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NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, TN


Words by Kay Burk

Photos by Chris Haverly

It was a Father’s Day to remember for Mopar Dodge//SRT drivers Ron Capps and Tony Schumacher, who raced to victory in the Funny Car and Top Fuel classes at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee. Capps’ victory marked the fifth straight for a Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver at Bristol Dragway.


The win by Capps was also the third of 2018 for a Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Funny Car driver and moved him to fifth in the Funny Car standings. Along with Tony Schumacher’s victory, Mopar Dodge drivers have now claimed five wins in the NHRA Nitro classes this season.


Capps, the Mopar-powered NAPA Dodge Charger R/T pilot, picked up his second consecutive NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Funny Car Wally and first trophy of the 2018 season. It was the 300th career win for DSR. The 2016 world champion defeated John Force, reigning world champ Robert Hight, J.R. Todd and Bob Tasca III on his way to becoming the most decorated Funny Car driver in Bristol Dragway history, with five victories at the picturesque facility.


Both Capps and Force entered the race weekend tied for the most Funny Car wins at Bristol Dragway, with four trophies each. No. 11 starter Capps was quick on the throttle against the veteran driver, launching his Dodge off the starting line in 0.049-seconds and never trailing for the win. Matched up in the quarterfinals against Hight, Capps was machine-like, gaining the holeshot start over his opponent. Hight was able to catch up early in the run, and the veteran drivers battled neck-and-neck until Capps was able to surge ahead and take the win with his 4.208 run.


Capps made a clean pass against Todd in the semifinals, driving right down the groove to take the win and advance to his second final round of the season and second in three races. Capps has now run for the Funny Car trophy 112 times — second only to John Force in Funny Car career final-round appearances.


In the finals, Capps quickly made up a small starting line advantage by Tasca and added to his lead all the way down to the finish stripe. The victory earned him his 58th Funny Car win, 59th overall and a milestone 300th nitro event Wally for DSR.

Mopar-powered U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Schumacher notched the 301st Nitro event win for DSR. He led all DSR drivers in qualifying, racing to the No. 2 spot and earning two bonus points. “The Sarge” opened up against No. 15 Terry McMillen, and used the second quickest run of the first round to advance, then was quickest of the quarterfinal round with a 4.028 ET that knocked out Pat Dakin in a close race, decided by a margin of about five feet.


In the semifinals, Schumacher was first off the starting line with a .064 reaction time against Steve Torrence, and paired it with a 4.038/297.02 run to advance to his 150th final round and third of the season. With lane choice over Mike Salinas, Schumacher once again left first with a near-identical .065 reaction and never trailed. He wrapped up his Father’s Day with a sub-four second, 3.946/313.58 run to seize the first win of the season for the U.S. Army team.


The victory was a record sixth for Schumacher at Bristol, the most of any driver, and also the 84th of his career. It marked the 301st win for his father’s DSR mega team.


Jack Beckman, a two-time runner-up at Bristol Dragway, including at last year’s event, was quickest of the four-car DSR Funny Car squad in qualifying, posting his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T seventh. An event winner earlier this year at the NHRA Gatornationals, Beckman opened Sunday with a victory over Shawn Langdon, using a .055 reaction time to jump to a lead he would not relinquish.


Beckman waged a tight race against the higher-qualified No. 2 qualifier Todd in the second round, with both drivers making clean, solid runs down the hot dragstrip. Beckman trailed slightly off the starting line and stayed within striking distance, but the 2012 Funny Car World Champ was unable to reel in Todd.

Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps during qualifying.


Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T pilot Tommy Johnson Jr. banked four bonus points during qualifying, earning a berth in the top half of the field in the No. 8 spot. The Ottumwa, Iowa, native entered Sunday gunning for his third win in the last five years at Bristol and was matched up in round one against Matt Hagan in a battle of Mopar-powered DSR Funny Cars. Johnson trailed slightly at the start but sailed solidly down the strip to collect the round win after Hagan smoked the tires.


