Competition Plus’ Random Water-Cooler Topics From The Super Grip Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.

1 – SCHUMACHER ENDS DROUGHT IN EPIC MATCH-UP – Sunday’s Top Fuel final round at Bristol Dragway in the Super Grip Thunder Valley Nationals , a rematch from last weekend’s New England Nationals in New Hampshire, was the 96th time Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta have gone head to head but only the second time this season.

Schumacher, who improved his class-leading victory total to 87, snapped a 37-race winless string dating back to the 2022 Seattle race.

“The competition in Top Fuel right now is the best I've ever seen,” he said. “Doug and I, we were 12th and 14th [qualifiers] in the final round. It's epic. Each round, the fans were the ones winning.”  

It was the first time in nine years that has happened. And Kalitta’s victory over No. 15 starter Brittany Force in the semifinal marked the first time since another pair of drivers named Doug – Doug Foley and Doug Herbert – faced each other in a semifinal since the 2007 Reading, Pa., event that determined the field for the inaugural Countdown.

Schumacher said the final round “was an ugly one. I hit the gas, and I think he might have double-stepped it. I heard a lot of noise, and I thought, ‘Gee, am I that late?’ It’s such a great thing to get that win. That's a Kalitta, man. That's a champion now. We're all proud to call him that.

“We didn't qualify well, but we raced well,” he said. “Half of the guys on my team, maybe more, have never won a race. So this is the first time they're going to be able to hold a Wally that they've earned. I'm very proud of them.”

With the JCM Racing team showing signs of a breakthrough at times this year, Schumacher would be within his rights finally to say, “I told you so” – but not to Kalitta. Instead, it could be directed to his detractors who have said his career is fading. Schumacher has insisted that he has his dream team assembled and that it will return to championship form. “We will be champions again,” he said a couple of years ago, just after Mike Neff and Jon Shaffer and Phil Shuler joined forces. And by climbing from eighth to fifth in the standings, he has a strong chance to deliver sooner rather than later.   

2 – PROCK POWERS ON TO SECOND FUNNY CAR VICTORY – J.R. Todd sidelined one of the John Force Racing Funny Car dominators in the semifinals but couldn’t stop the other in the final round. After eliminating Force, the Kalitta Motorsports driver was eyeing another team nitro double, like the one at Gainesville that kicked off the season. But Austin Prock wasn’t having any of that in this showdown between two racers who have won in both nitro classes. Prock, the Phoenix winner, scored his second triumph in his fifth final-round appearance in the eight races of the year.

His explanation of how he has made his transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car appear so natural was “I've been working towards this my whole life. I'm so blessed to have this opportunity. I mean, John Force taking a risk on me, and all these partners, great partners of ours, that believed in me, that gave me a shot to live my dream. This is just so surreal, and winning these is the best feeling in the world.

“John [Force], he’s done a lot for me in my career, and I definitely want to show him I’m capable of winning,” Prock said. “I’ve been saying we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year long: making smart decisions – and I’ve got to drive well.”

Todd started from the No. 11 spot, and he said, “It was definitely a good way to rebound after qualifying. After qualifying, our ladder was not ideal. Kind of got your back up against the wall and don’t have lane choice in the first round. But it didn’t seem to really matter the way the weather changed today compared to the way it was all weekend. Really proud of these DHL Toyota guys for digging deep, giving me a consistent car. I was just a tick behind those guys all day long. We had some struggles spinning downtrack and dropping cylinders and what have you. It did it again in the finals. Came up a little short in the final round against those guys [Prock]. They have the best car out here right now. But we’re going to the later rounds every week, and that’s what you need to do to stay in the hunt.”

3 – PRO STOCK’S JEG COUGHLIN JR. CLAIMS 67TH CAREER VICTORY – Sunday’s latest episode in the epic “Greg and Jeg” series – one that features 108 installments and 22 in final-round programming – went to Jeg Coughlin Jr. in an easy sprint away from Greg Anderson. Coughlin, in the SCAG Power Equipment / Outlaw Mile Hi Light Beer Chevy Camaro for Elite Motorsports, registered his 67th career victory. Anderson, the No. 1 qualifier and quickest all day, struck the tires and limped down the track with an unimpressive 20.530-second elapsed time.

