The record setting winning pace for two NHRA teams continued at the Thunder Valley Nationals last weekend…..
At Bristol Tennessee’s 16th annual Thunder Valley Nationals — both the fuel FC and the Pro Stock classes continued to feel the wrath of the Don Schumacher Racing and Summit Racing Equipment team equations.
In Funny Car – the DSR Dodge Chargers driven by Tommy Johnson Jr and Matt Hagan faced off for the event title. That was the fifth consecutive all-Mopar final round, and the seventh time in 11 events that a Mopar Dodge Charger landed in the winner’s circle as the fearsome HEMI®s powered cars to be the class of the NHRA Funny Car fields.
This time it was Tommy Johnson Jr. driving the Make-A-Wish branded Dodge Charger R/T to victory – which was his first of the 2016 season.
In the final round, Hagan was impressively quick off the starting line with a .057-second reaction time in his Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T, but his opponent was even quicker with a brilliant .035 launch, and Johnson held onto the advantage for a holeshot win, 4.038-second at 313.22 mph to a 4.030/317.57.
“We had a great season last year and finished third in the points, but it started slow and then we made a really good charge late,” said Johnson, who won the Thunder Valley Nationals in 2014. “This year, we had that same slow start, then we were runner-up in Epping, and that just seems to set the tone for the rest of the year. My guys did a great job. We’re not an aggressive team; we race the racetrack, and [crew chief] John Collins makes some really great calls on what to do. He’s feeling it out as the season begins, and we get all that data and then really start to make a charge.”
En route to the final, Johnson, now No. 7 in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car standings, used a swift 3.988/316.38 in the first round to easily get around Cruz Pedregon’s troubled 5.735/121.52. In the second round, a smooth 3.990/314.83 to Robert Hight’s 4.095/283.85 got the job done, sending Johnson to the semifinals for the third time this season. There, Johnson met Alexis DeJoria, and he launched ahead of his competitor and journeyed down the drag strip to a low-of-the-round 4.039/312.42 to defeat a 4.138/288.33.
The victory is extra-special for Johnson, as it not only marks the birthday celebration of his father, Tommy Johnson Sr., but it is also Father’s Day.
“I love this race, and Father’s Day seems to be really good to me,” said Johnson, now a four-time victor on the holiday. “But we came here last year off that runner-up at Epping, and we thought, alright, we’re going back to the place we won the previous year, this should be great. We kind of stubbed our toe, but my crew chief made a lot of notes last year, and we came in a little more aggressive this time. Today, the car drove flawless. He made all the right adjustments to get the car down the track in these hot conditions. He used the data [from an earlier run] to make the car go down the track all day. This is just a great way to celebrate father’s day and my dad’s birthday.”
With the win, Johnson secured his position in the special bonus race scheduled to take place during the U.S. Nationals over Labor Day Weekend, the NHRA Traxxas Shootout. Positions are awarded to the first seven drivers in a season to collect trophies, plus one fan vote. Johnson was awarded the seventh spot for his Bristol win, leaving just one of the four Mopar Dodge Charger Funny Cars having to contend for the fan vote – Jack Beckman and the Infinite Hero Dodge.
The final round was the third of the season for Hagan, who won back-to-back in Atlanta and Topeka.
“Just another good race weekend for the Rocky Boots/Mopar team,” said Hagan. “We made it to the final round, and when you get that far, all you want to do is win for your team, for the folks out here, and especially for me this weekend. We had a whole pile of people out here supporting us, and I wish we could have treated them with a trip to the winner’s circle. But we’re in the top five now, and that’s important to us. We need to keep climbing, and the way this Mopar Express Lane Dodge is running right now, I feel like we can really do that here over this summer stretch of races.”
No. 1 qualifier Ron Capps (3.884 secs) had hoped to visit a third consecutive final and claim three trophies in a row, but his streak ended in the semifinals to Hagan, while Mopar-powered Beckman was ousted by Capps in the second round. Capps keeps the points lead in the hands of Team Mopar, while Beckman remains No. 2 in the standings with Hagan not far behind in fifth pace and Johnson seventh.
In Pro Stock – the Summit Racing team retained their amazing undefeated team season
Line powered his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro to his sixth victory of the season and 43rd of his career by outlasting teammate Greg Anderson in the final round. Line sprinted to a 6.668 at 207.59 to better Anderson’s 6.694 at 207.62 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Line, who won this event in 2006, was the No. 1 qualifier. This was his 10th final round appearance of the year and the victory extends his points lead.
“It’s been amazing,” said Line, who has raced to every final round this season except one. “I am so thrilled to be up here, you just can’t imagine. I am living my dream. The fact that I am getting to do this and have been so successful this year is awesome.”
Line won on a single in the first round when Dave River’s car had a mechanical problem and he couldn’t make the call, had a bye in the second round and sprinted past 2014 top rookie Drew Skillman in semi-finals to meet Anderson in the final.
In Top Fuel – Langdon, making his first final round appearance of the year, raced to a 3.838 at 322.19 in his Red Fuel Powered by Schumacher / Sandvik Coromant dragster to defeat teammate and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher’s 3.934 at 310.70 in the final round. Langdon, who won this event in 2014, claimed his 12th career victory and moved up to sixth in the points standings.
