In the minds of many NHRA fans, the only thing better than professional qualifying at night is professional qualifying at night at Bristol Dragway, the track affectionately known as Thunder Valley. Fans got their wish on Friday night at Bristol and NHRA’s pros delivered with an entertaining day-one session.
With a single run in the books, Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Greg Anderson, and Angelle Sampey are their leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.
As a whole, the Funny Car class had a tough time adapting to conditions since they were the first racers to test the new surface. The combination of new Bristol Dragway track surface, mountain air, and a mid-afternoon thunderstorm made for a lot of tire shake and tire smoke. Robert Hight and his Jimmy Prock-led Auto Club team finally found the combination and posted a 3.971 to lead the field.
“Jimmy saw what was going on and made a lot of adjustments right before we ran,” said Hight, who is seeking his 73rd low qualifier award. “I honestly thought it would run better. It spun and moved around and I had to drive it a lot. We blew it up down there and I’m not happy about that. We don’t do that too often. I’ll say this. That 3.97 will not hold up no matter what the conditions are tomorrow.
“After rain we had, [the NHRA Safety Safari] had to start over and Funny Car was first out so we had a green racetrack,” Hight said. “The track will be more normal tomorrow and after they run a few cars I’m sure you’ll see some low 3.90s. That’s what its going to take to be No. 1.”
Hight was the only driver in the three-second zone and he’s more than a tenth of a second ahead of Jim Campbell, who was second-quickest with a 4.080 in Jim Dunn’s Dodge while championship leader Matt Hagan earned a qualifying bonus point with a 4.172.
Reigning world champion Steve Torrence grabbed the top spot in Top Fuel with a 3.791 that was barely enough to hold off second-ranked Josh Hart. Both riders ran matching 3.791 elapsed times but Torrence had a slightly quicker speed, 317.79 to 316.60.
A total of six drivers ran in the three-second zone including Antron Brown (3.802), Clay Millican (3.808), Spencer Massey (3.861), and Brittany Force, who slowed to a 3.900 after her Flav-R-Pak entry exploded a supercharger before the finish line.
“That was a good run to get the ball rolling,” said Torrence. “Tomorrow will be totally different but that was a good stout pass to go to No. 1. They did a lot of to make this surface level and flat but in some areas there is maybe not as much glue or rubber as we’d like to see. Still, Richard [Hogan] and Bobby [Lagana] were able to navigate it. A 3.79 not what we’re used to. You typically see a lot of 3.6 runs but we took what it gave us.”
Anderson, still seeking his 100th victory, returned to the site of his first win and put his HendrickCars.com Camaro into the top spot with an impressive 6.686. Anderson holds a sizable two-hundredths lead over Aaron Stanfield and Kyle Koretsky, who are second and third with matching 6.701 runs. Points leader Erica Enders recorded a 6.733 in her Melling/Elite Camaro.
“That was about 1,319 feet better than my first qualifying attempt in Epping,” said Anderson. “You have to get that data. You can’t lose that first run. We made a quality run without a doubt. All the problems we had in Epping, we gained on it each run and that has carried over to this race.
“That run won’t hold up tomorrow but we got three bonus points and that’s the main thing. We’re working hard and we’re coming back. I think we’re very close to finding way to winner’s circle. Last year was unique. At every track I felt like I had a chance. I haven’t had that feeling yet this year but it’s coming. I have a lot more confidence now.”
Angelle Sampey, the winner of the first Pro Stock Motorcycle title in Bristol last October, combined with Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec to sweep the top two spots after the first qualifying session. On a run that was admittedly far from perfect, Sampey rode to a 6.966 and Krawiec was just a couple thousandths behind with a 6.968. Angie Smith also found the sixes with a 6.980 on her Denso Buell for the provisional No. 3 spot.
“My run was pretty bumpy and not straight by any means,” Sampey said. “I was running out of real estate down by the finish line and I didn’t want to cross the centerline so I rolled throttle just before the finish line. I never thought I’d be No. 1 but we’ll take it. This bike is a bad unit.”
“I was excited to come back to this track,” Sampey said. “Last year, I was worried about everything and I still ended up winning and that taught me a lesson of not to worry about too many things. I learned to just stop and enjoy the ride. I’m going to finally start listening to myself.”