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Johnson headlines test session at Bristol Dragway

June 3rd, 2014 7:24 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Johnson headlines test session at Bristol Dragway

BRISTOL — Six drivers and teams participated in testing at Bristol Dragway on Tuesday, some 10 days before the start of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Greeneville driver Allen Johnson, who leads the Pro Stock division with three wins this season, headlined the test session. V Gaines was also there to represent the Pro Stock ranks, while other notables were defending NHRA Pro Nitrous champion Rickie Smith and former Bristol winner Troy Coughlin in his Pro Mod Corvette.

A win at the home track has proven elusive for Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock champion. However, he brings plenty of momentum into Bristol, the winner at Topeka, Kansas just two weeks ago and currently second in the Mello Yello point standings.

“We’ve just learned the set-up to these new Dodge Darts,” Johnson said after he and teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. have swept the last three races. “When you get it all working, the car is just happy.”

The purpose of Tuesday’s test was to try some new set-ups at Bristol. Johnson has typically run well at high-altitude tracks, especially with hot and humid conditions. It has included Bristol, where he lost the closest final in NHRA history to Mike Edwards in 2012.

Another reason for the test, Johnson expects the weather and other conditions to be much different at Bristol than Englishtown, New Jersey where the tour last visited.

“The tracks are similar, but the air conditions are totally different,” said Johnson, a 23-time national event winner. “You’re at sea level up there and we had perfect conditions. Here, we’ll come and it’s likely to be hot and humid more like Topeka was. It doesn’t matter. We have a set-up for both of them.” 

For Coughlin, Bristol is a place he’s raced on numerous occasions, not just in the NHRA ranks. He’s visited the track to bracket race and even watched his son, Troy Jr., compete in the K&N Spring Fling event just two weeks ago.

Coughlin, the 2012 NHRA Pro Mod champion, used to race in the Pro Stock division with Johnson and his younger brother. His biggest win in the class came at Bristol when he won a $50,000 bonus at the old Winston Showdown.

To him, Bristol ranks alongside Indianapolis as the most elite tracks on the circuit. In fact, he puts his Thunder Valley Nationals title up with a Super Gas win at the U.S. Nationals as the biggest wins of his career.

“I love racing between the mountains here,” he said. “We were runner-up here last year and got to the semis the year before that. We had good success in the Pro Stock days. It’s a pretty cool place to race.

“There is just something about this track and the setting. In my opinion, this place ranks even higher than Gainesville and it’s on the same level as Indy as the top track.”

It’s a family affair with his brothers, his son and his nephews all Bristol veterans. Troy Coughlin, who captured the milestone 100th NHRA national-event win for his family at Las Vegas last season,  

was working on suspension parts Tuesday. His team was also trying to get the basic set-up narrowed down where it will be more fine-tuning once the race comes to town. 

However, there can be a danger with testing before an event. The dragway is prepared by a track crew rather than the NHRA crew who preps the track at all the national events. It can mean some changes with the set-up.

“Sometimes, you can tune yourself out,” Coughlin said. “We have some other cars here which are fast cars, but when the NHRA preps it, there are a couple of hundred of cars going down the track so it is a little different. But, our 60-feet times and our 330-feet times are consistent to the last tracks we’ve been at. This track crew does a pretty good job with it.”

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Chad Finchum won for the second time this season last Friday night at Kingsport Speedway.

Finchum passed Johnson City driver Zeke Shell for the lead on lap 7 of the NASCAR All-American Series race and led the rest of the way over the 60-lap feature.

Shell finished fourth with Tyler Goodwin of Gray in seventh. Phil Harris of Johnson City was 10th and Gray driver Joey Trent was 12th.

Virginia drivers Kres Van Dyke and Ryan Stiltner currently rank 1-2 in the Late Model Stock standings with Shell in third. Goodwin is sixth and Trent is 10th, two points ahead of rookie Justin Fontaine.

Kingsport Speedway hosts the Tony Ward Memorial this Friday night, named for the former Street Stock racer who died unexpectedly last year.

A 75-lap feature for the Southeast Super Trucks Series will be the main event with the Late Model Stock division having the night off.  There are also features for the Street Stock, Pure 4 and Rookie Pure 4 classes scheduled.

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Trae Pinnell of Unicoi was the winner in two classes last Saturday in the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.

Pinell won the Unlimited B class and finished one spot in front of Limestone’s Nick Dunbar in the CollegeBoy Am class.

Chelsea Taylor of Elizabethton continued her strong run in the Women’s 85cc divison, while Chris Furches of Jonesborough finished ahead of Wyatt Luther of Erwin to win the ATV Youth race.

Other youth winners included Johnson City’s Joe Bowman, who swept motos in the 51cc Multi Speed division, and Jeffrey Bowman who won the 85cc 9-15 Beginner class.

Nate Martin of Jonesborough was the ATV Novice winner, while other ATV winners included Bakersville, North Carolina riders Ryan Hoyle and Zachary Renfro. 

Will Andrews of Hampton was the runner-up in two 65cc classes, while other runner-up finishers included: Keith Hensley of Johnson City (40+), Parker Hughes of Elizabethton (85cc 9-11), Tyler Curtis of Jonesborough (Super Mini 80-112 cc) and Brayden Phillips of Unicoi (51cc 4-6 Stock). 

This is an off week for the series with it scheduled to resume on June 14.

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Volunteer Speedway also is scheduled to resume on June 14 with the second annual Scott Sexton Memorial for the Southern All-Stars Series.

For those itching to go to the dirt track this weekend, Tazewell Speedway has a six-division program scheduled for Saturday night, while Wythe (Va.) Raceway hosts its Fan Appreciation Night headlined by racing for the Fastrak Late Model Series.

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