1 - NEW START TIME - There are certainties in life, such as death, taxes, and rain at Bristol Dragway.

Officials have adjusted Sunday's eliminations schedule in anticipation of inclement weather in the forecast for race day at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. 
Racing will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern starting with Top Fuel and continuing with Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Parking lots at Bristol Dragway will open at 8 a.m. and gates will open at 8:30. Pre-race ceremonies, including the SealMaster Track Walk, will take place at 9 o'clock.
Other classes racing Sunday include the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by LearnEV+, Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown, Legends Nostalgia Funny Car, and Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Mountain Motor Pro Stock. Action in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series was completed Saturday. 

2 - SHIRLEY’S FIRST BRISTOL TRIP - Shirley Muldowney didn’t get to be the most iconic and trailblazing drag racer -- who just happened to be female -- without her trademark toughness. 

Muldowney continues to be a trailblazer for female drag racers. On Sunday, she will become the first of her gender to be inducted into the Legends of Thunder Valley during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. 

Her latest visit to the picturesque drag strip carved out of the mountains of east Tennessee in the mid-1960s is far different than the one she saw in 1965 as the driver of a gas-powered dragster in Comp Eliminator.

The first time Muldowney came to Bristol, she cried -- not because she lost, but because NHRA wouldn’t let her race. Race officials told Muldowney it was because she didn’t pre-enter. She believes to this day that it was because of her gender. 

“Me and Jack Muldowney and [son] little John towed our ghastly looking trailer down to Bristol, hoping they would let me in so I could run my little B/Gas dragster,” Muldowney recalled. “And that was my first face-to-face introduction to the NHRA.”

Muldowney said the mandate came directly from someone other than race officials. It came from the wife of a division director. In those days, the wives primarily handled all the credentialing. 

Muldowney recalled that the entry refusal came after a lengthy wait.

“They left me hanging for two days -- two full days,” Muldowney said. “There was no place [for me]. I sat down on the ground and waited patiently for them to call my name. They used the excuse, ‘There’s no room in the pits. It’s a tight race.' They kept saying, ‘There’s no room.' 

“I mean, there’s this little trailer. It was funny because John put all the bolts in from the inside to hold the thing together, if you will. They weren’t letting me in. So it came down to Saturday at 4 o'clock, and they called off the names, and mine wasn’t one of them. And I sat there, and I cried.”

Muldowney was careful not to let the male counterparts witness the rare occasion of emotions. 

“I was so disappointed,” Muldowney said. “We left. Didn’t stay there. We left with our tail between our legs, and we went on our way home. We stopped at a place in Pennsylvania -- York, Pennsylvania -- and we hung out. I remember being on the other side of this chain-link fence and just looking through the fence, like, 'Not here, lady.'

“It was a very sad time for me. And, of course, this was a Sunday race at York, and they did not let us in, and we went home.”

Legend suggests Muldowney followed Wally Parks from the track to protest her treatment. Another suggests Larry Carrier approached Muldowney afterward to tell her she’d be allowed to race next year. 

Time heals most wounds, and it healed her with NHRA. Muldowney points out that if she has one regret, it's that former Bristol Dragway GM and Winston executive Jeff Byrd couldn’t share the induction with her. 

“It is sad for me that Jeff Byrd is not here to see this,” Muldowney said. “I adored him. He was one of the ones that held me up, kept me from throwing punches. I did make a lot of friends down there, but still, it just didn’t come as fast as I wanted it to. But all of that is over. It’s a new day. I’m very happy today.”



3 - 2FAST2TASTY WINNER'S PARADE -  The Mission Foods 2Fast2Tasty Challenge has become a staple in the NHRA’s Saturday afternoon qualifying sessions. Before a packed house at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, it delivered quite the show, with Clay Millican scoring an explosive victory in the Top Fuel portion. 

Millican was joined in the winners circle by Austin Prock (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Three of the winners -- Millican, Prock and Smith -- ended the day as the event’s No. 1 qualifiers. 

