Herbert reaches top tier of Thunder Valley fame

Dave Ongie • Jun 16, 2017 at 9:30 PM

BRISTOL – Doug Herbert took his place among the Legends of Thunder Valley on Friday night at Bristol Dragway prior to the start of qualifying for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Herbert’s name now resides beside John Force and just above Jeff Byrd, the former general manager of Bristol Dragway who Herbert said he admired greatly.

“He was just a super person,” Herbert said of Byrd. “Great role model for me and somebody I could always call and say, ‘Hey Jeff, I want to come race at Bristol’ and he’d say ‘Let me see if I could help you.’ Super guy.”

Herbert won his first race at BMS in 1992 and went on to win six straight IHRA events at the track during the 1990s. He set several records at the track, becoming the first driver to break the four-second barrier and the first driver to exceed 300 miles per hour.

Not only did Herbert’s career start in Bristol, it ended there as well. Herbert ran his final Top Fuel event in Bristol a few years ago, meaning Bristol Dragway essentially bookended his career.

In that respect, Friday’s honor was a fitting footnote.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Herbert said. “I don’t feel worthy of that, but I’m sure glad the people at Bristol thought I was. I loved racing at Bristol, loved coming here. It was the last place I actually raced at.”

MOVING TARGET: Fans love Bristol Dragway, but for crew chiefs, the Thunder Valley Nationals can be a nightmare.

The elevation and humidity coupled with ever-changing track conditions makes it difficult for crew chiefs to nail the setup during the four qualifying sessions. But the pressure reaches another level on Sunday as the track warms up before cooling down if you’re fortunate enough to make it to the finals during eliminations.

Shawn Langdon has won two Top Fuel races in Bristol with two different teams, and he says the tie that bound those wins together was preparation.

“In those situations, you have to have your ducks in a row and be prepared,” Langdon said. “It’s not easy to get these cars to go down the track. You’re trying to control something that’s trying to blow up every time. You have to make the right changes, and you have to have your tune-ups right.”

FORCING THE ISSUE: After a breakthrough season in 2016, expectations were high for Brittany Force and her Top Fuel team.

Force finished a career-best sixth in the points standings last season with three wins to her credit, but 2017 got off to a rough start for her John Force Racing team. A win in Epping, however, was a positive sign that Force is back on track. She followed that up with a solid showing in Englishtown, which brings her to Bristol with quite a bit of momentum.

Force said one unseen factor early this season has been a major overhaul of her dragster, which was done to move her seat back slightly in the rollcage.

“That was a huge project,” Force said. “We did that in between back-to-back races. We went back to Indy and started that project, stripped the car down to bare bones, sent it to the fab shop, moved me back in the roll cage and built the whole car back around it before driving it in the next (race).

“So much has gone into getting our car back, and I finally feel like we’re there.”

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