BRISTOL — Allen Johnson raced towards his third straight Bristol Dragway pole in Friday qualifying for the 12th annual NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals.
The Greeneville driver led both sessions of Pro Stock qualifying, and set a new track record in the process. Johnson powered his Dodge Avenger down his home track at 6.623 seconds (207.75 mph) to earn the provisional pole.
“It’s such a blessing to be back at Bristol,” Johnson said. “My employees who take care of me all year get to come up and enjoy what we enjoy all year. My family, the same thing, as I didn’t know it was three No.1’s in a row. Track record on top of that, everything we do at home is just an awesome experience.”
If it holds up, it will be the 22nd career pole for Johnson and his fourth this season.
In the other classes, Antron Brown set new track records of 3.813 (323.12) in Top Fuel and Bob Tasca went 4.063 (310.48) in his Ford Mustang in a bid to earn his second straight Funny Car pole at Bristol.
It was a day for the local Johnson and Johnson Racing team to celebrate their success in the Pro Stock ranks.
Three-time defending race champion Mike Edwards was second fastest 6.641 (207.27) in a Pontiac, but Vincent Nobile, driving a Dodge and using an engine built by Johnson’s father, Roy, was third at 6.667 (207.02).
Testing obviously paid off as Johnson and Edwards spent two days last week practicing down the Thunder Valley strip. Johnson explained his team broke five motors over the past 10 days, two racing at the NHRA SuperNationals in New Jersey, and three last week testing at Bristol.
“Hats off to our motor department, they have really put in some hours,” he said. “The last motor came off the dyno about an hour ago.
“Certainly, testing gave us a little advantage. Thunder Valley is probably a track as unique as Denver. To come up here and to learn how to get down it pays dividends.”
Johnson, who has 11 career national-event wins, is still looking for a first Bristol victory. He said the team probably puts 15-20 percent more effort for Bristol than any other race.
“I’ve got my teeth gritted,” he said. “We’re going to come here on Sunday and take no prisoners.”
Brown didn’t take any prisoners with Friday’s final Top Fuel pass.
Lined up beside teammate Tony Schumacher, Brown roared down the track in record time and record speed to win the provisional pole.
“That was a real good pass for us,” Brown said. “It feels good to get that run down. It was a real ego-booster, a real team-booster for all the hard work that goes into putting this car out there.
“We’re not safe by any means, but if we get to the last session of the day, I think we will be safe. We want to go into Sunday’s eliminations from the No. 1 spot and take it from there.”
In Funny Car, Tasca edged out Mike Neff’s John Force Racing Mustang, which made a pass at 4.072 (310.70). Neff’s boss, 15-time World Champion John Force, qualified fifth and posted the day’s fastest speed at 312.71 mph.
Tasca felt confident no one will beat his time in today’s qualifying sessions as the forecast is for temperatures to be warmer in the afternoon.
“I don’t know what it is about Bristol, but I love racing at Thunder Valley,” Tasca said. “We’ve been looking for that run for the pole the last couple of races. Englishtown, we were on a great run until we lost hold at half track. But, we’re really been working hard to get this car smooth.
“I think the time will hold. Last year, we went .10 and we ran a .05 on Saturday. I don’t think you’ll see that with the way, the sun is supposed to be out.”