“Greg and I have been in so many elimination rounds side by side. To see them make a mistake and have a hiccup after the stellar runs they've put down was amazing,” Coughlin said. “I put it in fourth gear and kind of peeked over a little bit, it was spinning and shaking, got it into fifth gear and I peeked over again and I'm like, ‘You've got to be kidding me. Surely, he's going to be coming on like a freight train.’”

The freight train was derailed, despite Anderson’s nearly perfect .001-of-a-second reaction time.









4 – HERRERA SETS PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RECORD – Was reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Gaige Herrera just toying with Matt Smith and others earlier in the week? Smith snapped Herrera’s 11-race streak of qualifying No. 1, but Herrera eliminated him in the semifinal to advance to his ninth consecutive final round. Herrera won against Jianna Evaristo in the final to break a tie with the late Dave Schultz (from the 1994 season) and own outright the record for the most Pro Stock Motorcycle victories in a row. The Vance & Hines Revzilla Suzuki ace matched Bob Glidden’s 1978-79 record in the Pro Stock class. So he has a chance at Richmond to set the overall NHRA mark.  

“The kid’s phenomenal,” said Andrew Hines, multi-time champion and Herrera’s crew chief.

What’s more, Herrera did it with a slightly injured hand. The 9-to-5 pipefitter explained that he “tweaked” his hand at work during the week and reinjured it while handling his suitcase Sunday morning.

But the unflappable Herrera – whose rampage through the class was interrupted by Steve Johnson’s victory here in 2024 – said, “It's amazing to get nine straight wins and pass up Dave Schultz. I never would've dreamed that, but, yeah, getting it here at Bristol, the track last year, it wasn't nice to me. And it wasn't being nice to me this weekend, either. We didn't qualify too good, but at the end of the day I had a very consistent fast motorcycle, and, man, this whole weekend has just been tough between racing and Matt and the semis. That was a very awesome race. So that was probably the highlight of the weekend for me there by getting in this win and taking it back.” 


5 – GRAY’S PRO MOD FINAL RUN DQ’D, THORNE WINS – The NHRA declared Kris Thorne the winner of the Congruity Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+ final round after disqualifying J.R. Gray’s run on Sunday during a post-race inspection. The sanctioning body ruled that Gray committed a technical violation in “bypassing a safety device.” As a result, Gray was runner-up and No. 1 qualifier Thorne was granted his first victory of the season and seventh in overall. The Pro Mod class will wrap up its regular season in two weeks at the Virginia Nationals, near Richmond.
6 – OOOF – On a day the NHRA was trying to beat approaching poor weather and had moved up the scheduled starting time of eliminations two hours, Legends Nitro Funny Car driver Tim Boychuk’s car emptied virtually all its oil onto the racetrack right at the hit of the throttle. The clean-up took more than an hour. Ironically, his car is nicknamed “Happy Hour.”





7 - THE MAN? HE’S STILL ‘A MAN’ – After Tony Schumacher defeated Shawn Langdon to advance to the semifinals, he said, “I got a lucky kiss from my fan, Tia. Came over and planted one on me. I said, ‘Please give me a lucky kiss. I need it.’ And she did it. Won first round (against Jasmine Salinas), came back, my wife goes, ‘You go find that girl. You kiss her.’ And here we are, man.” To the elusive Tia, Schumacher said in a shout-out, “So you better start hiding, because I'm coming for you.”

As for Schumacher’s wife, Summer, the Leatherwood Distillery dragster driver said, “Summer, she's the most beautiful girl. She's awesome. But when she gets something in her head ... She goes, ‘You know, need a lucky kiss. That's the one.’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah. Yes, I still am a man.”

Summer Schumacher said the lucky kisses were her idea. “I’ll take any good luck we can get,” she said. Tony Schumacher noticed Tia in the pre-race and remarked that “she looks like she’s good luck.” His wife urged, “You need to ask her for a kiss.” The first smooch was just a peck on the corner of his mouth. The second was a full-on lip-smacker.

The Top Fuel’s winningest driver said he was keeping the mood fun: “If you get too intense, you forget what we’re here for. We’re entertainers.”



