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Fan favorites bounced in first round

June 15th, 2014 8:32 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Fan favorites bounced in first round

BRISTOL — Greeneville driver Allen Johnson and four drivers from the Force racing family were among those who lost in the early rounds of eliminations Sunday at the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals.

Johnson had a tough time gaining traction in his Dodge Dart and veered towards the center line in a loss to Dave Connolly. He posted a 7.069-second elapsed time and a speed of 154.40 mph after taking his foot off the throttle.

“We left the starting line and it was pretty decent in first gear,” Johnson said. “It started chattering that left tire and pushing me over there. You make a big correction, you kill a lot of e.t’s (elapsed time). I was trying to ease it back and I couldn’t get it to take hold.”

The 2012 Pro Stock champion remains winless at his home track of Bristol Dragway, even losing a dead-heat to Mike Edwards two years ago. It was his first time losing in the first round at Bristol since 2008. Still, the 54-year-old driver remains optimistic he will win the home race some day.

“It is the toughest one to lose, but it’s going to be sweet to win it one of these days,” he said. “We will keep after it. Next year, we will be working hard at it and when it’s going to be our day, it will be our day. Today wasn’t.”

John Force’s Ford Mustang got off to a good start, but had trouble down the track, losing to Alexis DeJoria in the first round of Funny Car eliminations. His time was 4.437 seconds (229.78 mph) to 4.216 (292.14) for DeJoria.

“I don’t know what to think after coming off a first-round loss at Bristol,” Force said. “I mean we got all the horsepower in the world, we have a great team, got money, but we need to put this aside and try to address what we did right and wrong this weekend..

“Even though we’re still number two in points, we need to go out there and turn it around because if I keep going like this, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Force’s daughter, Brittany, was upset in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations by 82-year-old veteran Chris Karamesines. One round later, both daughter Courtney Force and son-in-law Robert Hight were eliminated with losses to Tony Pedregon and Tommy Johnson Jr.

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There were three first-time Bristol winners with Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, Tommy Johnson Jr. in Funny Car and Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock. It was the first time that’s happened since 2003 when the trio of Brandon Bernstein, Del Worsham and Kurt Johnson won in the respective classes.

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A pair of long droughts ended in the Funny Car final.

Before Sunday, Tim Wilkerson hadn’t made a final round since Houston in 2013. While it had been over a year for Wilkerson, it had been seven years since his race winner Tommy Johnson made it that far.

It wasn’t nearly as long for Top Fuel winner Shawn Langdon who made it to the final round just three races before in Topeka, Kansas, and Pro Stock winner Erica Enders-Stevens who won her home race at Houston earlier this season.

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Chris Karamesines, the 82-year-old driver nicknamed the “Golden Greek,” was presented the Shirl Greer Memorial Award by the family of the 1974 Funny Car champion from Kingsport before Sunday eliminations.

Karamesines then pulled off the first major upset of the day, beating No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations. Before his upset win, Karamesines talked about being honored by the Greer family.

“It’s really an honor that they’ve looked up to me and have watched me race here since the sixties,” Karamesines said. “I’ve always liked Bristol anyway. It’s a great track and the fans are great here too.”

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Steve Jones of Maryville made his first time back at Volunteer Speedway in four years a memorable experience by winning Saturday night’s 35-lap Crate Late Model feature.

After a caution on lap 21, Jones sprinted away from Jonesborough driver Jerry Broyles for the victory.

Behind the top two, Greeneville High School student Bryson Dennis, Tim Maupin of Johnson City and Warren McMahan of Dandridge rounded out the top five.

Kentucky driver Brad Neat led flag-to-flag in the 52-lap “Scott Sexton Memorial” for the Southern All-Star Series Super Late Models.

North Carolina driver Randall Chupp and Chattanooga-area racer Todd Morrow finished second and third.

Riley Hickman of Cleveland passed Cory Hedgecock of Loudon on lap 20 to capture the 35-lap Steel Head Late Model feature and Virginia driver Greg Estes scored the Modified Hobby victory.

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