Millican picked up his first Mission Challenge victory by stopping Shawn Langdon in the final round on a run where he exploded the supercharger at the finish line but had enough momentum to score the win. 

Millican was first off the line and held on for a 3.839, 302.41 win. Langdon made it close with a 3.861, 310.70. 

After losing in the finals of the same vent 

A week after losing to team owner John Force in the Mission Challenge finals at Epping, N.H., Prock exacted revenge Saturday. Prock left the starting line first and fended off the winningest Funny Car driver in the world for his second Mission Foods #2Fast2TastyChallenge victory. 

Enders picked up her third win of the season in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge by stopping Dallas Glenn in the final round. She ran a 6.644 elapsed time at 207 miles an hour. The little points add up for Enders, who now has three victories, accounting for nine bonus points. 

Matt Smith continued his roll in Pro Stock Motorcycle action as he scored the victory in the specialty event by beating his wife, Angie Smith, in a race where the couple blew kisses to one another before they staged. 

Matt Smith launched first and never looked back en route to a 6.802, 199.05. Angie lost with a 6.951, 173.70. 

In the opening round, Matt Smith did something no other rider has done this season: He beat Gaige Hererra in an all-out drag race. 





4 - DEFYING LOGIC - Bristol Dragway on Saturday is usually predictable. The weather conditions are warmer than usual, with humidity and challenging race track conditions presenting a formidable challenge. 

Then there’s Greg Anderson who busted up in the joint and defied all logic. 

Pro Stock’s winningest driver showed why he holds the status as he was in his own zip code with a 6.615 elapsed time at 205 miles an hour. Saturday’s run set him up for his second No. 1 this season and the 126th in his career.

Anderson's runs Saturday were the two quickest of the event. 

“You’re going to never get out of the car at the finish line, or at least I don’t, and say, ‘You know what? I think we got it all,'" Anderson said. “I got out after the first run this morning and I think we got more than it all. I know I’ve never said that before.”

Anderson, whose monumental win record began in Bristol, had no words to explain his success when every other leading car struggled to lay down equally impressive runs. 

“You’re going to have to go back to that trailer and ask the guys in that Hendrick trailer back there because there was a lot of talk this morning about different things they wanted to try,” Anderson said. “We were qualified after yesterday and we knew we didn’t have to worry about racing today. It was just a day to go out and learn. And they took some gambles. They made some changes, they took some gambles and came up all sevens and hats off to them. It’s all them, it’s not me. The car becomes very easy to drive when they make runs like that.”

Other top qualifiers include Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Austrin Prock (Funny Car), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

5 - BRISTOL HAS ALWAYS BEEN TOUGH—While only a few nitro racers who raced the old configuration of Bristol Dragway still compete in the NHRA Mission Series, and the cars might be as different as night and day between now and then, one aspect remains the same: Bristol is still an extremely challenging facility for tuners. 

Clay Millican crew chief Jim Oberhofer raced many dates at Thunder Valley with Connie Kalitta, the 1979 IHRA Pro Dragster world champion. 

“It’s a challenging place because you’re 1,500 feet above sea level, and you get some crazy air here sometimes,” Oberhofer said. “Usually the sun’s pretty intense, so that makes it tough as well. 

“I didn’t tune cars obviously, but I was with Kalitta in those days, and he always said that this place was a bit of a challenge to get hold of. A lot of it was the air and the sun, and you never knew what weather you were going to get, no matter what. So, it was something.”

If you found the right tuneup and your car made it to the finish line under power, then there was the curved shutdown area to deal with. Oberhofer's co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante remembers those days very well working with his dad Nick Sr., on the Raybestos Funny Car driven by Richard Hartman.