Geoff Stunkard Photo

8 – TALE OF TWO WEEKENDS – Justin Ashley entered this race weekend with high hopes and fond memories of his 2023 visit here. He won both the rain-postponed Epping final Saturday, along with the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, and the Thunder Valley Nationals the next day. Moreover, he was hoping to earn his third consecutive Bristol victory and extend his lead in the standings. He was just 22 points ahead of Doug Kalitta.

But Ashley’s expectations fizzled early Sunday. He lost his first-round match to Brittany Force,  who desperately needed that victory to stay in the top 10 and shake a DNQ and Round 1 defeat in the past two races. Ashley already had seen Kalitta beat Antron Brown. Then Kalitta went on in Round 2 to dismiss Steve Torrence, erasing Ashley’s points lead. To add to his disappointment, his SCAG/Toyota dragster engine let go at the finish line.

“This is a part of racing,” the pragmatic Ashley said afterward. “We’ll be back. We’ll bounce back, and we’ll be good. Things like this are going to happen. This sport is a constant emotional roller coaster, so it’s important to put things in perspective. We lost a close first-round matchup against a tough competitor but still accomplished a lot throughout the weekend.”

He’s in second place, 28 points behind Kalitta as the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series moves south to Virginia Motorsports Park for an experimental two-day national event in two weeks.

By Round 2 on Sunday, six of the top 10 Top Fuel drivers were done for the day.




9 – THEY SAID IT – “When you beat him, you want to hug him. Most of the guys, you want to punch.” - Tony Schumacher, after defeating home-state favorite Clay Millican in the Top Fuel semifinal Sunday

“It’s like you woke up in a different city today.” - Ron Capps Racing crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli, regarding the significant weather change from Saturday to Sunday

“We really needed this. We came out in qualifying and couldn’t get the car down the racetrack (so) to be able to come out and run a 3.733 (followed by a 3.820 in Round 2) is outstanding for our team. The car dropped cylinders and it was moving all over the place (in the first round). It felt like I drove it through the finish line sideways, but we got there and turned the win light on.” – Brittany Force, after bumping Justin Ashley from the points lead in the opening round Sunday

“Yeah, look, we’re not going to get excited about anything right now, considering the year that we’ve had. We owed that to all our sponsors, to the Force family, to Brittany, everybody. Ultimately, the lack of performance is on me, so we’ve got to get it figured out. It’s just a matter of when. We can see the door. We’ve just got to go through it.” – Brittany Force’s crew chief, Dave Grubnic

“Coming off of the weekend we had last week [at Epping, N.H.], winner and runner-up, the whole world seems perfect. We love Bristol; have had a lot of success here. We did our job. But yet, I lost in the semis, and I had a car that, if you look at the numbers, I didn't get the job done. I'm mad about that myself. I went deep. It looks like I left on him, but actually I was deep. I'm not telling anybody that understands racing what's going on, but this is how I make myself better. I beat myself up when things are wrong, because if I'm going to compete with these kids for a title, I got to get back in this fight. I love driving, and I love winning, and I've got a car that can compete. I've got to get myself together. I got to the semis, should have been to the finals. All I had to do was be a little bit better on that light, and I wasn't. Even though it shows it in the numbers, that's because I rolled deep. I'm just honest about it.” – John Force

“After the fire, we started tearing into everything and realized there was too much to do with the looming 10 a.m. start, so we punted and switched to our backup car. Very proud of how our team performed under fire, literally. We had an unrelated parts failure that doomed us today, but we are still happy with where our SCAG Summit Mustang and ready for Richmond.” – Daniel Wilkerson, describing the thought process following a Saturday-evening engine explosion during qualifying


10 – NOT LETTING UP – John Force Racing’s dangerous duo of Austin Prock and the 16-time champion team owner can’t afford to be complacent, even though in the first seven Funny Car events, Force won twice and Prock once in four final-round appearances and they’re 1-2 in the standings. Following his opening-round victory over Daniel Wilkerson, Force gave a warning about his competition: “It’s funny, everybody’s giving me and Prock pats on the back. But I told Prock, ‘They’re coming. They’ll come to the dance sooner or later.’ And they all showed up today. They’re all running good.” And J.R. Todd “came for” Force in the semifinal and ended the 15-time winner’s day. Prock went on to race in his fifth Funny Car final in eight races.