layer of unpredictability to it, which makes it fun, which makes it exciting, but it's definitely one of the more challenging places that we race."

Past NHRA Rookie of the Year recipient and current Funny Car rookie Austin Prock echoes Ashley's sentiments. This weekend's race will be his first time to tackle the track driving a Funny Car. 

"I'm a little nervous," Prock admitted. "Being able to figure that out, I guess. I hear stories of John Force's front end being off the ground for three or 400 feet through the middle of the racetrack, so it'll definitely be rowdy. Definitely gets my attention."

Just like Ashley, Prock knows there’s a considerable difference between the nitro cars.



"When you race a Top Fuel car, you go, 'What are bumps?" Prock explained. "They don't exist. Where a Funny Car, they're like avalanches. They're huge. The dragster, it's so long, it just absorbs everything from a driver's standpoint or a crew chief standpoint. Racing with Joe Barlam a few years back, he was talking with my dad, and my dad's like, 'Yeah, there's a bump out there, and that's where the what are bumps comes from. 

"You just don't notice them in the drive shaft in the dragster, where the Funny Car; you hit a bump, it's smoking the tires with the front end off the ground. Definitely, I'm going to have to be on my A-game. You are going to have to have the car pointed in the right direction when you get to those bumps because when it does carry the front end, you want to make sure your rear end's square and you can just skip over them and not have to utilize the steering wheel at all."

Just like the Funny Cars, the Pro Stockers have a fit with the bumps.
Greg Anderson won his first Pro Stock race at Bristol Dragway, but it has presented challenges over the last few seasons.

"It's a challenging racetrack," Anderson admitted. "It's always been a very, very bumpy racetrack, which it's neat. It definitely adds a new twist that we don't see at other racetracks, so I'm not complaining about it. It's a neat deal, but for some reason, I haven't been able to close the deal. I don't have an answer why, but I feel great going into it this weekend or this year." 

Now that the track has reportedly been fixed, Anderson said it could present a new challenge.

"That's what we all begged for, asked for," Anderson said. "The thing now is to throw out that data we've had in years past, so it's going to be a new challenge. But I like new challenges. Don't get me wrong, we're super glad that [Bristol] addressed some of those bumps. Some of them were getting to be quite a challenge. It was almost like riding a bucking bronco sometimes."