“The shutdown area had a dog leg [curve] in it, and a lot of times when you ran down there, you couldn’t even see your car after the chutes came out,” Boninfante said. “So you didn’t know what happened. And one year I was here with my dad in 1990, and we had just left Baton Rouge, came here for an IHRA race. Pretty much had a good setup for this place. Went out, hit a few bumps, put some cylinders out, blew the engine up, couldn’t see the car after the shutdown area. 

“Got down there and it had crashed and burned to the ground. So, yeah, it’s a pretty tough place to race at.”

6 - LESSON LEARNED - Let the record reflect that motorsports icon Tony Stewart will no longer make bets with his wife Leah anytime soon. The LSR [Leah Stewart Racing] decal on the team hauler is a reminder. 

Stewart reluctantly told the story in the Bristol Dragway media center. After Matt Hagan captured Stewart’s first championship as a team owner is when the situation went awry. 

“We might’ve overcelebrated on his championship,” Stewart admitted. “By the time I got back [to the hauler], there were 15 people piled into Leah’s Lounge, which is kind of like the crew chief lounge in her trailer. She had her practice tree in there. I had slightly overserved myself and went toe to toe against my wife" on the practice tree.

The wager between the husband and wife was naming rights for the team.

“If you’re very creative and you go in our pit, look by the door, and there’s an LSR decal,” Stewart said. “Now she has her own merchandise for it. So, luckily, she hasn’t changed the names on the trailer. But, yeah, I’m hearing about it weekly. More people are picking up on, ‘What is this LSR?'

“Then I have to tell the story of how I got my butt kicked by my wife, which is not a fun part of the story to tell.”

If only drag racing weren't such a tight-knit community, Stewart might not have to repeat this chapter of his drag racing career. 

“Where winning championships before, you went to the media center for an hour-and-a-half, you did photos, and everybody’s gone and left and went home by the time you get done with everything,” Stewart said. “So it’s nice to be able to have that camaraderie in the pit area. But trust me, there’s enough people in the pro pit that know, and some of them were there, and there’s enough of them that know about it, that I get picked on a lot about it. So I’ve learned not to bet against my wife on anything anymore.”




7 - MOTIVATIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS - At the halfway point of the season, Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley uses his status as the top seed for motivation. 

“I mean, it is critical, right?” Ashley asked. “You’re trying to accumulate as many points as you can early on in the year. We’re exactly halfway through the regular season now, so we’ve got seven more to go. But, you know, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and stay in that position. Ultimately, if we don’t stay there, it really doesn’t mean much at all. So it’s great to be here.”

Last year at Bristol Dragway, Ashley swept the weekend. He won the rain-delayed Epping event, the Mission Foods 2Fast2Tasty Challenge, and put a bow on the weekend with a Sunday win. Ashley left the weekend with 10 round wins and a burning desire for more. 

“You know, it’s completely new [racing surface], and we just got to try and take what we learned last year, right, and apply it to this year and see if we can do the same thing that it’s a new year,” Ashley said. “We just got to do the very best that we can and try and stay consistent in that.” - CJ Jenkins 

8 - MONISE LEADS THE LEGENDS - Geoff Monise, who won the Legends Funny Car competition at the NHRA Winternationals in April, was the top runner on Saturday’s qualifying with a 1,000-foot 4.763 elapsed time at 238.13 miles per hour. Usual frontrunner Bobby Cottrell was slightly behind with a 4.775, 235.27.  

9 - THE BRISTOL CATEGORIES SHOW OFF - Pro Modified and Mountain Motor Pro Stock might be running in NHRA, but clearly their roots are in Bristol, Tenn., where they were made popular by the IHRA. The large displacement Pro Stockers were the brainchild of IHRA VP Ted Jones as a means to get away from the standard pounds-per-cubic-inch format made famous by NHRA and to a degree, the American Hot Rod Association [AHRA]. It debuted at the 1977 IHRA Winternationals. 

Pro Modified was cultivated by eighth-mile dragstrips in the Carolinas, but when it came to bringing this volatile show to the big stage, it was once again Jones and the rebellious IHRA that took a chance and made those cars a professional category -- much to the chagrin of the their Pro Stock racers. 