“We really did struggle at the beginning of the year,” said Langdon, the 2013 Top Fuel world champion. “Everybody at Don Schumacher Racing came together and everybody there helped out; it’s a big team. I have to thank all the other crews and our Red Fuel crew. This is a big win for us and we are excited.”
Langdon, who secured the sixth spot in the Top Fuel Traxxas Nitro Shootout bonus event, beat Gainesville runner-up Terry McMillen, two-time 2016 winner Brittany Force and points leader Doug Kalitta to make his way to the final round.
Schumacher, who powered his U.S. Army dragster to a runner-up finish last weekend in Englishtown, N.J., drove by J.R. Todd, two-time 2016 winner Steve Torrence and reigning world champ Antron Brown to make his second consecutive final round appearance. Schumacher is fifth in points.
“Iron Mike” Scores in Pro Mod — Mike Castellana raced to victory in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. This weekend’s Pro Mod racing at Bristol Dragway is presented by the Real Pro Mod Association. This is the fifth of 10 Pro Mod events on the 2016 season.
In a final round battle that featured two nitrous injected C7 Corvettes, Castellana won when Bob Rahaim crossed the centerline. Castellana claimed his first victory of 2016 and sixth win of his career.
“My crew did an awesome job this weekend and we got a little lucky in the finals,” said Castellana, who won his first race since the 2014 season-opener in Gainesville, Fla. “That’s all it takes. It feels great. We never gave up. My team, they kept pushing. We struggled a little bit, but now we’re back and hopefully we can stay.”
Castellana qualified third and outlasted Doug Winters, Chip King and recent Englishtown, N.J., winner Troy Coughlin to make his first final round appearance of the season. Castellana jumped to sixth in the points standings.
Bob Rahaim, who was the No. 1 qualifier, sprinted past Steven Whiteley, local favorite Von Smith and Michael Biehle in the earlier rounds. Rahaim is fourth in the points standings.
Two-time 2016 winner Rickie Smith is still first in the points standings. Smith is followed by Coughlin and Steve Matusek in second and third, respectively.
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series continues with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, June 23-26, in Norwalk, Ohio.
The Lucas Oil Lowdown
John Taylor is a back to back national event winner in Bristol, while Mark McDonald captured his first ever win this weekend for the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
The Super Gas title went to Taylor of Naples, Fla., who had a great reaction time at the light, and never wavered as he went down the lane in 9.926 seconds at 159.49 mph. This is his fourth national event win.
It was McDonald’s second final round appearance in the Top Sportsman presented by Racing RV’s as he took out Ronnie Proctor, Harpers Ferry, W.V., for the win and his first national event trophy. McDonald, Boonville, Ind., ran a great race in his ’67 Mustang and was dead on for a 6.866 second pass at 194.38 mph.
Rusty Cook, Cynthiana, Ky., has a prior win in Super Comp, he captured his second Wally with a perfect reaction time, running 8.895 seconds at 173.16 mph over David Schmidt, Flintstone, Ga., who made his first final round appearance as the number one qualifier.
Chad Taylor, Sellersburg, Ind., faced off with Dan Jacobs, of Elizabeth, Ind. Jacobs was the number one qualifier and making his first final round appearance, while Taylor who has one prior national event win qualified 13th and took the advantage at the line and stayed the course to capture the win in Super Stock. Taylor went 9.792 seconds at 128.10 mph for his winning pass.
In the Harley-Davidson Drag Racing Series and Top Fuel Harley it was Len Darnell, Vancouver, Wash., taking home his second Wally trophy this year beating out Mike Beland, Maiden, N.C. Darnell clocked in at 6.612, 203.25 mph to Beland’s quicker 6.553, 214.66. This is Darnell’s fifth career win.
Other winners visiting the winners circle were Jeff Strickland, Red Bay, Ala., in Stock, who went 9.625 seconds at 131.36 mph capturing his thirteenth career win, with 5 of those wins being in Stock and Steve Furr, Harrisburg, N.C., won in the Top Dragster presented by Racing RV’s class covering the quarter mile in 6.474, 187.76 against Larry Roberts, Laurens, S.C.
The following are the final results from the 16th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:
Chad Taylor, Pontiac Sunfire, 9.792, 128.10 def. Dan Jacobs, Chevy Cavalier, 9.887, 133.74.
Jeff Strickland, Chevy Camaro, 9.625, 131.36 def. Adam Davis, Pontiac Firebird, Foul – Red Light.
Rusty Cook, Dragster, 8.895, 173.16 def. David Schmidt, Dragster, 8.871, 172.32.
John Taylor, Dodge Dakota, 9.926, 159.49 def. Leo Zynda, Chevy Cavalier, 9.931, 161.67.
Mark McDonald, Ford Mustang, 6.866, 194.38 def. Ronnie Proctor, Mustang, 6.867, 200.71.
Steve Furr, Dragster, 6.474, 187.76 def. Larry Roberts, Dragster, Foul – Red Light.
Top Fuel Harley
Len Darnell, Harley, 6.612, 203.25 def. Mike Beland, Johnson, 6.553, 214.66.
Posted with files by Darren Jacobs, BMS Communications and Bruce Biegler
Photos Courtesy of NHRA & Auto Imagery