BRISTOL — The three drivers participating in Bristol Dragway’s media day all had different reasons to look forward to next weekend’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals.
It’s a chance for defending NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson to pick up a first win on his home track. The Greeneville driver, looks to give his father Roy, also his team’s engine builder, a special treat on a special weekend.
“My dream would be to give my dad a Father’s Day present at our home track,” said Johnson, third in this season’s Mello Yello point standings. “It’s always special because it’s a chance to race in front of all my family and employees who support what we do.”
Ron Capps comes back looking to defend his title as Thunder Valley champion and to score his 40th NHRA win overall. Capps captured his fourth Bristol win last June with a final-round pass of 4.076 seconds (312.35 mph). He said the atmosphere at Bristol rivals that of anywhere in the country.
“When you get off the plane, the whole town is all about the race,” Capps said. “You go to a restaurant, a store, everybody knows you’re in town. The newspaper, the front page of sports is about the race. For me, I feed off that.
“It’s like a good rock band showing up in a town and the fans are waiting outside the tour bus. You’re going to put on a good show. If there are crickets, it’s like you’re not into that much. When you’re here, it’s like, ‘This is cool. The fans are really into it.’ It’s just a fun time, some of the best times I’ve had.”
Top Fuel pilot Doug Herbert is racing at Bristol for the first time since 2010. Herbert, who will be making his first start of the season at Bristol, has cut back on his racing efforts in recent years to work on B.R.A.K.E.S., a charity founded in memory of his sons killed in a highway accident.
However, the veteran driver believes there is no better way to support the cause than being at the race track.
“I hadn’t planned on coming to this race,” he said. “For the last five years, I’ve been focused on the charity. I was looking at the car. I was thinking for Father’s Day, looking at my boys on the car, I want to take that to victory lane. I’m a racer and I want to build the charity up by racing.”
Johnson has some unfinished business to attend to.
Last season, the Dodge Avenger driver lost to Mike Edwards in the Pro Stock final in a virtual dead heat. The difference of .0000 seconds was the closest margin in NHRA history.
“That is very motivating,” said Johnson, also runner-up to Edwards this past weekend at the NHRA Summernationals in New Jersey. “We almost pulled it off last year. That motivates us to want to do it even more this year.”
Herbert, who lives in Cheryville, N.C., looks at Bristol more as his home track than Charlotte. Thunder Valley is home to so many great memories, including his first IHRA race win in 1992.
“I love to race at Bristol,” “Not only did I win my first race here, I was the first to have a four-second run here and the first to hit 300 mph here. It’s always been a great place for me.”
Capps grew up in California, but Bristol is one of those places he always dreamed of racing at. Now, he appreciates the track for both its role in the sport and in his career.
He enjoys everything about the track from its glorious past to its present incarnation, and how many ways drivers have a chance to interact with the fans at Bristol.
“This place has a lot of history here,” he said. “Growing up in California, this is one of the places I read about as a kid. I have great mojo here and always seem to do well Father’s Day weekend. A lot of things we do with the fans here, you don’t get in other sports. We look at that and we feed off that.”
Spectator gates open next Friday at 9 a.m. with the first round of Pro Stock qualifying to start at 5:30 p.m.
Gates open at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and qualifying begins at 12:30 p.m. On Sunday, gates open at 8:30 a.m. with elimination rounds to begin at noon.