John Montecalvo, a IHRA Pro Stock standout, set the pace in qualifying with a 6.374, 219.90. He advanced past Saturday’s opening round and will be joined in Sunday’s action by John DeFlorian, Johnny Pluchino, and past NHRA Pro Stock champion Bo Butner. 

The Pro Modified division was led by Chris Thorne, who made the jump from No. 20 to No. 1 with a 5.764 elapsed time at 250.41 miles per hour. 

10 - BACK-TO-BACK NO. 1 - For the first time this season the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series recorded back-to-back No. 1 qualifiers when Lee Hartman posted the quickest run of the weekend in his Hartman Racing Chevrolet COPO Camaro. Hartman ran his top run in the heat of the day with a run of 7.897 seconds at 174.21 mph. The run marked his second career No. 1. He was the quickest at the Route 66 Nationals three weeks ago. 

“I was just telling my guys when I came back, I wish I could make a pass like that every time,” said Hartman. “There is nothing like seeing the sky when you do a wheel stand and your Camaro’s nose is in the air. You’re looking at your peripheral vision, making sure the car is still going straight. As long as we’re running good, we’ll keep this thing going.”
Hartman was positioned at No. 6 going into the final round of qualifying. The jump in the qualifying standings was something Hartman’s team was working towards throughout the sessions.
“In the first qualifying session, we went out there and tried to get down the track, and we had a .122 60-foot roll off the line there, and we felt it would take a little bit more,” said Hartman. “We’ve been slowly easing our way up there. Stanfield Racing Engines has done a great job with just tuning the car and prepping it so that it is ready to go. I can’t say enough how good those guys have been to me and how good this car has turned around.”






1 - BUMPING AND GRINDING TO THE TOP - One has to remember that when it comes to driving a fuel Funny Car, Austin Prock is a rookie. On Friday, with a temperamental race track that reportedly underwent some anger management adjustments before the race weekend, Prock found himself driving all over the track like a rookie. However, he looked like a veteran corraling the bucking bronco for the provisional No. 1.

Prock ran 3.958 seconds at 317 miles per hour in the Q2 session when no one, including Q1 leader Paul Lee, could run a three.

If the run holds, it will be his sixth of the season. 

“This place is very tough to navigate for sure,” Prock said. “It’s very bumpy down on the track and it’s a driver’s racetrack I would call it. You got to be on your game all the way until you’re pulling the parachutes. You typically do in a Funny Car, but this is just up another level. It’s a really fun racetrack to drive, for sure. Stressful for the crew chiefs, but if you’re a race car driver, you sure do enjoy a place like this.”

Prock said he pulled out all the stops to make it from Point A to Point B.

“First run, got a little bit outside and hit the bumps, and it started spinning,” Prock said. “I just tried tucking my elbows in and seeing if I could black track straight, and it worked for about two-tenths of a second until it dropped two cylinders on the left side, and you could see the whole Cornwell sticker down the left side of the car from the starting line.
So, got it reeled in and made a really nice run.”

Prock said in the No. 1 run his car came off the track similar to running over a log at 500 feet.

“The whole car was off the ground, I think, and I had a big old grin on my face, I’m sure,” Prock said. “But when I heard a .95 over the radio, that was the number they were calling, and it ended up being good enough.
So after watching everybody, I think we wanted to push harder, but we knew if we ran .95, we were more than likely going to be first or second. So it ended up working out well for us and just another great Friday night.”



2 - BRISTOL WILL ALWAYS BE MILLICAN’S HOME -It might be 500 miles from his Drummonds, Tenn., home, but as far as Clay Millican is concerned, Bristol Dragway is his home track. 

Friday night, under the lights, Millican proved there’s no place like home as he drove his Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster to the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot with a 3.786 elapsed time at 325 miles an hour. With warmer weather expected to roll in on Saturday, the run is likely to produce his first No. 1 qualifier this season, and 26th in his career. 