Hoping for another even-year Bristol victory (his previous wins at the venue came in 2014 and 2016), Johnson lacked lane choice in the quarterfinals against pole-sitter Courtney Force. He put a cylinder out shortly after launch and encountered more trouble before shutting it down, as Force pulled away for the win.


Two-time Funny Car World Champion Hagan started from the No. 9 position in his Shell ROTELLA/Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T, after wrapping up qualifying on Saturday evening with a final 4.188-pass that was quickest of the session, earning the DSR driver three bonus points. The 2015 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals event champ faced off with teammate Johnson in the first round. Hagan left the starting line first, but lost traction at about the 200-foot mark and was on-and-off the throttle before he was forced to back off, while Johnson’s clean pass moved him on to the next round.

Matt Hagan is determined to get back into the winner’s circle.


“It’s super-hot and we’re just trying to negotiate the race track,” Hagan explained. “We had a blower belt break on Friday night and I think that kind of set the tone for qualifying and put us in the back side of the field. Not having lane choice going into race day was tough. Dealing with the track that’s out there, we’re pushing pretty hard to run some numbers, but it’s one of those things where we’re still learning these hot conditions. The race track is 140-degrees and we haven’t seen stuff like that. We’re learning as we go. Obviously, everyone wants results, but sometimes you just have to be patient and let it come to you.”



Joseph Welch raced to victory in the SAM Factory Stock Showdown to lead the list of winners at the 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series on June 17. There were 24 cars trying for the 16-car Factory Stock field.


Welch qualified No. 2 in his 2015 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. Welch ran consistent 8.20’s through most of eliminations with an 8.275-second lap at 164.67 mph in the final of the School of Automotive Machinists Factory Stock Showdown in beating Arthur Kohn who left early with a red-light foul start. The win was Welch’s first in his first final round at the NHRA national event level.

Mopar Dodge Top Fuel driver Pritchett’s busy Bristol weekend included a round one Factory Stock win in her 354-cubic-inch HEMI engine-powered Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. After qualifying 13th in the field, the Mopar-powered driver raced to victory over Leonard Libersher to open eliminations, but fell to Kohn in a close side-by-side race in round two. Pritchett left first with a .030 reaction time, but Kohn just edged out her 8.330/165.46 effort at the stripe with a winning margin of approximately three inches.

After struggling to hit on the right combination in his Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak at the first two NHRA Factory Stock events, longtime Mopar driver Allen Johnson raced to a qualifying spot in the top half of the field before his home crowd at Bristol Dragway. The Tennessee native qualified No. 7 in making his first Factory Stock eliminations field, before falling in round one to Bill Skillman.

Pritchett’s DSR teammate, Mark Pawuk, made his Factory Stock Showdown debut at Bristol. Pawuk posted a best qualifying attempt of 8.756 seconds in his Mopar Dodge Drag Pak but was unable to crack the top 16 and advance to the elimination rounds.




For the second race in a row, Randy Parker of Four Oaks, NC, was the Dodge Top Finisher winner in Stock Eliminator. Parker drove his I/SA 1980 Dodge Mirada, powered by a Mopar 360 cubic-inch small block through two rounds of competition at Bristol.

Ed Longhany Sr. (far lane) finished second in the Super Stock class to Scott Stillings.


Like Parker, Mopar Sportsman Racer Ed Longhany Sr. from Wade, NC, repeated as Dodge Top Finisher in Super Stock, after also winning the award last week at the NHRA Richmond event. Driving his fast and consistent SS/KA 1974 Plymouth Duster 360, Longhany raced through six rounds of competition to reach the final round and earn a runner-up spot in the highly competitive Super Stock class.


The Dodge Top Finisher award, now in its second year, awards $500 to the Stock Eliminator and Super Stock drivers who advance the furthest behind the wheel of a Mopar-powered Dodge, Chrysler, or Plymouth race car. The honor is awarded in both Sportsman categories at all 24 NHRA national events. 



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