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Lightning plays havoc at Thunder Valley

June 13th, 2014 11:07 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Lightning plays havoc at Thunder Valley

BRISTOL — The fastest drag racing cars on the planet couldn’t outrun the weather Friday night at the NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

Lightning halted action during the middle of Funny Car qualifying before a hard rain shower stopped it for good. 

It meant that Del Worsham overtook Robert Hight for the provisional No. 1 qualifier in the class as none of the top-eight qualifiers in the evening session got to run at night. Still, Worsham’s time of 3.992 seconds set a new elapsed time record for 1,000 feet as did his speed of 319.45 mph. 

There was no second round at all in Top Fuel with Brittany Force leading Friday qualifying based on her first-round time 3.828 seconds and a speed of 317.94 mph.

Qualifying resumes today with the first sesssion starting at noon. 

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Greeneville driver Allen Johnson finished second in Pro Stock qualifying behind Shane Gray, but his track record time of 6.623 seconds set in 2012 was still intact after Friday.

Johnson thought the track might produce new track record until weather conditions changed right before the second qualifying session.

“The humidity came up big time the last hour,” said the Dodge Dart driver. “That really hurts these naturally-aspirated engines.”

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There were a couple of NASCAR legends closely watching the Thunder Valley Nationals on Friday.

Harry Gant, an 18-time winner on the Sprint Cup Series tour, was at his first ever NHRA race.

Gant, who was a guest of Funny Car driver Ron Capps a former teammate through the Skoal tobacco sponsorship, had only seen testing at Gainesville before. He was throughly impressed by Capps and others going down the track in excess of 330 mph.

“I was going to stay up in the stands and it was like come down here,” Gant said. “That was the biggest mistake I made. It about blew my britches off and three seconds later, it was over.”

He was also impressed by the big crowd in attendance. While Gant made 31 Cup Series starts at the round track, he had never made it over to Bristol Dragway afterwards.

“This thing is so organized and with the show they have, it’s unreal,” said the 74-year-old racing legend. “It blew my mind when I walked in. I didn’t know it was this big.”

Bobby Labonte, the 2000 Cup Series champion, had been to races at Atlanta and Englishtown, New Jersey, but it was his first time at Bristol Dragway.

“This is an awesome venue, so cool to see it here at night,” Labonte said. “It is amazing with 10,000 horsepower for the Nitro cars. It’s definitely great being here on Friday night and Sunday is going to be packed, this is definitely exciting.”

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For a moment, it looked like Tony Schumacher had set a world-record time in Top Fuel qualifying for 1,000 feet.

The scoring tower at the end of the drag strip showed Schumacher’s time at 3.676 seconds (330.47 mph). However, it was soon discovered that an error took place as a piece of debris was stuck in one of the infrared timing lights.

Brittany Force, who actually had the fastest time of the session at 3.828 seconds, offered congratulations to Schumacher, although she admitted to being a little confused.

“I didn’t see him way ahead of me,” Force said. “I felt he was either right next to me or behind me. I thought that’s insane because he would have been way out in front of me. I went over and congratulated him and he seemed thrown back by it all. It’s unfortunate his run got thrown out, but that’s sometimes how the game goes.”

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