It would mark his first No. 1 qualifier since Rick Ware purchased the team from Doug Stringer. 

“This team has absolutely been incredible,” Millican said. “We struggled a little after testing and then the next thing you know we start going around, we go to a final at Charlotte, go to the semis last week. And Nicky Boninfante, he said it really good, ‘We’re going to win.”

“I like that. We’re going to win. It’s going to happen. And I got to tell y’all, I’m excited to do this for a lot of reasons. Obviously, when you qualify No. 1 with the monsters that we’re racing against these days, you’ve accomplished something.”

Millican understood before the Q2 session, if something was going to happen, it had to be in the night season. 

“I said that this run will determine your qualifying position,” Millican said. “Yes, we could catch some crazy weather tomorrow and people can improve, but typically when we have a night run, it pretty much sets the top part of the field. You could have a lot of movement in the bottom, but Friday night runs, I call them the home run session. And if you don’t hit a home run, chances are you’re not going to be in the top four, five, six. That’s for sure.”



3 - ERICA SETS THE PRO STOCK PACE - Pro Stock champion Erica Enders continued her mastery of the Bristol Dragway quarter-mile by driving his Camaro to the provisional No. 1 with a  run of 6.631 seconds, at a speed of 206 miles an hour. If her provisional run holds up, it will mark her second straight number one and fourth this season. 

Enders led both sessions. 

“I feel like we’re getting a better handle on our race car,” Enders said. “We felt like we should have been able to go out there and go .62. It was a nice run. I looked at it on the graph. The right lane is a whole lot smoother than the left, although I was very, very loose from 1100 feet to the finish line.”

Bristol Dragway underwent resurfacing at the 700 foot mark with some of the bumps addressed with grinding. Enders believes there’s a noticeable difference between the two lanes and it didn’t necessarily have to do all with the work done to remove bumps.

“There’s a really big variable that I didn’t mention and the racetrack was fully shaded for our second session, so the cooler temperature is definitely going to help it feel smoother,” Enders said. “I don’t know if it’s an even comparison, lane to lane, with sun one run and no sun the other run. But it was definitely bumpy in the left lane. I was surprised at the looseness of it past the eighth-mile in the right lane. But definitely smoother for sure. But I’m sure temperature played a part in that.”



3B - ENDERS BID FOR 50 - Nothing could be finer for Enders in her bid for 50 NHRA national event victories than to do it on the same weekend as Shirley Muldowney becomes the first female inducted into Bristol Dragway’s exclusive Legends of Thunder Valley ring of honor. 

“Shirley was a hero and an idol, obviously, but over the years, has become a friend and a mentor,” Enders said. “Shirley went through stuff nobody should probably have to go through in a time when it wasn’t okay for women to do the same thing as men. So any of the female racers that you talk to out here are where we are because of what she accomplished and what she did and the barriers that she broke down. So she’s been wonderful to me; she really has.”

Enders credits the picturesque facility for helping to turn around a bad start to the 2023 season. This facility has been a happy place considering that she’s been to the final round in the last two seasons, winning in 2023 against rival Greg Anderson. Not only did she win, but she did so from the No. 1 qualifying position. She has also won three other times, scoring victories in 2011, 2013, and 2015. 

“I absolutely love racing at Thunder Valley,” Enders said. “We have so many great memories at this facility and we are looking forward to adding to that list this weekend. Bristol was the turning point in our season last year,” Enders said. “As we near the halfway point of our 2024 season, we are working on our strategy and race day set up to obviously prepare for the countdown.”

Last weekend in, Epping Enders drove to the No. 1 qualifying position before losing in the final round to teammate Troy Coughlin Jr.  She left Epping second place in the championship points standings. Enders has two other final round appearances this season, including a win at the NHRA Gatornationals and a runner-up at the Winternationals.

