Plenty of excitement for fans at NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence wins Sunday, June 9, at the annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kansas. It was Torrence's fifth consecutive victory.

BRISTOL — The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals return to Bristol Dragway for their annual Father’s Day weekend visit, Friday through Sunday, and there is plenty of action ahead.

Gates open at 10 a.m. Friday and it’s the same time that Sportsman qualifying starts. The midway opens at 12:30 p.m. and it’s a great chance for fans — with the saying that every ticket is a pit pass.

Qualifying for Mountain Motor Pro Stock is at 3:15 p.m. followed by qualifying for Nitro Harley and Pro Mod. The first Nitro session for Funny Car and Top Fuel start at 4:30 p.m. and their second session is at 7:30 p.m. The second session is the most spectacular with flames shooting out the header pipes against the night sky. It’s typically when the quickest times and fastest speeds are posted.

Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sportsman eliminations immediately begin. The third Nitro qualifying session is set for 1 p.m. with the final qualifying session at 4 p.m. Fan fest will follow in Nitro Alley 30 minutes after the final qualifying round.

Sunday has gates open at 10 a.m. with the track walk for the fans at 10:45 a.m. Pre-race ceremonies start at 11 a.m. with eliminations to begin at noon.


Defending series champion Steve Torrence is on a tear in the Top Fuel division. The Texan has five straight wins after beating his father, Billy, in last Sunday’s final at Topeka. He has a whopping 321-point lead over second-place Doug Kalitta in the Mello Yello point standings. Kalitta is always a favorite at Bristol, a three-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner and six-time finalist.

One notable absence is eight-time world champion and six-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher after the U.S. Army went in a different direction with its sponsorship dollars. Three-time world champion Antron Brown looks to carry the mantle for the Don Schumacher Racing team and has the extra motivation of Bristol being one of two tracks on the NHRA tour where he hasn’t won.

Clay Millican won his first-ever NHRA national event at Bristol in 2017, while 2018 series champion Brittany Force and Australian Richie Crampton are other favorites. The division features a group of talented veterans and a number of up-and-coming drivers.


The battle between John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing takes center stage with Robert Hight having scored his fourth win of the season at Topeka. Hight beat Schumacher driver Jack Beckman in the final round. Another DSR driver, Tommy Johnson Jr., ranks second to Hight in the Funny Car standings.

While that was career win No. 49 for Hight, the namesake of the team, John Force, has the all-time record at 149 wins. The 16-time world champion has been pursuing the milestone No. 150 since Denver last July, but is a favorite at Bristol — where he’s a four-time winner.

Somewhat under the radar is the Kalitta Motorsports team of defending series champion J.R. Todd and his teammate Shawn Langdon, who looks to become the first driver to win in both Top Fuel and Funny Car at Bristol.

There are plenty of other contenders in both Nitro divisions as the NHRA makes its annual visit to one of the sport’s iconic tracks.