“The guys have been working hard, studying up. Our brain trust, as I like to call our crew chiefs, made some changes, and we saw the positive results in Epping with TJ [Troy Coughlin Jr.], and I qualified No. 1 and 2 and racing against each other in the finals. We almost had an all-Elite semifinal,” Enders said. “We’re in a good spot, but I think we’re due for a visit to the winner’s circle.”




4 - MATT SMITH IS LIKE A HUNTING DOG - Matt Smith set the Pro Stock Motorcycle pace by running 6.788 at 198 miles an hour. If the run holds, it would be his second No. 1 this season and the 54th in his career. 

“I think we’ve showed it when we was at Chicago that we have been testing a lot and getting our program back better, and it showed here again,” Smith said. “I messed up at Chicago tuning on Sunday and I’ve come here to redeem myself, and we’re all good. We’re good. Angie’s bike’s got a bug, but my DENSO bike is pretty fast. We’re lower each round. We set the speed record, I think they said, so I’m pretty happy with what we’ve done so far.”

Smith understands there’s a clear game of cat and mouse going on between him and point leader Gaige Herrera. 

“At Chicago, they seem to turn it up on Sunday, so we’ll see what happens on Sunday,” Smith said. “But I think there’s a lot of people that’s in the NHRA’s ear at the tech department about how fast he’s running, and they backed it down on qualifying at Chicago. But if that’s what they want to do, I’ll benefit from the number one qualifiers if I can get them, but all in all, it’s about Sunday. We have to be fast on Sunday, and we’ve got to win races and we’ve got to win some rounds.”

Some might be in NHRA Tech’s ear, but Smith said adamantly, it isn’t him. 

“I didn’t even talk to any of the tech department from Chicago, Jake [from NHRA tech]  came by, we stayed over and tested on Tuesday at Indy on the way home from Chicago, and Jake come over and talked to me,” Smith said. “But as far as that, I haven’t said not one word. I’m focused, heads down. I’m like a hound dog, I’m a hunting dog right now. I’m on the ground trying to find that 60-foot and make it better and better, and we’re getting better and we will continue to work hard and try to make our bike as good as possible.”



5 - FORCE: “I AIN’T GOING ANYWHERE - John Force is blaming his medication for last weekend’s “woe is me, I’m old and I’m done,” interviews last weekend following NHRA national event victory No. 157.

One might have wondered as after his top-end interview, Force handed his trophy to Prock and walked away. Some believed Force had quit on the spot. 

“I went back and I said, ‘Did I lose my mind? What did I say?” Force responded when he asked in the days following Epping if he was going to Bristol. “I went back. I know I went in the press room, said a lot of stuff. I’m a 100 years old. I got to leave here sometime. All I was saying is, ‘Here’s the future of John Force racing, this kid right here.” 

“I handed him the trophy. Because one thing, the fans, they really react funny. A driver maybe takes my seat, might make some of them mad. So I’m just telling them early, ‘Don’t waste your time. He’s coming because we want to keep winning.” 

“He’s the guy that will be able to do that for me if I quit in the next 25 years.”

Force will be 100 when that time comes.

“I’ll be ready to retire by then,” Force said with his trademark smile. 
Next 25 days. No, did it again.

But just the thought of replacing what some feel is the greatest Funny Car racer of all time, Funny Car rookie Austin Prock rolls through interviews with ease, but this possibility leaves him searching for the right words. 

“I’m really speechless over a comment like that,” Prock said. “Even to be in the position I’m in at John Force Racing is a dream come true. I’ve been working towards being a professional race car driver since I was about ten years old, and have been very, very blessed to race under the people that I have. I love racing here at John Force Racing. For him to say that, it makes me feel good about myself. I feel like all the hard work that I’ve put in over the years is paying off, and I just want to do a great job for him. 

“He took a huge risk on me, hiring me back in 2017. I’d never been down a drag strip. All I did was circle track stuff, midgets, and spring cars, and he said, ‘You want to come drive one of these kid?” 

“You’re not going to say no when the g.o.a.t. (greatest of all time) asks you a question like this. I’ve just been working really hard to try and make him proud of me.”




6- TONY STEWART’S FUTURE PLANS STILL A MYSTERY - On Tuesday, May 28, 2024, NASCAR team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas announced they were closing their shop at the end of the season. This led to speculation that Stewart, who has not denied his love for drag racing, might consider increasing his involvement in the straight-line sport. 

Stewart did little to encourage the media assembled at Bristol Dragway that he was going to get more involved with drag racing. 

“I’m just trying to make sure I pay my bills and on time, so I don’t know,” said Stewart, who is filling the role of driver in his wife Leah’s [Pruett] absence. “Leah has some interesting ideas what she wants to do with the whole program when she gets back. So I think it’s a terrible idea, but Matt and I have different ideas, and we like our ideas, so we will see what happens as time goes on. But it’s kind of fun to really not have a plan right now, but the plan literally is Matt does what he does in the Funny Car, and I’m just filling in for Leah until she’s ready to get back in the car, and at that point, we’ll figure out what’s next.”

Stewart has raced many times at the Bristol Speedway and is taking his first crack at the dragstrip. 

“I’m excited about it,” Stewart said. “I remember coming here the first time with Leah, and it was just kind of cool. I had heard about it. I hadn’t even been to the drag strip yet, but I had heard a lot about it. And then finally getting the opportunity to come and see it firsthand and just see the landscape around it. It just is a super cool layout. The atmosphere is awesome here. The fans have been awesome today, so I’m very, very excited about getting to run here finally.”

Stewart ended the first day as the eighth quickest with a 3.829, 312.64 best. 


7 - “OLD SOUL” CAPPS NEEDS BRISTOL MAGIC - Ron Capps could use some of the Bristol magic he’s enjoyed the last few seasons. The two-time NHRA champion has two round wins in the last four races, and that’s very unlike the driver who has 891 round wins to his credit. 

But alas, this weekend’s race is at Bristol Dragway, a facility where Capps has won the last two seasons, adding to his total of ten career wins. How impressive are his ten wins in Bristol? He’s got more than John Force, who is second win nine. 

“To say you’re ahead of John Force and anything for wins is crazy,” Capps said. “I had to ask Ali, my publicist, again. Are you sure? Force has got every freaking record there is. 

“There’s just certain places that they go that they seem to do well. It is also strange that I’ve had the success here at this track with different crew chiefs and different owners actually. All three counting me as an owner. So you can’t really pinpoint something that you had a good car set up there or whatever it might be. Even a NASCAR driver that does well at certain track has probably had different crew chiefs throughout their career and still done well.”

Capps is what some would call an “old soul,” and he often wonders what it would have been like to race in Thunder Valley in the old days with the dog leg in the shutdown area. 

“I would hear these stories that you read about as a kid, Hot Rod Magazine, and things that you do looking back at the past,” Capps said. “But I got to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Some of the PG stories you would read about in the magazines. I got to hear the R versions of places like this when they would come here when Larry Carrier and just the stories of, because I grew up in California, and would read these magazines. 

“You didn’t have internet, obviously, and you didn’t have even weekly magazines, so you waited to read about this big race back east. I feel like a lot of times, I was born about 20 years too late, would’ve been. I think I would’ve loved running around the country racing every night.”

8 - LINDBERG’S REPORT CARD - Jonnie Lindberg may be in his first season as a nitro tuner, but in a result-driven league, he’s looking like anything but a novice. In the first seven races, the Paul Lee Racing team has raced, and driver Paul Lee has qualified in the top five of the first six races. Lee was the provisional No. 1 after the first session. 

“I’m pretty happy with the success we had,” Lindberg admitted. “I think Paul and the whole team wanted to be a top-five player, and I think we proved to ourselves that we are now; we just need some luck on Sunday. We had some minor small stuff, but as the season goes on, we learn more, and we kind of update the car and parts the more races we go to. We just keep plugging along, and usually, the hard work pays off.”

“We learn more every race and we have a good group of people that when we go back to the shop, we just work hard and make sure the parts are correct and try to figure out, so small stuff don’t happen on Sundays, like they’ve been happening.”

Lindberg came into his first opportunity as a major league nitro turning with the opportunity to learn from championship tuner John Medlen. 

Medlen, who retired from full-time tuning a few seasons ago, has embraced a new role as a mentor for up-and-coming tuners. Such an opportunity can be intimidating, but not for Lindberg, who was excited to learn from the decorated veteran. 

“John is such a good guy; calm and stuff, so he was never really intimidating to be honest,” Lindberg said. “We get along great and it’s easy to work with him. We kind of have the same mindset. If something is not right, we go to the bottom of it and fix it.”

Medlen couldn’t be more proud of his protege. 

“Most fun I’ve had in a long time, but he’s a joy to work with, period,” Medlen said of Lindberg. “When started working together, he said something to me that I haven’t heard in a long, long time, and that is, ‘Races are won at the shop. I’ve believed that since the early eighties, and it shows to be true.” 

“Tim Richards used to say, ‘It’s the five P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”

“That’s true. However, you have to have somebody that’s willing to work hard enough to get you there, and he does. That’s a great thing. You don’t find that very often today.”




9 - THE BUZZ ABOUT HART - If Top Fuel racer Josh Hart knew all it would take to get a round win in the Mission Food Drag Racing Series, he might welcome a swarm to overtake his hauler in Bristol. 

Hart knocked off Justin Ashley in the first round of the NHRA New England Nationals as beekeepers corraled a gathering of the buzzers on the awning of his hauling on Sunday. 

“At first, I was hoping that it was good luck,” Hart said. “It was crazy because when you looked out into the aisle-way, there were millions of bees, and the fact that they landed on our tent to do whatever they did, clearly the queen liked it and everybody else wanted to hang with her. So it was cool.”

When it became a cause for concern, Hart admitted that some members of his team were allergic to bee stings. That didn’t stop the Epping fans from flocking over to see what the buzz was about. 

“I think it made the fans come into it, so it was a great advertising tool,” Hart said. “Any publicity is good publicity, and I think I now have the most photographed awning in the world.”

10 - BRYCES ARE JUST VISITING - They were walking around the pits in Bristol, trying their best to blend in with the scenery. However, it isn’t easy to be incognito when you owned a team that won 82 national event titles and six series championships.

Welcome to the world of George and Jackie Bryce, the former owners of the Pro Stock Motorcycle team who, with riders John Myers and Angelle Sampey, became legends of the sport. 

“I ran the rat race here, 25 years, and I’m just telling these guys over here, I said, ‘Man, there is life on the other side of this,” George said. “When you’re in it, that’s all you know. You can’t wait to get back. No matter what you work on or what you do, you’re all focused on winning the next race. If you can afford to not do it, which I don’t know how you afford to do it, but if you can afford not to do it, it’s great.”

Jackie was with George long before their NHRA days when they raced their sportsman bike out of the back of a van at venues like the old Spartanburg Dragway in South Carolina.  

“We made a lot of friendships over all the years, and I do miss that, but it is good just standing back and watching it on TV, listening to Alan [Rinehart] do his announcing and just touching base with everybody every now and then,” Jackie said. “But we’re thankful for all the customers that we had over the years and seeing some of them still running our stuff. So that’s good, and it’s great.”

The weekend their visit is nothing more akin to a grandparent visiting their grandchildren. 

“You’ve got to go and look and see how the children are doing and how well you passed the torch,” George said. “You got to go see the torch carriers now. But just like a grandparent, you can hand them back to their parents when the baby starts crying. 

“When [racers] start complaining and bitching, I just go, ‘Hey, look back over there. That’s where you’re going. Not here.”

As the Bryces point out, they are here to watch a drag race and check on the children.